Baltimore is a sports town that embraces its professional athletes like family. Pro athletes come to Baltimore to play their sport but long after their playing days are over, some of them remain in town as our neighbors and friends. Witness the likes of football greats Johnny Unitas, Lenny Moore and Jim Parker of the original NFL Baltimore Colts, who retired here and lived openly among us. Baltimore Oriole Iron Man and hometown hero Cal Ripkin is another example of a retired pro athlete who continues to give back to this community. Ripkin is the only one among the other pro athletes mentioned who is actually a Maryland native son.
Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis is the latest pro athlete to announce his retirement from a Baltimore franchise team. None of us expected Big Ray to play forever but we all hoped he'd play just a little while longer---just long enough for us to win another NFL championship trophy. At 37, Big Ray will play out his final season as a Baltimore Raven. This town had been on life support before Art Modell, Ray Lewis and the Ravens brought life back into the sports scene in this city. And although we're sad to see him go, we know that every goodbye ain't gone. We fully expect Big Ray to continue to be a part of Baltimore's lifeblood and community for years to come.
While we revere the athlete, Ray Lewis, the man, is even more special. Early on we witnessed a very dark period in Ray Lewis' life, which helped to transform him into the man he is today. A true man of God who doesn't hesitate to share his faith with his teammates and anyone else who'll listen. They say that character is who we are when nobody is watching. Ray Lewis has character that we all should emulate.
Ray, we say goodbye to you as a Baltimore Raven, only to welcome you as our neighbor and friend. And for this, we are truly blessed.