As I watch the ongoing drama surrounding the LaDainian Tomlinson situation in San Diego and as it appears more and more likely that Ray Lewis will switch teams, I'm reminded what a rare gift it is for a fan base to see one of their heroes not just finish their career with their team, but to also end their career on a high note. That was what made the conclusion of Jerome Bettis' career so special for Steelers' fans. I imagine it was similar for Broncos' fans when John Elway retired following his second Super Bowl high. That does not happen very often.
Far too often, we watch legends fade into obscurity on marginal teams as they slowly
succumb to age. That was how most of the Steelers' stars from the 70s squads ended their careers. But that, in turn, beats watching stars fade into obscurity on a team for which next to nobody will remember they played. I remember how bizarre it felt as a kid watching Franco Harris suit up for the Seahawks and Joe Montana run on to the field as a Chief. These would be equivalent today of seeing Peyton Manning suit up for the Detroit Lions, Tom Brady don a Houston Texas jersey, or Brett Favre take the field as a Jet (oh wait...that did happen). Most great players have a hard time walking away and spend a year or two too long at the party, often causing short-term damage to their legacy. When Rod Woodson left the Steelers after ten years, that was different because he still had years of good football ahead of him. His was one of the rare cases where the Steelers top brass undervalued a player and Woodson played seven more very productive years.
Like much of Steelers Nation, I have a love/hate outlook on the Ravens...they are the team I love to hate. Nobody else comes close. But, I also recoil at the thought of Ray Lewis finishing his career anywhere but Baltimore. It just doesn't feel right. Here's to hoping Lewis decides to stay in Baltimore and finishes his career in front of his fans, even if it means accepting less money. I also hope that, like Bettis, LT accepts a reduced role and stays in San Diego to finish his career. Both teams are still legitimate playoff contenders with a real shot of making it to the big game. It would be a real shame if Lewis or Tomlinson weren't there if they do, even if they aren't the centerpieces of their team. Bettis' best years were long behind him when the Steelers won Super Bowl XL, but you couldn't tell it by the smile on his face. Lewis will always be remembered as a Raven and Tomlinson will always be remembered as a Charger no matter where they finish their playing days.