NEW YORK (AP) — Football has been Ray Lewis' passion since he was a child. One of his lasting memories is watching "Inside The NFL" when it was hosted by Nick Buoniconti and Len Dawson.
On Tuesday night, Lewis steps into the Showtime studios to sort of follow those Hall of Famers' footsteps.
Lewis joins James Brown, Boomer Esiason and Phil Simms as a regular on the weekly program where frank talk and strong opinions are as prominent as game highlights.
"The first thing that attracted me to the show is I have been watching it for years," Lewis said. "I always appreciated that they would actually sit down and talk football with guys who know football.
"Then, the moment they reached out and said we want to have you on the show, it is the perfect platform for me."
A platform which the former Ravens linebacker who very well could be entering the Hall of Fame himself next year promises he won't let go to waste.
"I think I bring an aspect to the show they have not had, a true defensive perspective," Lewis said. "They have had some over the years from the guys who made a living reading defenses and trying to beat them. But from everything I did on the football field, I became the quarterback from the defensive side.
"And one thing I know better than defense is offense and quarterbacks and what they think and how they think and what they are trying to do and how to stop it."
Lewis retired after winning his second Super Bowl on what he dubbed his "last ride" in February 2013. For 17 seasons, including two Defensive Player of the Year awards and seven All-Pro selections, Lewis was the measuring stick for his position. Esiason, who was approaching the end of his career when Lewis broke into the NFL in 1996, told Lewis "guys like him" were the reason Esiason was leaving the game.
"If they are making them this big and this fast," Esiason said, "it is time for me to go."
Now, Lewis gets to trade barbs with Esiason, who certainly is no slouch in that department, Brown and Simms.
Lewis admits he has a lot to learn about television, but because "Inside The NFL" is taped, the educational curve shouldn't be too steep. His familiarity with the two quarterbacks doesn't hurt, either.
Mostly, though, the folks at Showtime are counting on Lewis' passion for the game to come through and connect him with viewers.
"On paper, he has everything you look for in an NFL analyst," producer Pete Radovich said. "Besides being one of the greatest players of our generation and a huge personality and never being at a shortage of words, there are a million reasons for hiring Ray.
"It was a safe bet to go with Ray. He checks off on everything you could want. There is an emphasis on not being sensitive on this show and being able to dish it out and take it. That may have been the first thing I brought up in our first meeting was that we like to have fun and bust each other's chops. He lit up and said: 'That is all we do.'"
Lewis also brings a voice from another generation. Simms' and Esiason's heydays were in the 1980s and early '90s.
It won't hurt Showtime that Lewis will be on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time. Radovich calls Lewis being voted into the Canton shrine "a slam dunk." You can bet his candidacy will be discussed on "Inside The NFL."
"When you are playing, it's hard to even think about those things," Lewis said. "This game is hard. Now, can you imagine if your name is called in February, you sit among the people you sat and admired as a youngster. I admired LT (Lawrence Taylor) and Willie Lanier and Ronnie Lott and Mel Blount, and now to get to sit back and say I get to join this fraternity? That is highest reward you can ever attain."
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