"Every season of The Wire is like a whole new show, with another angle on life in 21st century America," said Simon, "But we always return to Baltimore, and this was our greatest season yet: a larger-than-life NFL tale built around a character I've been developing since way back in 1996."
Simon credited his writing staff, his go-to sixth season director Steve Sabol (who passed away in September), and The Wire star Idris Elba for making this season's central "Ray Lewis" story arc so memorable.
"Viewers can't get emotionally invested in whole football teams, and certainly not a football team poached from Cleveland," said Simon. "Which is why we used one man to depict the cult of American sports, and American society itself, writ large in a linebacker who pretends he's in Gladiator before every game."
Critics say Simon built the most fascinating ongoing TV project ever for Season 6, incorporating reality TV production techniques, real-life news coverage, and segments where Elba got "mic'd up" and went on the field during actual NFL games. It's such a lifelike creation that fan interest convinced the NFL to turn the fictional "Baltimore Ravens" franchise into an actual team for the 2013-2014 season.
"They're a team built on the shoulders of a magnetic millionaire muscleman, himself forged in the hedonistic baptismal fires of 'The U'," said Simon. "Which is why Ray is my best anti-hero since McNulty, and why 'The Peacemaker' is one of the greatest television hours in the medium's history."
Simon's "The Peacemaker" was an instant classic The Wire episode from 2000, where Lewis's character [SPOILERS] accepts an obstruction of justice conviction for his morally ambiguous role in two inner city stabbing deaths. Lewis then leads the Ravens to a championship and cements his athletic legacy with a Super Bowl MVP award, but still gets snubbed out of a postgame invite to Disneyland. Ray then spends the next 13 years toiling to rebuild his reputation, finally succeeding in the season's penultimate episode "The Visa Ad And The Little Girl".
"It asks who we are as human beings to watch this kind of brutal violence week in and week out, and then support even worse cruelties and extravagances off the field," said Simon, before leaving the press conference to thank his cast and crew privately. "And we found 17 years worth of answers where the good guys tend not to win and the bad guys tend not to lose."
Asked how he made the "Ray Lewis" character come alive, actor Idris Elba said he worked harder than ever in his return to The Wire. Elba previously played Russell "Stringer" Bell in Seasons 1-3.
"I hope a few fans start recognizing me for Ray, because right now I only ever hear how much they loved the Stringer character," said Elba in his authentic British accent. "Unless they thought 'Ray Lewis' was a real person because they're not good at telling black people apart?"