At a luncheon after last year’s Super Bowl victory, Ravens Senior VP of Public Relations Kevin Byrne said, “There will never be another Ray Lewis.” There will also never be another photo taken like this one.
The incredible photos in Never Easy, Never Pretty were shot by Ravens photographer Phil Hoffmann. Phil has been shooting sporting events for 35 years. I was very lucky to meet him and to be able to feature his photos in the book.
Press Box photographer Sabina Moran’s work is on the cover. Her stadium celebration photo — a great shot in its own right– is a replacement for her amazing cover of three Ravens tackling a Colt running back out of the frame. The NFL told my publisher that it revealed too much of the team logos.
Phil Hoffmann’s keen photographic eye captured every major moment in the season including one of Ray Rice with his helmet turned toward the first down marker after he’s tackled on 4th & 29. He also takes us deep into the stealthy gaze of Jacoby Jones just before he returns a kick-off for a touchdown in the Super Bowl. Hoffmann told me that he approaches the job thinking like a defensive player and watches the movements of the left tackle for a hint as to where the play is going. His observations of the season are also featured in the book’s prose and offer a unique insider perspective of a professional football team.
In this stunning picture of Ray Lewis, his head thrown back and cawing to the sky during his final “squirrel dance” is something that should occupy the wall of a museum. His face is unrecognizable and partially obscured in state of ecstasy. He resembles a Native American warrior as depicted in the paintings of George Catlin or the photos of Edward Curtis. Lewis is bracketed by fire with a chunk of sod behind him and wreathed in smoke. The dance symbolized the fury inside him.
Lewis has just stepped onto the field for his final introduction as a Baltimore Raven in M&T Bank Stadium. He had announced his retirement on the Wednesday before the game calling it his “last ride” – an interesting choice of words in that it signaled a progression with no immediate ending point. It marked the first time he had been on the field since his triceps injury against the Cowboys in October of 2012. While his Indy teammates fawned over the spectacle, Colt wide receiver Reggie Wayne seethed. They were trying to win a game that would never be theirs. It made me ask, “What would it take to get Lewis off the field for good?”
It was a defining moment for Lewis, his teammates, the fans, and the franchise. Here was perhaps the greatest Baltimore football player of all time – at least for a generation of fans – playing his last game in the city. It had come upon us so fast and yet the timeless brilliance of Hoffmann’s photo is everlasting. The last war dance signifies the beginning of a new season, the playoffs. It also punctuates the last seventeen years of the Ravens franchise with Lewis as its face. As Lewis prepares to exit, the 2012 Ravens are suddenly reborn.
From Never Easy, Never Pretty:
The ominous pounding chords of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” launched the introductions, and the Ravens “red eyes” appeared on the Jumbotron. Announcer Bruce Cunningham belted out the names of the defensive unit. Ed Reed strolled onto the field before Lewis, shaking his head with a finger to his lips as the crowd thundered its customary “Reed!” for several seconds. Many in the capacity crowd pondered Reed’s future with the team. Staying in the moment, he pointed back to the smoking tunnel in an attempt to quiet the crowd and keep the focus on his good friend. Lewis had fallen to his knees in prayer before his name was called. Then he appeared, his eyes blackened like Marlon Brando’s Kurtz from Apocalypse Now. His famed “squirrel dance” had one more scheduled run for the hometown crowd. Dirt flew from a chunk of sod. He sashayed from side to side, thrust out his massive torso, and cawed like a Raven. The Blue Angels roared overhead at the end of the national anthem. He embraced NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on the Ravens’ sideline. We knew as Ravens fans that it would never be like this again. Then Lewis gathered his team around him for one last pregame war party, a ritual he popularized around the NFL. “What time is it? Game Time! What time is it? Game Time!”