Ray Lewis falls to his knees on the field and quotes Scripture in interviews and dances and cries and prays.
It's hard not to wonder about this guy.
What's with him?
Kelly Gregg chuckled at the question.
The Oklahoma native has seen the linebacker's antics up close. He spent 11 years in Baltimore, starting on the Ravens' defensive line and playing alongside Lewis.
“There's a TV Ray,” Gregg said, “and then, there's a work-week Ray.”
That's a familiar refrain when you talk to guys who have played with Lewis — and in this state, we have several of them. They say that the animated showman who the world sees on game day morphs into the consummate professional the rest of the week.
But as Lewis prepares to retire after a 17-year career — he says the Super Bowl will be his last game — the focus is on the strut-dancing, face-painted persona.
Billy Bajema spent seven years in the NFL before joining the Ravens this season, and what he knew of Lewis before was what the rest of us know.
“What you see on TV and in commercials,” the former Westmoore High and Oklahoma State standout said.
Now, the first thing that pops to mind when Bajema thinks of Lewis is the linebacker's leadership.
“The things he says to the team, the way he plays and the passion the he does everything ... aren't just for the cameras,” said Bajema, who's become a blocking tight end for the Ravens. “That's why the team rallies behind him and why his leadership really works.
Trent Smith witnessed that during a two-year stint in Baltimore. The former Sooner was drafted by the Ravens in 2003, and he worried about being a newbie in the same locker room with Lewis.
Would he punk the rookies?
Would he want to fight?
Turned out, those fears were totally unfounded.
“Guys like Ray — guys who are always trying to get better and all they care about is winning — there's no singling out,” Smith said. “You were drafted. You are on his team. He expects the best from you.”
Lewis wants the best for his teammates, too.
After Smith broke his leg as a rookie, Lewis would check on him often.
“He would come into the training room: ‘How's it going?'” said Smith, who retired after four NFL seasons because of injuries. “He didn't have to check on a rookie, third-string tight end in the training room. But he did on almost a daily basis.
“He's one of the most unique characters I've ever met.”
Ditto, says Gregg.
He loved being on the field any time Lewis danced his way out of the tunnel. Every other defender had to wear his helmet during introductions, but not Ray.
“I'd always get a kick out of it,” Gregg said of the routine. “It was always fun to watch the crowd light up and watch other guys light up.”
It was so different, though, than the guy that Gregg saw the rest of the week. In his 13 years in the NFL, the former Edmond North High and Oklahoma Sooner standout never had a teammate who was more of a student of the game than Lewis. Even though Lewis was one of the most physically gifted players on the team, he was diligent about watching film and studying game plans.
Lewis would even invite teammates to his house for film sessions.
“You just think of him being loud all the time,” said Gregg, who retired after last season and makes his home in Edmond. “He's not like that at all. He's quiet during the week. But he definitely knows when the camera's on him.”
“I guess he just sort of saves it up for the game.”
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.