When Baltimore Raven linebacker Ray Lewis takes the field at next Sunday’s Super Bowl — his last game ever — much will be made of his storied career. Lewis, now 37, had his breakout season four years after being drafted by the Ravens in 1996: Leading tackler in the NFL, he led the Ravens to victory in Super Bowl XXXV and was named the game’s MVP.
Just one year before, Lewis had been arrested and tried in connection with a double homicide in Atlanta. It’s perhaps the most dramatic bookend that a professional athlete — a legend, at that — could have to his career: His first Super Bowl, played in the shadow of two slayings, made Ray Lewis a superstar. He now leaves his second Super Bowl an iconic all-American hero, beloved by small children and major corporations alike.
As much as the NFL loves a redemption narrative, the story of Ray Lewis is one that you probably won’t be hearing anything about next Sunday night. Lewis himself has made it clear that he will never address it again: “Really,” he told a reporter this month. “Really. Why would I talk about that?”
On THE evening of Jan. 30, 2000, Ray Lewis was looking to party. He had flown to Atlanta to watch Super Bowl XXXIV and booked himself into the luxury Georgian hotel. He’d also brought along his personal driver, Duane Fassett, to chauffeur a stretch Lincoln Navigator: 37 feet long, 14 seats, $3,000 a day.
On this night, Lewis turned himself out: white-and-black suit, full-length black mink coat and what would later be described as “enough rock to break the bank.” A few nights earlier, he had met a gorgeous woman named Jessica Robertson at a party thrown by Magic Johnson, and it was she — not Lewis’ pregnant fiancée — who was his date for the evening.
What Lewis and his crew were doing before they arrived at around 1 a.m. at the Cobalt Club, in Atlanta’s party-centric Buckhead district, remains unclear. The Cobalt had a blue neon glow and a V.V.I.P room. Baseball star David Justice had been there earlier, as had Tony Gonzalez, then of the Kansas City Chiefs, but Lewis held court on the first floor, near the door, so everyone would notice.
With him were Joseph Sweeting, a strip-club promoter who’d been friends with Lewis since college, and Reginald Oakley, who’d recently worked his way into Lewis’ circle through friends of friends. They were getting to know each other better, though; the day before, the three men had gone shopping at a Sports Authority store, where Sweeting and Oakley bought folding knives. ...READ ON ...