Tens of thousands of Ravens fans packed the streets of Baltimore on Tuesday to celebrate the fact their beloved franchise will no longer be officially associated with Ray Lewis, one of the most despised and over-exposed athletes of all-time.
"I love Baltimore and I love the Ravens," said Brianna Barker, a Baltimore resident. "But it sure was difficult to root for this team the past 13 years with someone like Ray Lewis on the team. What an awful person. What a phony. We feel like a cloud has been lifted with him retiring. I don't feel dirty being a Ravens fan anymore. I don't have any moral hangups about being a Ravens fan anymore. None of us do. And we're all out here today to celebrate that."
The dancing, glory-hogging Lewis has unfortunately been the face of the franchise since he was drafted in the team's first draft in 1996 — and even more so since he was involved in a double murder in 2000.
"Think about it: this franchise hasn't played one game, not one game, without having Ray Lewis on the roster," said head coach John Harbaugh. "We are entering a new era here. An era in which no one has to try to defend that guy anymore. Ravens fans don't always have to be on the defensive anymore. They don't have to live in shame. That's why you can see the happiness on the faces of everyone who came out today. I know I'm much prouder to be a Raven today than I ever was before."
Lewis was part of the parade that wound its way through the city's downtown streets and concluded just outside the city limits where Lewis was dropped off. The caravan then sped back to M&T Bank Stadium to change the locks.
Ty Rutledge, age 17, says he doesn't know what it's like root for a football team that isn't loathed by everyone across the country.
"So I can wear a Ravens sweatshirt outside of Baltimore now and strangers won't say to me: 'How can you root for a team with a murderer on it?' People won't look at me and instantly assume I'm a terrible human being? Wow," he said. "I've always dreamed of that. It sure beats any Super Bowl title."