Carrying the football into that dangerous territory is courageous, considering the presence of two men brandishing the weapons of forearm shivers, brawny biceps and bad intentions.
Both are the centerpieces of their respective teams with Baltimore (2-3) ranked second in total defense and Chicago (2-3) ranked third. Both are recognized as two of the most intimidating defenders in the game, but only one can be known as the top middle linebacker in the NFL as they compete in the city that spawned Hall of Fame tacklers Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary.
A seven-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year who continues to strut, dance and flex his muscles over fallen opponents even amidst talk that his game is declining, the Ravens' Lewis isn't shy about proclaiming himself as the best.
"Definitely," Lewis said in a conference call with Chicago reporters. "I don't play for no other reason. I'm just as nasty as well as hungry as I was five years ago.
"It's simply because I love the game. The game is competition. If you're in Chicago and I'm sitting here and you told me you could drink a glass of water faster than me, I would say you can't."
Urlacher, 27, is three years younger than Lewis and has been to four Pro Bowls. He leads the Bears with 52 tackles and all NFL linebackers with six sacks. Chicago hasn't allowed a rushing touchdown.
However, Urlacher wants no part of any barstool debate.
"Whatever he thinks," Urlacher said regarding Lewis. "Everyone's entitled to their own opinion. I know we both play the same position, but I'm not going to make it between me and him."
Former NFL offensive guard Mark Schlereth said he rates the linebackers as 1 and 1A, giving Lewis the slight edge.
"It's much closer now than it used to be, and that's because Urlacher has matured and Ray is getting older," Schlereth said. "But he's still Ray Lewis, the most intimidating defensive player in the NFL. I'll never count Ray out because of his passion for football."
Urlacher and Lewis have contrasting styles. Where Lewis is flamboyant, Urlacher is low-key.
Lewis is a sculpted 6-foot-1, 245 pounds. Urlacher, who played safety, wide receiver and returned punts at New Mexico, is a towering 6-foot-4, 258 pounds.
Supremely confident and an avid student of game film, Lewis puts himself above all the other middle linebackers. "I look at Brian Urlacher as a great linebacker," Lewis said. "I respect him a lot. Of course, rating him is one thing I never get in touch with."
Urlacher's speed might be superior to Lewis and he's a better blitzer. Lewis, who has a team-high 64 tackles according to his coaches' film review and has one sack and an interception, excels against the run and the pass.
Admittedly biased, Ravens coach Brian Billick said he wouldn't trade Lewis for anyone. "That's like asking me if my daughters are beautiful," Billick said. "Yeah, there is no other linebacker I would rather have, with all due respect, and I love Brian Urlacher. What a stud. "But we've done some damage here with Ray Lewis. I still think Ray is one of the most dynamic players in the game, absolutely incredible leadership. Absolutely, I'll stay with my guy."
Besides a flashy dance, there's something else Lewis owns that Urlacher lacks: a Super Bowl ring.
If anything has changed since being named MVP of Super Bowl XXXV, Lewis speaks less often with local reporters, is knocked around more than usual and distances himself from teammates on the far end of the bench. ESPN's Michael Irvin, Lewis' close friend, said that he believes after talking with him last week that he may retire if the Ravens don't turn their season around.
According to Lewis, he generates just as much fear now as ever.
"I think you'd be crazy not to be," Lewis said. "I'm able to disrupt any thing that's in the middle of the field. Losing a step? The day I lose a step, honestly, is the day I really walk away from this game because the day you lose a step is when your passion leaves as well."
Aaron Wilson is the chief writer for RavensInsider.Com He is also the Ravens' reporter for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.
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