So when Belichick was informed during his press conference Wednesday that the perennial Pro Bowl  linebacker was retiring, the Patriots coach went briefly down memory lane.
“Tremendous player, tremendous career,” Belichick said. “I’ve known Ray since I went down and visited with him in 1996 prior to the draft in Miami. He’s had a great career, he’s a great player.”
Belichick left his comments at that, knowing full well that if the Bengals and Ravens win their wild-card games this weekend, Lewis will be leading an emotionally charged Ravens team into Gillette on Jan. 13 for an AFC divisional showdown. Everyone remembers what happened the last two times they met in the playoffs. The Ravens beat the Patriots, 33-14, in Jan. 2010 while Patriots exacted revenge with a win over Baltimore in last year’s AFC championship.
Lewis was selected for 13 Pro Bowl teams, tabbed as an Associated Press All Pro 10 times, garnered NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors twice and was named the Super Bowl  XXXV MVP after the Ravens beat the Giants .
He played more games (228) and more seasons (17) than any Ravens player in history, and also set team highs in tackles (1,573) and fumble recoveries (20). He’s second on the franchise list in interceptions (31) and forced fumbles (19) and fourth in sacks (41.5).
Lewis, who has played 17 seasons for the Ravens, announced his decision to retire today, telling teammates that “this will be my last ride.”
“I told them I just felt so much peace in where I am with my decision because of everything I’ve done in this league,” Lewis said during the Ravens’ media availability today with several of his teammates watching. “I’ve done it, man. There’s no accolade that I don’t have individually but I’ve never played the game for individual stats. I’ve only played the game to make my team be a better team.”
Lewis injured his triceps in a win over the Cowboys midways through the season and hasn’t played since. Lewis added that “there is no reason for me to not play Sunday” in the Ravens’ wild-card playoff game against the Colts at M&T Bank Stadium.
“Now, God is calling,” Lewis said. “God is calling in so many other areas of life and my children have made the ultimate sacrifice for their father, the ultimate for 17 years. Whether it’s jump on the plane, jump right back, go to school, and I don’t want to see them do no more. I’ve done what I wanted to do in this business and now, it’s my turn to give them back something. It’s either hold onto the game or keep playing or let my kids miss out on times we could be sharing together. I promised my son if he got a full-ride scholarship, Daddy was going to be there. I can’t miss that. I don’t know if I could sit in a meeting room and fight with that war.”
Lewis is the league’s longest tenured defensive player with his original team. He is a lock for the Hall of Fame and will go down in history as one of the greatest middle linebackers ever to play the game.