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Lewis: Killings a 'closed chapter'

But they will be a primary topic at today's Super Bowl media day.

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 23, 2001


OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- His past, he is fond of saying, is behind him. Today it will be all around him.

Ray Lewis is scheduled to join his Ravens teammates this afternoon for the mandatory Super Bowl media day session at Raymond James Stadium.

The questions likely will begin in a polite, innocuous fashion. Slowly, inevitably, they will turn toward the darker moments of his life:

The early morning after the last Super Bowl when two men were killed on an Atlanta street and Lewis fled the scene in a limousine. The 15 days he spent in jail after being charged with murder. The subsequent plea agreement that led to Lewis testifying against two companions also charged with murder and accepting a one-year probation sentence for a misdemeanor charge of obstructing justice.

Lewis, 25, has given no indication he will duck the hundreds of reporters who likely will crowd near him today. Nor is it likely he will spend undue time expounding on the topic.

"It's irrelevant," he said Saturday after the Ravens completed their final workout at their training complex.

"It happened. It's done. It has nothing to do with me anymore," Lewis said days after the AFC Championship Game.

"That's a chapter in my book that's closed," he said after the Ravens beat the Titans in an AFC divisional playoff game.

The chapter may be closed, but it always can be re-opened. And this week it is mandatory reading. It is not a simple tale of a football player who found himself mixed up in a sensational murder trial after a Super Bowl. It is about the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year. And the one-year anniversary will find him back at the Super Bowl, as a player instead of a visitor.

If Lewis did what he could to quell the story for much of the year, he helped renew interest and examination of the killings and their aftermath with a first-person cover story in ESPN The Magazine last month.

He blamed Atlanta law enforcement officials for overzealously pursuing him when there was little evidence to support their investigation. He intimated that the NFL's $250,000 fine was a public relations ploy. He said he would not be swayed by those who advise him to stay away from dangerous individuals.

"All I'm guilty of is being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people, but I feel like what I'm most guilty of is being successful," Lewis said in the article. "If I'm just an average Joe, that's just two more brothers dead on the street."

Lewis accepts responsibility only for his failure to cooperate with the investigation in the hours after the killings.

"I should have cooperated with the police from the beginning. I was wrong about that," the ESPN story said. "But I trusted the people with me that night a lot more than I trusted the cops who interrogated me."

In recent weeks, Lewis has mostly deflected questions about the murder trial by insisting he no longer thinks about it. He has grown agitated only when asked whether the incident has changed him.

"I'm the same person. If you want me to say that this has made me different, you're not going to hear it," Lewis said. "(Stuff) happens to people all the time. We all go through things in life. I'm done with this. It's over there somewhere."

The Ravens -- including owner Art Modell -- were unwavering in their support of Lewis throughout last summer and the regular season.

"He's had a fabulous season; he's a very special person," Modell said. "The way he held up after the vicious attacks, the politically motivated and unfair trial, is remarkable. He was determined to show what he could do on the football field as his way of exonerating himself."

Safety Rod Woodson and tight end Shannon Sharpe, two future Hall of Famers who have been in the league 25 years between them, have taken it upon themselves to guide Lewis through the turmoil of the trial and the aftermath.

Woodson was one of the first teammates to speak on Lewis' behalf, and he has been a frequent dinner companion in Baltimore. Sharpe took Lewis into his Atlanta home before and after the trial and became his workout partner in the off-season. Sharpe, one of the more gregarious players in the league, also has advised Lewis on what to expect this week from the media.

"He has to understand that he's going to hear these questions over and over. Someone might not have been there the first time he answered, so he'll have to answer again," Sharpe said. "As long as he doesn't get frustrated, he'll be fine. He has said before that it's a closed book, and that's all he needs to say (this) week."

On New Year's Day, Lewis stood at his locker and proclaimed life to be beautiful. A blessing for us all. He said he did not see the 2000 season as any vindication for what he had been through.

Asked if he was happy to see 2001 arrive, he replied without smiling.

"I think everybody is," Lewis said. "It means you lived another year."

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