BALTIMORE -- Ray Lewis never put any limits on himself. Even as a young kid growing up in Lakeland, Fla., surrounded by poverty and crime, Lewis not only told his best friend, Kwame King, that he was going to make it out, he vowed that he was going to make it big.
The second of the Ravens' two first-round picks in their inaugural draft in 1996, Lewis set his sights not just on becoming an immediate NFL starter, he wanted to become the best middle linebacker in the NFL. After establishing himself as a perennial Pro Bowl performer, Lewis promised Ravens owner Art Modell that he'd deliver him a championship.
Lewis learned Saturday afternoon that he can now check off another box and revel in the highest individual honor of a player's career. Exactly five years after he played his last game and went out as a Super Bowl champion, Lewis was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
Regarded as one of the best defensive players of his generation, Lewis' selection was considered little more than a formality after he played 17 seasons and garnered 13 Pro Bowl selections, two Defensive Player of the Year awards and won two Super Bowls, earning Most Valuable Player honors for the Ravens' victory over the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV.
Lewis has talked about how much it would mean for him to be elected in his first year of eligibility and how symbolic it would be to be voted in this year. Saturday marked the five-year anniversary of the Ravens' 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII, the last of Lewis' 249 career NFL games, including the postseason. The announcement also came on the eve of Super Bowl LII, or 52, the number that Lewis wore with distinction throughout his Ravens tenure.
Lewis will head a star-studded 2018 Hall of Fame class that also reportedly includes wide receivers Randy Moss and Terrell Owens, middle linebacker Brian Urlacher and safety Brian Dawkins. Former Houston Oilers linebacker Robert Brazile and Green Bay Packers offensive lineman Jerry Kramer also got in as a senior finalist and ex-NFL executive Bobby Beathard was voted in as a contributor.
Moss and Urlacher join Lewis as first-ballot entries.
Now 42, Lewis will become the second homegrown Raven to be enshrined in Canton, Ohio, joining offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, Ozzie Newsome's other first-round selection in 1996.
"For 17 years, we could point to No. 52 and tell the other players: 'Follow his lead. Practice like Ray practices. Prepare like Ray prepares. Be a great teammate like him.' It was our privilege to have him as a Raven," Newsome said in a statement released by the team. "We are all better for having him here. His play on gamedays speaks for itself. Even in that small group who have the honor of being a Hall of Famer, Ray stands out. When you talk about the great players of all time, no matter position, he is among the greatest of the great."
Lewis attended Ogden's Hall of Fame induction in August 2013 and said that's the only time he's been to the Hall of Fame.