The image is etched into my memory. Even after Alzheimer's sets in and I forget everything else, I will still remember it. Confetti raining down onto the field, my Broncos back to back World Champions, and John Elway hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. His last act as quarterback for the Denver Broncos. Super Bowl Champion. Super Bowl MVP. Legend. Hall of Famer. In a perfect world, that is how great players should ride off into the sunset.
A great career with the same team, never having shopped themselves to the highest bidder. An entire career spent building a champion, winning, losing, always getting a little better, as a team, until - at last - champions.
I grew up watching Bradshaw and the Steel Curtain, Staubach and the Cowboys, the perfect Dolphins, Madden and his Bad Boy Raiders. These guys played together and fought together, year after year. If you were a Raider, that's what you were. The team was bigger than the individual.
For Elway, that's the way it was. For Dan Marino too, although the ring eluded him. Many greats could have gone out on top, with the team they spent their careers with, but found themselves in a different town at the end, trying to squeeze all they could out of the game, and tarnishing their legacies in the process. Jerry Rice comes to mind, as well as the late Junior Seau and too many others.
But now, in 2013, one man has a chance to end it the perfect way. As I watched my Broncos lose in double overtime last Saturday, part of my heart broke. However, the rest of my heart saw the possibility of the great Ray Lewis riding off into the sunset a champion.
Whatever happens, I believe he will walk away from football the best defensive player in history. He will always be a Baltimore Raven, the face that I will see in my mind when I think of the Ravens. Chances are very good that he could finish his career as Super Bowl MVP, just like John Elway did. My sense of virtue and justice would be thrilled.
What better way to end any career. Thank you Ray. Go Ravens.