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American football: Controversial Ray Lewis seeks to bow out as Super Bowl XLVII champion


Quit at the top, they say. But in sport, it's the hardest thing. Bobby Jones did it. So did Rocky Marciano, while in 1973 Jackie Stewart retired from Formula One, having won his third drivers' championship, and in 2002 Pete Sampras bowed out as US Open champion. But who else? Now Ray Lewis has a chance to do likewise.

Lewis may lack the global fame of the quartet above. He is a defensive linebacker, not a glamorous quarterback. The brutality of his on-field hits is famous, while his off-field past has been, to put it mildly, somewhat chequered. He has fathered six children out of wedlock, and in 2000 was even indicted for murder in connection with the death of two men outside an Atlanta nightclub (the charge was later reduced to obstruction of justice after Lewis agreed to testify against two co-defendants). In short, he is not everyone's role model. But to fans of the National Football League in general, and of the Baltimore Ravens in particular, Lewis is a hero to match all the aforementioned.

NFL careers can be very short. But when he takes the field for the Super Bowl and his last-ever game, Lewis will be completing his 17th season for the Ravens. The sole remaining player from the team's first season in Baltimore in 1996, and consistently rated the best linebacker in the League, he is the face and soul of the franchise, the only one he has ever played for.

Typically, though, controversy dogged him to the end. Only this week he denied reports he had taken a banned substance to help heal a muscle tear that had cost him much of the 2012 season. Lewis angrily denied all. And if the man in the No 52 shirt enters a well-earned retirement with a Super Bowl ring, everything will be forgotten.