Ray Lewis is 1 of the NFL’s 5 best all-time defensive players. 13 Pro Bowls in 17 seasons. Over 1,500 tackles, 31 interceptions and countless intimidating stares. In 2000 he won a Super Bowl, Super Bowl MVP and the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Phillip Tanner has played 14 games in the NFL, rushing 31 times for just over 100 yards.
The two intersected in the 4th quarter last Sunday in Baltimore, perhaps historically. While we can only guess where Tanner’s career is headed as a backup running back on a mediocre Dallas Cowboys’ team, Lewis’s Hall-of-Fame career might have ended in tackling him.
Earlier in the game, Tanner – forced into the game because of injuries to DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones – lost his footing on a run and was smeared to the turf by an unblocked Lewis, who characteristically stood over the fallen runner preening and over-celebrating. In the 4th quarter Lewis hurt his left arm on a tackle, but was unable to get off the field because of Dallas’ no-huddle offense. And on a carry to the left side of the line moments later, Tanner broke free to the second level and ran through an arm tackle by Lewis, who fell to the ground in obvious pain. A 9-yard gain for Tanner; a priceless loss for the Ravens.
As the 37-year-old Lewis carried his limp arm to the sideline, Tanner barked at him in rageful revenge.
It is perhaps our last image of Lewis. One of the NFL’s all-time gladiators – out for the season and maybe done for good with a torn triceps – forced into tapping out by a special teams, free-agent role player from Middle Tennessee State.
If so, Lewis has company. Because even the greatest of careers often climax with merely last-gasp whimpers:
Roger Staubach – His final completion in a December 1979 playoff loss to the Rams was to offensive guard Herb Scott.
Troy Aikman – After an incompletion against the Redskins on Dec. 10, 2000he suffered a career-ending concussion when slammed out of bounds by linebacker Lavar Arrington.
Michael Irvin – He caught 1 pass for 8 yards against the Eagles on Oct. 10, 1999 before suffering a neck injury on an incompleted slant that forced him to leave Philly on a stretcher and retire from football.
Emmitt Smith – Many forget that he finished his NFL career as an Arizona Cardinal, recovering his own 4th-quarter fumble for no gain on his last carry in a 12-7 win over the Buccaneers on Jan. 2, 2005.
Nolan Ryan – The last start of his 27-year career was his worst, allowing a single, 4 walks and a Grand Slam without recording an out against the Mariners in Seattle on Sept. 22, 1993. He threw 1 final pitch after tearing a ligament in his arm, timed at 98mph.
Jason Kidd – His last game as a Mav was actually 1of his best in 2012, a 16-point/8-rebound/7-assist performance in a loss to the Thunder in the Mavs’ playoff sweep last May.
Mike Modano – In his last game as a Dallas Star in 2010 he missed a shootout goal in an overtime win in Minnesota.
Muhammad Ali – The Greatest lost his last fight in sad fashion, on Dec. 11, 1981 to a nobody named Trevor Berbick.
Brett Favre – He completed more passes for more yards than any NFL quarterback, but his final, futile pass as a Viking was intercepted, leading to an overtime loss to the Saints in the 2009 NFC Championship Game.
Pudge Rodriguez – The greatest Texas Ranger of all-time faded quietly at the end of his 2nd tour, striking out swinging against the Angels’ Kevin Jepsen in the 8th inning of a 5-0 loss on Sept. 30, 2009.
Babe Ruth – The Sultan of Swat meekly grounded out to 1st in his final at-bat on May 31, 1935.
Michael Jordan – Arguably the greatest player to ever dribble a basketball scored 15 points, but missed his last 2 jumpers in a 20-point loss to the Sixers as a member of the 37-win Wizards on April 16, 2003.
Jimmy Johnson – The coach all Cowboys fans seemingly want back ended with a thud, as his Miami Dolphins team was shellacked by the Jaguars, 62-7, in a 1999 AFC Playoff game.
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