NEW ORLEANS Ray Lewis said his favorite moments were some of the last of his career.
When the Baltimore Ravens were pinned back against their own end zone. When they needed a defensive stop to win the Super Bowl. When, despite nearly blowing a 28-6 lead, the game came down to a series of three plays with two minutes left.
"The most exciting things ever were the conversations we were having on the goal line," Lewis said. "Nobody ever panicked. When you have that, when your back is against the wall for us to stand up like that is just a testament to what we've been through all year."
The Ravens prevented the 49ers from scoring a touchdown and held on for a 34-31 victory Sunday in the final game of Lewis' 17-year career.
He'll retire, leaving a legacy that includes Pro Football Hall of Fame credentials as the greatest linebacker of his generation, as well as a cloudiness from his involvement in a murder investigation and just last week accusations he used performance-enhancing drugs.
Sunday night, though, Lewis punctuated his career with a championship.
"To get that second ring before I hang up my cleats," he said, "there's no better way to go out."
Lewis certainly was not a dominant player, although he did have four solo tackles and three assisted tackles. He looked like a player teetering on retirement when he was trying to cover 49ers tight end Vernon Davis.
Ultimately, though, the Ravens' Lewis-led defense held firm.
"We had Mr. Football on our team," safety Ed Reed, a Lewis teammate for 11 seasons, said, adding it was a fitting tribute to Lewis "for us to finish like that on a defensive stand."
Lewis, 37, had known all season he would call it quits after this campaign, but he made it public only at the start of the playoffs when he returned from a torn triceps injury.
That sparked the Ravens emotionally as they rallied from a lackluster regular-season finish to beat the Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots and 49ers in the postseason.
As the only active Ravens player remaining from the 2001 Super Bowl title victory over the New York Giants, Lewis addressed his teammates Saturday night and tried to describe the feeling they would have if they won a title.
Apparently, he did an impressive job because when coach John Harbaugh was asked how it felt after he came off the field Sunday night, he simply smiled and said, "Just like Ray said it would."
Now Lewis leaves the game and, for the first time in more than a quarter century, will not be a football player. He is expected to begin a broadcasting career with ESPN, and he will have a chance to watch his son, Ray Lewis III, play football at the University of Miami this fall.
What's next for Lewis? He summed it up in one word.