The sad saga of Jermaine Lewis
This Sunday will mark two distinctly huge events: the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and the beginning of the NFL football season.
You will no doubt read, see and hear story after story about What It All Means. About how the tragedy that was 9/11 puts things into perspective or how sports help us escape from the very real realities that were experienced 10 years ago.
You’ll read and hear about how we should take a moment to think about the spirit of unity that we had in America the day after 9/11 and how it contrasts with the divisive nature of our rhetoric today. You’ll read about how, in light of 9/11, we should remember the sense of selflessness and sacrifice, of helping our fellow man that we may not even know.
Ten years ago, Jermaine Lewis provided one of the best moments of my sports-watching life. I’ll never forget watching Super Bowl XXXV at my friend Chris’ house. The Ravens had been dominating most of the game and Duane Starks’ had just run back a pick-6 that put the Ravens up 17-0. With the 2000 Ravens defense, that was like a 42-0 lead.
Then, the Giants’ Ron Dixon ran back the ensuing kickoff return for a touchdown to cut it to 17-7. Uh oh. We were getting nervous; 17-7 doesn’t look insurmountable, not even with our defense.
And then J-Lew happened. He took the Giants kickoff back for a TD to put us up 24-7. The Giants chances, to quote a popular Jay-Z song at the time were, “Zip, zero, stingy with dinero.” The NFL Films version of J-Lew’s touchdown was even better, with a miked up Brian Billick screaming, “Make history J-Lew! YEAHHHH!”
I thought about that moment recently after J-Lew was arrested for DUI and tasered in his home for resisting arrest. The mug shot of a sleepy-eyed, hungover-looking J-Lew was a very sad portrait to see.
It wasn’t J-Lew’s first incident with alcohol either, as he had a previous DUI from a few years earlier. I may be wrong since I don’t personally know the man, but I’ve been around enough drunks in my life to get the sense that J-Lew has a problem and needs help.
He may not think so. But odds are if he’s been popped twice for DUI in the past 6 years, he’s managed to escape a DUI countless other times.
I hope the Ravens organization has reached out to Jermaine and tried to get him help. I understand if they don’t do it publicly. Pro football is a harsh, unforgiving business. Obviously, you can’t save everyone. The organization can’t and shouldn’t go into the business of helping everybody that walks through the locker room doors that has a problem. Pro football teams are in the business of winning ballgames and making money, not necessarily in that order, and if a guy can’t perform because he has issues, he’s gone.
But J-Lew is a different case. Besides the fact that he’s retired, J-Lew was part of the famed Ravens draft class of 1996 that included future Hall-of-Famers Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden.
Because he was from University of Maryland, Jermaine was brought on partly for his football skills, partly to help the franchise establish a local identity after moving from Cleveland. For Marylanders, he was one of us. When Jermaine’s son Geronimo was stillborn during the 2000 season, fans, teammates, everybody was rooting for J-Lew. And he delivered in the 2000 season finale against the Jets, returning two punts for touchdowns, each time pointing to the sky as he crossed the goalline. The defense may have been the muscle of the team, but J-Lew provided the magic and the big plays for 2000 Ravens.
Unfortunately, the magic ran out after Jermaine was released in the 2002 salary cap purge. He bounced around from Houston to Jacksonville before being allocated to NFL Europe before retiring.
For the most part, J-Lew has kept a low profile in retirement. I don’t remember him being at the 10-year reunion of the Super Bowl team this past October. It’s kind of sad that he doesn’t have a higher profile in the community like some of the other members of the 2000 team like Ogden, Qadry Ismail, Mike Flynn and Brad Jackson because he was every bit as vital a member of the team.
So as you read and see the stories about 9/11, remember the spirit of unity, the spirit of helping our fellow man, even if you’ve never met that person in your life. Remember that and hope the Jermaine Lewis’ of the world are able to get the help they need.