Through the years, Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis has become known not only for his outstanding play on the field, but for his ability to motivate the Ravens as one of the most vocal leaders in the league. He can be seen before every game pumping up offensive and defensive players alike and even after 17 years in the league, his presence on the field and sidelines makes the Ravens a better team.
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The Ravens will be losing that once the Super Bowl comes to an end, whether they win or lose, as Lewis has declared his intent to retire after the 2012 season. The Ravens have several extremely talented players on both sides of the ball, but there is almost certainly going to be a void left after Lewis leaves the game as few can motivate their team the way he can.
Through five seasons, though, quarterback Joe Flacco has emerged as a leader as well. Lewis believes that Flacco has what it takes to take his place as the team's vocal leader:
"There are a lot of guys that can definitely step in that role," Lewis said. "But I think Joe has a great advantage and head start to really becoming that next true, true leader. He kind of has to come out of his quiet shell a little bit, but outside of that, Joe is definitely a great candidate for it."
There are many different kinds of leaders in the NFL. Some lead with their voice, some lead through actions and some, like Lewis, lead by both. Flacco is more the quiet type, though, and even though Lewis gave him his endorsement, he doesn't feel that he's the right fit to fill the future Hall of Fame linebacker's shoes:
"I haven't worked on it," he said. "Don't know if I agree with it. There are a lot of different ways to lead, and the bottom line is, it's about motivating our players to get the best out of them and having the belief that you can go do it in any situation. And Ray does a great job of that in his own way, and I don't know if there's anybody quite like him in that category. So in an effort to do something along the lines of the way he does it would be a mistake just because I don't think you're going to live up to it. You've got to do it your own way, and I think naturally as you get more comfortable with people and people understand you more and you become more confident in them and they become more confident in you, you become more vocal as time goes on."
There's no question that the Ravens will be a different team without Lewis. While they will inevitably miss him, if they're able to re-sign the majority of their free agents on both sides of the ball and add some talented players in the draft, they may be able to reduce the pain felt from his loss. It's clear though, the largest hole that Lewis leaves unfilled may not be on the field, but as the team's vocal leader.
Lewis and Flacco have led the Ravens, in their own way, to the franchise's second Super Bowl after upsetting both the No. 1-seeded Denver Broncos and No. 2-seeded New England Patriots, both on the road. They're somewhat of a Cinderella Story heading into Super Bowl 47, having overcome the odds, and Lewis' presence has without a doubt helped get the team over the hump.
If the Ravens become the 12th team to have multiple Lombardi Trophies on display, Lewis will go out on top. He will go down as not only one of the greatest inside linebackers of all time, but as one of the best team leaders in the history of the league. As the team's quarterback, Joe Flacco naturally has the ability to step into that role, however, he may do it in a different way, and not nearly as vocally