TAMPA, Fla. -- In the span of a year, Ray Lewis went from Super Bowl sideshow to Super Bowl Most Valuable Player. Standing atop the Super Bowl winners' celebratory stage after the game, the same player who oftentimes found himself vilified, testified to a faith in his maker and his team.
"The man upstairs tells you: I never will take you through hell without bringing you to triumph," Lewis said after his Baltimore Ravens' 34-7 victory over the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV. "And that's why I'm sitting up here now."
There's a reason why just seven defenders now have been selected Most Valuable Player in 35 Super Bowls. Voters usually lean toward tangible statistical factors from the big game's offensive stars.
Lewis' statistical stats from Super Bowl XXXV (3 tackles, 2 assists and 4 passes defensed) weren't necessarily his best. The NFL Defensive Player of the Year didn't intercept a pass or return a fumble for a touchdown.
The select panel of voters and Internet voters simply recognized that he was the heart, soul, and leader of perhaps the best defensive unit and performance in Super Bowl history. And in accordance with his role, Lewis evoked confidence during his postgame press conference.
"I told Shannon Sharpe and I told Jamal Lewis: Give us 10 points and the game is over," Lewis said. "That's not boasting. If you give us 10 points, game over. You go down against our defense, you're in a whole lot of trouble. We've dominated people like that all year. And they didn't score on us. Make sure you quote that. They didn't score on our defense."
Lewis repeatedly used the spotlight of the most valuable player press conference to praise his defensive teammates and promote their place in history.
"It was incredible to see the way we came out and played as a team," Lewis said. "Our defense has been doing this all year. And never, never got the credit. No one can ever take this away from us. We're the best ever."
Amidst the postgame fireworks, confetti, and championship acclaim, Lewis seemed once, and for all, to be at peace when contemplating his journey through the past year.
"To be where I was last year and to hear everyone say that it's going to affect me, I had a higher power that said everything's going to be all right," he said. "And that's why I'm here right now. If you put this in a storybook, nobody would believe it."
Despite the afterglow of winning the biggest game of his career, Lewis couldn't help but take the opportunity to address any critics who still want to see him fail.
"If the world wants to see me stumble now," he said. "I'll stumble with a [Super Bowl] ring on my finger."