By Peter King
Pro Football Writers of America
NEW ORLEANS - Linebacker Ray Lewis, drafted in the first round in the history of the new Baltimore Ravens in 1996 and retiring after Sunday's Super Bowl against San Francisco, walked off the practice field for the last time Friday as the Ravens concluded full-scale workouts at the New Orleans Saints' practice facility.
The Ravens will have a short walk-through Saturday, but players don't even break a sweat in those sessions. This was it after 17 seasons of practices for Lewis, who seemed somber and serious for much of the practice, as he has all week. There were little reminders of the last practice for Lewis. As he always does on Friday, running back Ray Rice, mentored by Lewis since being drafted by the Ravens in 2008, wore Lewis' number 52 and at one pointed shouted to Lewis and pointed to the number on his jersey. The Ravens play music at most practice sessions, and the first two songs played at the practice session were Lewis favorites: "Spiritual,'' a gospel number by Donald Lawrence and Company, and "Hot in Herre'' by Nelly, the song the Ravens blared when Lewis was introduced at home games.
Lewis wore number 1 without a name on the back, a Friday game-week tradition dating back to 2001. When the 65-minute practice ended, Lewis walked off the Saints' grass field onto a team bus, talking with tackle Bryant McKinnie all the way. Outward signs of emotion by Lewis if he was feeling any? None. The game could also be the last one for 36-year-old center Matt Birk, whose plans for 2013 are unclear, and the last one in Baltimore for free-agent-to-be Ed Reed, but many eyes on the sidelines were fixed on Lewis.
"I didn't even think of it,'' said coach John Harbaugh before boarding the bus for the 15-minute trip back to Baltimore's team hotel in downtown New Orleans. "That's not where Ray's head is either, I'm sure. He's thinking about the game. We all are.''
The Ravens, practicing under blue skies with 8-mph winds and a temperature of 63, preceded the 49ers on the field late Friday morning. The two teams have been in a rare practice-sharing arrangement because Baltimore's practice site eight miles away at Tulane had artificial turf, and the Ravens players preferred grass. That necessitated Baltimore following San Francisco on the Saints' field late Thursday afternoon, and the two teams switched Friday: Ravens first, Niners second. As the Ravens finished their work and boarded five buses outside the fence next to the field, the 49ers players and coached disembarked in the parking lot next to the building. There was no contact between the two teams.
Baltimore couldn't be healthier heading into the biggest game of its season. For the third straight day, all 53 players on the active roster were full participants in practice, a rarity for any Super Bowl team after four preseason games, 16 regular-season games and three playoff games.
Page 2 of 2 - Asked for his review of the practice week, Harbaugh said: "It was an A-plus. A-plus-plus. We're at the stage where we're clicking on all cylinders and practicing very, very well. We've had a few assignment errors, but they've been corrected right away. I'm very pleased with how the week has gone.''
After practice, Harbaugh gathered the team at midfield and thanked them, he said, "for how hard they've worked both this week and this season, and for who they are.'' He urged his players earlier in the day to get some time to themselves and rest. "Family, we love ‘em, but they're not playing in the game. Only the players are, and they need to be at their best Sunday at 6:30,'' Harbaugh said. He told them to stay well-hydrated in the next 48 hours before the game.