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USA TODAY Sports
MINNEAPOLIS – Five years to the day of his final game – a triumph in Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans – Ray Lewis is Squirrel Dancing his way into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The former Baltimore Ravens linebacker was elected to the 2018 class Saturday in his first year of eligibility, headlining a class that also includes wide receivers Terrell Owens and Randy Moss, linebacker Brian Urlacher and safety Brian Dawkins. Moss and Urlacher were also in their first year of eligibility.
The two senior committee nominees, Jerry Kramer and Robert Brazile, and contributor Bobby Beathard, a longtime general manager, complete the eight-man class.
The discussion about Lewis’ candidacy lasted only five minutes, unsurprising given his sterling on-field credentials.
“Regardless of what people say – ‘first ballot, first ballot,’ – it’s the honor that you’re really giddy about, so I was as nervous as everybody else in the room,” Lewis told USA TODAY Sports. “I shed enough tears just because my mom was there, but I think getting in, that’s one thing, but when you have the respect of your peers, I mean you played the game at such a high level, and everybody sitting in that room, if it takes five minutes, it means they respected my body of work. I think that’s the ultimate when you talk about a Hall of Famer, it’s that his body of work was respected.”
Lewis, one of the NFL’s most intimidating middle linebackers, was the lone slam-dunk candidate for 2018 following a 17-year career, spent entirely with the Ravens, in which he won two Super Bowl rings, made seven first-team all-pro teams, was selected to 13 Pro Bowls and was a two-time NFL defensive player of the year in 2000 and 2003. He was the MVP of Super Bowl XXXV for his role in the Ravens’ 34-7 win over the New York Giants, as he anchored what is arguably one of the greatest defenses in NFL history.
Lewis announced after the 2012 regular season, of which he played just six games because of a torn triceps, that he would retire following the playoffs. That postseason served as a fitting farewell, with the campaign culminating in the Super Bowl title.
Lewis said that he recalled doing the math upon his retirement. His final game was in the 47th Super Bowl. He’d be eligible to be elected to the Hall of Fame for the first time just prior to the 52nd edition of the game. Lewis, of course, wore No. 52 for the duration of his career.
“Nobody knows where it ends, so then for it to end in New Orleans, for my last ride to walk off a football field forever as a champion, and now to be here five years later to walk off a Hall of Famer? I don’t know who else writes that story,” Lewis said. “That’s the greatest story.”
But Lewis’ career was not without controversy.
Lewis was indicted on murder charges in 2000, stemming from an altercation in Atlanta following a Super Bowl party in which two men were killed. Lewis was allowed to plead guilty to obstruction of justice, a misdemeanor, in exchange for his testimony against two friends, who were later acquitted.
During his final season, Lewis had to answer questions about a report he sought out a deer-antler velvet extract, which contains a substance banned by the NFL, in his recovery from a torn triceps. Lewis denied ever using the spray.
It’s fitting that Urlacher joins Lewis in the 2018 class, as they spent more than a decade as the best middle linebackers of their generation. Urlacher, the No. 9 overall pick in the 2000 draft, played his entire career with the Chicago Bears before retiring after the 2012 season. He was a four-time first-team all-pro and eight-time Pro Bowl selection, as well as the NFL’s defensive player of the year in 2005. He was the leader of a Bears defense that consistently ranked among the league’s best in the mid-2000s and won an NFC championship in 2006.
Discussion on Owens’ credentials lasted more than 45 minutes Saturday, the longest of any of the 15 finalists. But ultimately his career numbers landed a coveted spot in Canton. He caught 1,078 passes for 15,934 yards (second in NFL history) and 156 touchdowns (third all-time) in his career, most of which was spent with the San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys.
Unlike Owens, Moss did not have to wait to join the Hall of Fame, becoming the first wide receiver since Jerry Rice to get in on the first ballot. His election comes in Minneapolis, where he was a first-round pick by the Minnesota Vikings in 1998. He also played for the Oakland Raiders, New England Patriots and, briefly, for the Tennessee Titans before ending his career with the San Francisco 49ers, where he played in Super Bowl XLVII against Lewis’ Ravens. He was a four-time first-team all-pro and still holds the NFL’s single-season record for receiving touchdowns (23).
What a weekend this could be for Dawkins, the longtime Eagles safety who now works in the the team’s personnel department. Dawkins was a five-time first-team all-pro (four times with Philadelphia and once with the Denver Broncos), and he finished his 16-year career with 37 interceptions and 36 forced fumbles.
Among the notable finalists who were not selected were safety John Lynch, offensive tackles Tony Boselli and Joe Jacoby and offensive guards Alan Faneca and Steve Hutchinson.
Follow Lindsay H. Jones on Twitter @bylindsayhjones.
PHOTOS: Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2018