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Editorial: Lessons from a middle linebacker

When Ray Lewis walks off the field one last time, the Baltimore Ravens will be losing more than just an outstanding middle linebacker and the last of the original 1996 lineup. Mr. Lewis, the rookie who never left, is widely viewed as the heart of the team, the engine that makes it run.

It is a role that would have seemed unlikely 13 years ago, after that fracas in Atlanta that left two men dead and Mr. Lewis with a plea-bargained conviction for obstruction of justice. As then-NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said in fining him $250,000, Mr. Lewis “fueled a public perception that he had something to hide” and “caused great harm to other NFL players and to the league.”

That was the last time the league would have any real cause for complaint about No. 52, who went on to become a Super Bowl MVP and philanthropist whose greatest gifts may have been as a team-builder and a fire-lighter. In fact, his fellow players were expecting a pep talk on Wednesday when Mr. Lewis, sidelined with an injury for the last 10 games, told them he was returning for the postseason but would retire at the end of it to, well, spend more time with his family.

As Mr. Lewis said at the news conference that followed: “My whole focus changed almost in the middle of my career. I was blessed to have some great guys who took me under their wing and said, ‘This is the way you should live life.’”

He also offered a few life lessons for all of us:

Keep your eyes on the goal, not the prize: “I’ve done it, man. There’s no accolade that I don’t have individually, but I’ve never played the game for individual stats. I’ve only played the game to make my team be a better team.”

Make a difference: “I started making my own mark and then I realized that … I wanted to be known differently. I wanted to make men better. I wanted to figure out ways to challenge men to not let the game dictate your emotions and not let the game dictate if you are mad, you’re glad, you’re sad. No, be who you are as a man.”

Prioritize: “Going forward, the world is my oyster. God has created so many opportunities for me, and there’s a lot of things that I’ve always put on hold for the game, that I could never do because of the game. I would never put nothing in front of the game.”

Leave on your own terms, but don’t slam the door: “Four more football games in me? I got way more than that. I just have to make a decision to cut it off at four.”

Don’t quit ’til it’s over: “I make this last run with my team. I [told them], ‘I’m going to give you everything that I got because this is our last one. And wherever it ends, I didn’t come back for it to end in the first round.’”

When Ray Lewis walks off the field one last time, let’s hope that it is in New Orleans — and that this unofficial coach will be covered in Gatorade and purple and gold confetti.