There are some who will say Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis is the greatest of all time at that position. There is no question he's headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in a few years. Are there any contemporaries even in his class?
Some Redskins players think so. How about Washington linebacker London Fletcher? The 37-year-old was named the NFC defensive player of the month for December on Thursday after helping his team win an NFC East title for the first time since 1999.
"We were having this argument when we found out Ray was retiring," Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall said Thursday. "Guys were like, 'You could argue Fletch has had a better career.' Might not have had all the hype and things like that, but if I'm starting a team -- I love Ray Lewis to death -- but if I'm starting a team, I'm taking [number] 59 every day of the week."
The two men were born four days apart in May 1975. But Lewis, who announced his impending retirement Wednesday, always has had the higher profile. He was voted to the Pro Bowl 12 times. Fletcher was best known for never making it to the game until he finally did so the past three seasons with the Redskins.
"Ray's made it sexy to be a middle linebacker in this National Football League," Hall said. "[Derrick Brooks] kind of did the same thing down in Tampa, being the outside back catching picks and things like that, scoring touchdowns. They made it sexy to be defensive players. In a league that's so offensive driven, it's hard to kind of get that buzz."
Lewis is expected to be back on the field Sunday when the Ravens host the Indianapolis Colts in an AFC wild-card game. He missed 10 games with a torn triceps and said Wednesday he will retire after the season. What's next for Lewis? Sports Illustrated reported Thursday he is close to a multiyear deal with ESPN to work as an analyst for the network.
- Brian McNally