Cook: Ravens' and Lewis' success has fans groaning

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The pass was thrown. The ball was intercepted. The winning field goal was kicked in overtime. The groans could be heard all over the city.

It almost was as bad as a December day when Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw the killer interception in Dallas.

There certainly are a lot of Baltimore Ravens haters in this town. You could feel it Saturday night when Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning made a rare bad decision and a worse throw, the pass intercepted by Ravens cornerback Corey Graham. Moments later, Justin Tucker came on to kick the Ravens to a 38-35 win in double overtime. They will play Sunday night in the AFC championship against the New England Patriots.

Anybody but the Ravens, right?

A big reason for the hatred is the heated rivalry between the Steelers and Ravens. I get that. But a bigger reason, at least in these NFL playoffs, is Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. Sorry, I'm struggling with that. I've tried really hard to hate Lewis, but I just can't do it. I can't get past my admiration for him as one of the NFL's all-time greats.

I know about Lewis' past and how many people are convinced he used his fame and fortune to get away with murder. After a Super Bowl XXXIV party in Atlanta in January 2000, he was indicted on murder and aggravated-assault charges in a double-homicide case. When he agreed to testify against the two other men who were charged in the crime, he was allowed to plead to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice. He was given 12 months of probation.

I also know the media is shoving Lewis down our throat. You can't turn on ESPN without seeing him. If you have nothing to do, check out the CBS tape of the game Saturday and the Ravens' wild-card round game a week earlier against the Indianapolis Colts and count how many times the network showed Lewis. I'm guessing it had to be a couple of hundred times. You won't be alone if you scream the next time you see his pregame prancing or his postgame preaching. Certainly, you won't be alone if you get sick to your stomach the next time they show him hugging NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. That really was a bit much.

But you have to admit it's a great story. Lewis, one of the best locker-room leaders in NFL history, announced he would be making his "last ride" a few days before a game against the Colts. His teammates want to send him out of the sport and into retirement as a winner, much the way the Steelers did with Jerome Bettis after the 2005 season. The Ravens are convinced that emotional boost lifted them past the Colts and the heavily favored Broncos and will carry the team all the way to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans.

Not that Lewis isn't doing a lot of heavy lifting on the field.

CBS didn't have to look hard to find Lewis against the Colts and the Broncos. He made plays from sideline to sideline, still showing his incredible combination of power and speed. He had 13 tackles against the Colts, 17 against the Broncos. It's hard to believe he's 37. It's hard to believe he's finishing his 17th NFL season. It's hard to believe he missed the final 10 regular-season games because of a torn right triceps.

If Lewis played for the Steelers, you would love him every bit as much as they do in Baltimore.

Lewis might just be the best inside linebacker of all time. Better than Jack Lambert. (Again, sorry). Better than Dick Butkus. Better than Ray Nitschke. Better than Mike Singletary. If you ranked all NFL players, Lewis would have to be in the top 20, at least the top 25.

I admire greatness from the greatest of the greats. Lewis provides it every Sunday. That's why I'm not thrilled to see his fabulous career end. I'm just glad I get to watch him play at least one more game.

I'm thinking the haters will tune in Sunday, as well, if only to root against Lewis and the Ravens. Of course, that will mean rooting for Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.

Good luck with that.

mobilehome - roncook

Ron Cook: Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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