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Column: Last ride a rocky one for Ray Lewis

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Column: Last ride a rocky one for Ray Lewis

NEW ORLEANS (AP) A lot of this Super Bowl was going to be about Ray Lewis anyway, even before strange tales of deer-antler spray and magic hologram chips came to light. He made sure of it by starting his retirement tour early, and bringing along the dances and inspirational speeches that TV cameras eat up.

If his oratorical skills are great, so, too, is the player. His teammates love him as much for what he does in the locker room as on the field, and fans in Baltimore may one day even erect a statue to his greatness.

Seventeen years fronting one of the most dominating defenses in the NFL should be enough to get him in the Hall of Fame. A Super Bowl win on Sunday would give him a second ring to cherish the rest of his life.

Like the player, though, the act has grown old. When Lewis talks - and he talks incessantly - it's hard to take anything he says seriously.

That was the case Wednesday when he had the stage to himself and everyone in a packed interview room wanted to know: Just what is deer-antler spray and why would you want to take it?

Turns out he wouldn't. And, says Lewis, anyone who suggests otherwise must be doing so with evil intent.

``That's the trick of the devil,'' he said. ``The trick of the devil is to kill, steal and destroy. That's what he comes to do. He comes to distract you from everything you're trying to do.''

Enough. Please. The real trick for Ray Lewis is obfuscation and if he does it well, it's because he's had plenty of practice.

The day before, a reporter had the temerity to ask him about a night 13 years ago in Atlanta that left two men dead after a Super Bowl party and put Lewis in jail on charges of double murder. Old news, maybe, but the circumstances surrounding the deaths have never been fully explained, especially by Lewis.

Instead of invoking the devil, Lewis went the other way.

``Nobody here is really qualified to ask those questions,'' he said. ``I just truly feel that this is God's time, and whatever his time is, let it be his will. Don't try to please everybody with your words, try to make everybody's story sound right.''

What?

Lewis pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and got probation, along with a $250,000 fine from the NFL for violating its conduct policy. The murders remain unsolved after the case against his co-defendants fell apart.

He's been nothing but a model citizen since and as the years go by and memories fade he's become in inspirational figure to those who enjoy his proselytizing and his play on the football field. His teammates respect him as their leader, and his coach seems to regard him as larger than life.

``We have already used him as our team chaplain, so Ray could double up anytime he wants,'' Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. ``He can coach. He can do whatever he wants. I think Ray's got big plans. Ray's that kind of guy and when he's done playing he's always a guy trying to affect people and change the way that people think and make an impact on the world.''

He's certainly making an impact on this Super Bowl, though his last ride has turned out to be bumpier than he might have imagined. Lewis surely understood the murders would be mentioned, but after years of deflecting questions about his connection to them, he was probably also sure it would be no more than a minor annoyance.

It's not so easy with deer-antler spray and pills. Sports Illustrated said Lewis hoped to repair a torn right triceps by seeking help from an Alabama company that says its products contain a banned substance connected to human growth hormone. Lewis denied taking anything illegal, but danced around any connection to the company that also sold its product to golfer Vijay Singh and others.

``To entertain foolishness like that from cowards who come from the outside and try to destroy what we've built, like I just said, it's sad to even entertain it on this type of stage, because this type of stage is what dreams are made of,'' Lewis said. ``This is what kids dream their whole lives, to be up here on these days, stepping in the NFL and saying that I am on the biggest stage ever.''

If it all sounds a bit wacky, it's because it is. What, after all, could be goofier than deer-antler spray and magic chips except maybe the men who believe in them.

But after the Lance Armstrong confession it's hard to believe anything athletes say anymore, or that the NFL is somehow free of PEDs simply because there hasn't been a big scandal in recent years. We don't know what anyone takes, how many tests they've passed or failed, or what they do behind closed doors to build the kind of muscles you need to play in the NFL.

Life as a football player will end for Lewis on Sunday in the Super Bowl, and if he has mixed emotions about it, so must we.

It's hard to root against one of the greatest linebackers ever, a man who has played with the intensity of 10 men for 17 years now, and a man who is a towering figure in the locker room,

After today, it's even harder to root for him.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org orhttp://twitter.com/timdahlberg

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Rare spinal conditon forced Zach Orr to retire

Rare spinal conditon forced Zach Orr to retire

OWINGS MILLS – Ravens inside linebacker Zach Orr had no choice but to retire, after a physical examination detected a spinal condition that made it extremely dangerous for him to continue his career.

“I have a condition that I was born with,” Orr said Friday, making his formal retirement announcement during a press conference. “I’m forced to walk away from the game of football.”

Orr said a CAT scan revealed a rare congenital abnormality, and that the top of his spinal column had never fully developed. Orr was never aware of his issue until he suffered a shoulder injury against the Steelers on Christmas that led to further testing.

While Orr never imagined he would retire at age 24, he felt blessed to be leaving the game before his condition led to a catastrophic injury. Orr has been playing football with his spinal condition since he was nine years old, and said doctors could not explain how he had played so long without his issue being detected.

“When I first found out the news, it was shocking,” Orr said. “Football is something I’ve done my whole life.”

Orr said retirement was his only option, because he would never pass an NFL physical. He also said that reports the Ravens tried to talk him out of retirement were inaccurate.

“They’ve supported me through this,” said Orr, who added that one of his high school teammates was paralyzed playing football.

Orr kept his composure during the press conference, but admitted he took the news hard at first. One of those emotional moments came after a telephone conversation with recently retired wide receiver Steve Smith Sr.

“I broke down a couple of times, as recent as a couple of days ago,” Orr said.

Three of Orr’s teammates attended Friday’s press conference – linebackers C. J. Mosley and Albert McClellan, and safety Eric Weddle. General manager Ozzie Newsome, coach John Harbaugh, defensive coordinator Dean Pees, and linebackers coach Don Martindale were also in attendance. Orr is one of the most popular and respected players in the locker room. An undrafted free agent in 2014, Orr made the team as a special teams standout and earned a starting job for the first time this season. He led the Ravens in tackles (130), finishing 10th in the NFL in that department.

Orr had a bright future as a player. Now, that future will head in another direction.

“Instead of asking – ‘Why me?, ask ‘What’s next?’” Orr said.

“I’m very proud that he’s been a Raven,” said Harbaugh. “I can’t wait to see what the next door holds.”

Related: Ravens name their new offensive line coach

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Ravens linebacker Zach Orr to retire due to shoulder injury

Ravens linebacker Zach Orr to retire due to shoulder injury

Ravens starting inside linebacker Zach Orr has decided to retire due to a serious shoulder injury, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. Only 24 years old, Orr led the Ravens in tackles last season after winning a starting job for the first time, and his career was trending upward. Losing Orr, an undrafted free agent from North Texas, leaves the Ravens with another void to fill after a disappointing 8-8 season.

The Ravens scheduled an 11 a.m. press conference Friday in which further details on Orr’s retirement were expected.

Orr played in all but one game last season, but sat out the season finale with what was termed a neck injury. He is one of the team’s most popular players in the locker room, working his way from undrafted free agent, to special teams standout, to starter.

Related: Steve Smith addresses coaching rumors