Niagara Gazette — As has been beaten to death, the Baltimore Ravens' win put a cap on the Hall of Fame career of linebacker Ray Lewis, allowing the 17-year veteran to fade into the sunset on top of a sport he's dominated for more than a decade.
What hasn't been mentioned, at least not to this reporter, is the near-perfect parallels between the Baltimore franchise and Lewis' career from the Ravens' first Super Bowl win (2000) to Sunday's victory.
As a young person, Super Bowl XXXV — the one from 2000 — is one of the first I remember the entirety of. Ten years old at the time, I found myself rooting for the Ravens, particularly their hard-hitting, aggressive defense, and its leader, Lewis.
Those who remember that team likely remember it for that defense, a unit some would argue has a place among the best ever. Including the playoffs, the team had more shutouts (four) than it had games in which it allowed 20 points (three), and in the postseason, it allowed a total of 23 points in four games.
What kept that team from going down as one of the most dominating ever was the limitations of its offense, which was led by journeyman quarterback Trent Dilfer — the king of all game managers — and leaned heavily on rookie running back Jamal Lewis. Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe was the top receiving target, though he was in his 11th season and at the very end of his prime.
The postseason performance of the defense led the defense-first identity the Ravens had seemingly carried until this season.
For years following the Super Bowl win, the Ravens focused on building an offense to match the defense. Rookie quarterbacks were drafted (Kyle Boller), veterans were signed (Steve McNair, Derrick Mason) and coordinators were fired (Jim Fassel), but improvement eluded the unit until 2010, when third-year head coach John Harbaugh made a move to pick up WR Anquan Bolden, among others.
This season, the dynamic changed. The offensive core of Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Bolden and Torrey Smith came into its own and carried an aging defense. By comparison, this year's "D" had no shutouts and gave up 20 or more points in 11 games.
Lewis' prime was defined by leading a defense that kept the Baltimore franchise in the playoffs almost every year, despite working with a limited, constantly-rebuilding offense. How fitting was it, then, that in his last game, a slow, battered and broken Lewis was given the ultimate good-bye present by his offense?
It's an irony befitting a teamed named in reference to the work of Edgar Allen Poe.Respond to high school sports reporter Mike Meiler on Twitter @mikemeiler or by email at email@example.com.