The first time I saw Ray Lewis, in person, was during a Bears home game in 2005. It was pretty spooky.
The Baltimore Ravens' frenetic linebacker was high-stepping it along the red zone at Soldier Field, pounding his chest, punching the air with his fists, hollering at the heavens and glaring menacingly at the Bears' sideline.
We all know what an entertainer Lewis is. Real or staged, he gives fans their money's worth.
But on this particular day. Lewis was alone on the Soldier Field turf. It was still 2 1/2 hours before kickoff. Pre-game warmups hadn't begun yet. The stadium hadn't even opened to the public.
There was No. 52, doing his thing, regardless.
There are many ways athletes psyche themselves up for big games. They pray, pump up the volume on their headsets, or stare aimlessly into space.
Lewis gave the press box an entertaining 25 minutes.
As the kickoff for Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans draws near, Ray Lewis will be a constant in news coverage. He's retiring after this season, so an NFL championship would be the perfect parting gift for the game's greatest middle linebacker.
There are still some unavoidable bumps in the road coming his way, though Lewis has kept his hands firmly on the wheel.
He did it at Tuesday's media day with reports of him having used a banned substance -- deer antler extract spray which includes IGF-1 -- to help his remarkable recovery from a torn triceps earlier this season.
Lewis denied everything, of course.
Once a polarizing figure during his NFL career and now popular because of his final Super Bowl appearance, Lewis was also asked about the January 2000 stabbings in Atlanta that left two people dead and saw him plead guilty to obstruction of justice.
"I live with it every day of my life and I'd rather not speak of that today," he said.
Given his knack for over-the-top theatrics, many have wondered if the 17-year veteran is "on something" or has wiring that's not properly connected.
Lewis often rambles on without saying anything.
His animated pre-game pep talks in the huddle, with all that incoherent shouting and screaming, make for great footage on ESPN or the NFL Channel but are pretty silly, otherwise.
His rather odd "Squirrel Dance" has become an instant hit on YouTube.
The man's toughness, mentally and physically, cannot be disputed, however. You figure anyone with 184 tackles in one season (1997) or 12 Pro Bowl selections merits being the cornerstone of a franchise.
You saw the impact, the drive and motivation, Lewis provided in the AFC playoffs, though a bit overboard.
You just hope he's accomplished this level of greatness without cheating or taking short cuts.
If clean, Ray Lewis can come from another planet, for all I care.
This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org