TAMPA, Fla. -- It was scary.
Ray Lewis was Jesus.
"Jesus couldn't please everybody," Lewis said. "He was spit on, slashed at, talked about ... yet he never said a word. That's my attitude."
It was unsettling.
Ray Lewis was the victim.
"I've got money, I'm black and I'm blessed ... so it's about me, and that's wrong," he said. "Don't be mad at me because I'm on center stage."
It was sad.
Ray Lewis was everything but sorry.
"People ask me, how do you handle this, how do you handle that?" he said. "But what do I have to handle? All I have to handle is Tiki Barber, Ron Dayne, and everything else is irrelevant."
For an hour under a bright central Florida sun Tuesday, Ray Lewis chillingly spoke of his involvement with an unsolved double murder as if it had been a missed tackle.
Listening to him, you wanted to run.
Afterward, you wanted to bathe.
Lewis, the centerpiece linebacker in the Baltimore Ravens' celebrated defense, may be the best player at Super Bowl XXXV.
After a smirking, cackling performance on media day, he is also officially the most frightening.
"Yeah, a lot of people are scared of me," he said, laughing. "Come Sunday, those people on the field are going to be scared of me. They're human too."
If only life were as neatly groomed as that field.
The topic was a list of unanswered questions surrounding the deaths of two men in a street fight outside an Atlanta nightclub shortly after last year's Super Bowl
Lewis was initially charged with murder, based on information provided by witnesses who said they saw him throw a punch before speeding away in a limousine. But those witnesses later changed their stories.
Lewis eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, obstruction of justice, for failing to cooperate with police.
But witnesses say he still hasn't fully cooperated.
And the murders remain unsolved.
On Tuesday, Lewis stepped onto a truly national stage for the first time since that night.
And promptly pronounced the investigation complete.
"That's a chapter that's closed," he said.
(Tell that to the families of the deceased).
"The people to be mad at are ... the mayor of Atlanta and the people who never cared at one time to find out who killed those people," he said. "They said, 'We're going to get Ray Lewis,' but Ray Lewis was never the guy."
(Then why wouldn't he help find the guy?)
"You can labor about this, but not me," he said. "We can go someplace else."
(Not in a limousine, I hope).
He wore a crooked visor and an uneven grin.
Around his sizable neck hung two silver dog tags. One read, "True Soldier Gladiator Warrior." The other, "This Is God's Will For My Life."
The bottom of a panther tattoo sneaked out from underneath the left sleeve of his jersey.
"I've got panthers all over me," he said.
Along with a sense of entitlement that reeked like bad cologne.
It would have been outrageous to expect that Lewis would tell reporters something he didn't tell police.
Certainly, as a football player, he was not compelled to say anything about a crime for which he had already paid his legal price.
But as a human being, he might have shown a little remorse.
Or at least some public feeling for the victim's families?
"Nah," he said. "Uh-uh."
Five minutes into a conversation eventually dominated by football questions because Lewis would give straight answers to nothing else, one dynamic was clear.
It is a feeling that permeates NFL rosters increasingly dominated by players expecting pedestals.
It is about a culture found in the just-completed murder trial of Rae Carruth, and the just-beginning sexual-assault trial of Mark Chmura.
It goes something like this:
Pro football players are special.
The public doesn't understand.
Pro football players, because of the warlike nature of their sport, live by the code of the street.
The public will never break this code.
Pro football players, faced with a natural struggle to leave their aggression on the field, are misunderstood by the Man.
Everybody else being the Man.
Bad enough that Lewis refused to show a shred of sensitivity regarding the murders.
But did he have to seem proud of that?
Asked again about the families of the deceased, he smiled and said, "Football, football, football."
Asked about his reputation, he smiled and said, "Character, character, character."
What about his image?
"If I could go back (to the regular season), I would show you my image," he said. "On Sunday, being introduced to my crowd, the respect those people give me off and on the field ... that's my image."
He will get that same respect Sunday here when the Ravens play the New York Giants.
He will be the biggest, baddest player in the middle of America's biggest, baddest sporting event.
For four hours, under a colorful shirt and shiny helmet, he will be celebrated as a martyr and a prophet and a gladiator.
And afterward, a certain advertiser could stick a camera in his face while somebody shouts, "So, Ray Lewis, now that you've won the Super Bowl, what are you going to do?"
You'd better hope he says he's going to Disney World, not somewhere near you.
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