Lewis is the key figure in a defense that has long carried a reputation for being fierce, unyielding and downright nasty. He led the Ravens in tackles in 14 of his 17 seasons, the exceptions being those years in which he missed significant time with injuries (2002, 2005, 2012).
Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs, who is almost always upbeat, said of the announcement: ‘‘It was sad. It affected me, because for the past 10 years of my career I've been sitting right next to the man and going to war on Sundays. It’s going to one hard last ride, and we need to make it one to remember.’’
When Lewis tore his triceps against Dallas, it was feared he was done for the season. But he would have none of that.
‘‘From the time I got hurt, everything I've done up to this point has been to get back with my team to make another run at the Lombardi (Trophy),’’ he said.
Well, not everything. Lewis spent time watching his boys play football, which caused him to call his rehabilitation ‘‘bittersweet.’’ After spending countless hours from Monday through Thursday working to return from the injury, he hopped on a plane toward Florida to be with his boys.
‘‘I got to be there every Friday,’’ Lewis said. ‘‘Me being who I am, not having a father myself, that damaged me a lot. I didn’t want my kids to relive that.
‘‘One of the hardest things in the world is to walk away from my teammates. But the now I'm going to step into other chapters of my life.
‘‘I knew I couldn’t split my time anymore. When God calls, he calls. And he’s calling. More importantly, he calls me to be a father. It’s OK to be Daddy. Yes, this chapter is closing, but the chapter that’s opening is overwhelming. That’s what excites me the most.’’
Lewis could have made the announcement during the offseason.
‘‘I think my fans, my city, I think they deserved for me to just not walk away,’’ he said. ‘‘We all get to enjoy what Sunday will feel like, knowing that this will be the last time 52 plays in a uniform in Ravens stadium.’’
AP Sports Writers Michael Marot and Jon Krawczynski and National Writer Nancy Armour contributed to this story.