Eric Dickerson was scared of Jamal Lewis, too. Before Adrian Peterson came back from ACL surgery and challenged the single-season rushing throne this year, Lewis came the closest. In 2003, the year he made the Pro Bowl and won Offensive Player of the Year, he came within 39 yards. But like All Day, Lewis came up short and Dickerson went back to reveling in his long-standing accomplishment. But joining the 2,000-yard club was still quite the feat. Only seven players have ever done it: Dickerson, Terrell Davis, Barry “can anybody tackle him” Sanders, O.J. Simpson, Chris Johnson, AP and Lewis.
That same year, the former No. 5 pick overall in the 2000 NFL Draft also beat Jerome Harrison’s single-game rushing record, too. Lewis beasted for 295 yards on the ground against the Cleveland Browns, setting a new record, until All Day came along in ’07 and broke it with 296. It was Lewis’ punishing runs out of the backfield that were one of the biggest reasons the Ravens defeated the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV. When JL hung up his cleats for good in ’09, he’d amassed over 10,000 yards and 58 touchdowns. Most of those stat sheet-stuffing yards were with the Baltimore Ravens, which is why he was recently inducted into the Baltimore Ravens Ring of Honor. TDdaily managed to catch up with the fleet-of-foot former Tennessee Volunteer to talk about what he remembers most about his playing days, his turbulent life after football and, of course, his thoughts on his former team’s chances in Super Bowl XLVII.
TDdaily: Most people wrote the Ravens off this year with all of their injuries. But after Ray Lewis came back, they took off. Why were they able to turn it around?
Jamal Lewis: When he came back from the injury and everything it was like—he’s the leader of that ball club and they had a little tough stretch, but I think when they got guys healthy like Terrell Suggs and Ray, they knew what they were capable of and they knew they could make a run. I think that’s just the will of that team and that’s what they set out to do—go to the Super Bowl because they were really yearning for it from what happened last year.
TD: Do you still talk to Ray Lewis?
JL: We communicate a little bit through the season and I root him on and follow him and touch base with him every now and then. I don’t really brother him, though, because I know that he’s focused. But we communicate through text.
TD: What’s your best memory of Ray?
JL: What sticks out to me is that he’s a smart football player. He’s a great leader and he leads more by example. He does it by studying film and just encouraging everybody around him to try and play and be at his level. He turns everybody up. And that’s what I noticed and recognized about him over the years. His leadership was huge when you got a lot of young guys in an organization.
TD: What’s your fondest memory of playing in Baltimore?
JL: It was that Super Bowl season. Just how we stuck together and how we came out after dealing with adversity early in the season and everybody just stuck together and played as a team. We believed in each other. It wasn’t about what everybody else thought about us. That’s what I remember most about being in that Ravens organization. How we won that Super Bowl and how we bonded and stuck together.
TD: How do you look back on your playing days?
JL: As a football player, I was just a hard-nosed football player that put on my hard hat and came to work. And that was it and that’s all I want to be remembered as.
TD: Why didn’t running backs play as long as they seem to be able to play now?
JL: Back in the day, you had backs like myself that was featured running backs and we were in pretty much every down. We were the actual guys running the football. But now, since it’s went to more of a passing league, you have two running backs sharing time and it’s kind of like a running back by committee, so I think just the durability of running backs when I played was so scarce and guys getting hurt. But now, running backs have more longevity in this league.
TD: Have you gotten used to being away from football yet?
JL: I don’t really watch a lot of football anyway, but when it’s playoff time, it gets me riled up because that’s when the lights come on, that’s when it’s ‘Showtime.’ Other than that, I did what I needed to do in the NFL and had a great time doing it. All I wanted to play was 10 years and I got that.
TD: What did you think of Adrian Peterson’s year?
JL: He had a monster season coming back after his ACL injury. He came back and was able to answer the bell and he showed that he was a great running back. I always knew he was a great running back. The same way I was in 2000, with a quarterback that did not produce and take you the distance. When your number gets called, you better answer and that’s what it’s about. The way he played just showed what type of running back he is when the ball is in his hands and the team’s on his shoulders. He answers the bell and that’s what it’s about.
TD: What’s life been like for you after football?
JL: I’m a hard worker. I love to work and basically, I like to stay busy. That’s just how I’ve been trained. But right now, I just have a few businesses that I’ve been promoting and putting out. I have one I’ll be launching late February. I also have another I can’t speak on it, but it’s another company I’m doing dealing with high school athletes and their development as well.
TD: So you’re not interested in broadcasting?
JL: I’m not trying to get into broadcasting and I’m not trying to get into coaching. Where I would want to be in the next 10 years is a general manager of one these ball clubs. That’s where I see myself.
TD: You have a plan to get there?
JL: You just have to work your way in and be able to scout talent to get your foot in the door. I couldn’t see myself coaching, but I’d love to evaluate talent, where I’m finding that next Jamal Lewis or that next Adrian Peterson. That’s where I see myself.
TD: Any leads?
JL: I’m not really looking at this time. I do have a company that I’m starting that’s around the scouting and evaluating process.
TD: So now the tough questions. What happened with your run ins with the law?
JL: It’s just life. Life brings on different turns and different twists, but at the same time, the way I prepared for life was to basically to prepare for anything and expect anything. And there’s nothing that I can’t come through, there’s nothing that I can’t get over because I’m a fighter and I’m strong and I’m moving forward.
TD: Who’s your pick for MVP?
JL: The MVP is Adrian Peterson, man. The way he came back and put a team on his shoulders in a passing league and was able to take that team to the playoffs, that’s huge. This is a passing league. A running back is not supposed to go over 2,000 yards anymore. He should win the Comeback Player of the Year, too. He’s a beast. He did all that and earned that. When I went over 2,000 yards that year, I worked hard for it and I didn’t get MVP. They split it between Peyton Manning and Steve McNair. I got Offensive Player of the Year. But I really grinded and worked very hard to take Baltimore to the first round of the playoffs with a second string quarterback.
TD: Who’s your pick for Rookie of the Year?
JL: I wanna go with RGIII, but I think that’s more hype than anything else. He’s a great player but at the same time, when you look at it, I’ll go with the boy Russell Wilson in Seattle because it wasn’t even expected for them to go there. And he did it week in and week out.