Ray Lewis was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2018 by the Hall’s board of selectors on Saturday. Here’s what you need to know about Lewis, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 4:
Résumé: Middle linebacker, Baltimore Ravens, 1996-2012
Why he was selected: Lewis was rightfully recognized as one of the best to ever play in the center of an NFL defense. Only four middle linebackers before him were elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot (all of the greats with whom Lewis has long been compared): Ray Nitschke (1978), Dick Butkus (1979), Jack Lambert (1990) and Mike Singletary (1998). Lighter and faster than many of the linebackers when he entered the NFL, Lewis redefined the position by how he dominated offenses in running sideline to sideline. Teams abandoned the run game as well as throwing screens because of Lewis' relentless pursuit. He also transformed a franchise, taking a transplanted team with no identity and making it a perennial championship contender.
Lewis was a two-time Super Bowl champion and Super Bowl MVP in 2000 (only 10 defensive players have ever won this honor). He was a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, was voted to 12 Pro Bowls and was named first-team All-Pro seven times. Lewis is the only player in NFL history with more than 40 sacks and 30 interceptions in a career. His ability to make teammates around him better established a storied tradition of defense in Baltimore. From 1999 to 2012, the Ravens' defense ranked among the top three in the NFL in eight of the 11 seasons in which Lewis played at least six games.
Remember this? Of all the big plays in Lewis' decorated career, the one that defined his will to win came when he collided with Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George in the 2000 playoffs. The result: Lewis returned an interception, off a pass intended for George, for the touchdown that sealed a 24-10 AFC divisional playoff victory over what many considered to be the NFL's best team that season.
Down by a touchdown in the fourth quarter, Tennessee was trying to muster a scoring drive against the Ravens' record-setting defense and looked to George. Lewis was looking at George too, and he got to the Titans' leading rusher in the left flat almost as soon as the pass did.
George bobbled the pass, and Lewis delivered the turnover by wrestling the ball away from him. Lewis then broke a leg tackle by George and ran 50 yards down the sideline for his first career touchdown. That score put the Ravens ahead 24-10 with under seven minutes left in the game.
"He's their offensive cornerstone, and I'm our defensive cornerstone," Lewis said. "It was just a great war. We're great friends off the field, but when we're on the field, it's just two gladiators going after one another."
He said it: "I've accomplished a lot of things, but this moment is unexplainable. Growing up as a child, I know what [a Hall of Fame middle linebacker] looks like -- Mike Singletary, Dick Butkus. Who dreams of being in that category sitting with those guys? To walk up there today and see all of those guys, it's the most amazing thing ever to even be mentioned with these guys. Now, we'll be family for life."