Lewis was retired, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The end of his career was witnessed by his coaches, the teammates, the media, the fans. Harbaugh saw it, too. Ray Lewis was as retired as he was a Hall of Famer.
John Harbaugh returned home. He was just told that he would continue to coach the Ravens in 2019 and followed that announcement up with a major victory in Los Angeles. He was happy, and for the first time in years, confident that his team would make the playoffs. Upon arrival at his home, Harbaugh noticed something strange. Now, it is a fact that there was nothing at all particular about the knocker on the door, except that it was very large. Let it also be borne in mind that Harbaugh had not bestowed one thought on Lewis since his last ride, six years ago. And then let any man explain to me, if he can, how it happened that Harbaugh, having his key in the lock of the door, saw in the knocker, without its undergoing any intermediate process of change – not a knocker, but Lewis’ face.
Harbaugh was obviously stunned but thought nothing serious of it. It was late and his team had just defeated the Chargers, in a defensive performance to rival that of any team Ray Lewis was on. The performance only prompted a recollection of Lewis, urged by his sleep-deprived state, he reasoned with himself. Perhaps the apparition was brought on by something he ate. Sometimes, spoiled food created hallucinations. In fact, he ate a not-so-great concession stand prepared hot dog at halftime. This must have been the source of his rumbling imagination.
Harbaugh sat down in his chair before going to bed. He wanted to look over some of the key plays of the game. But as he sat there, in total darkness, and total silence, his cell phone rang. His home phone followed, and all the electronics on his room flickered on and off. Harbaugh was paralyzed by shock, and soon every phone, television, light bulb, and computer in the house buzzed and brightened. They were succeeded by a clanking noise, deep down below; as if some person was dragging a heavy chain with large objects at their ends. The cellar-door flew open with a booming sound, and then he heard a noise much louder; then coming up the stairs; then coming straight towards the door.
“We ain’t finished yet!” the being called out.
The being broke open the heavy door, and smoke filled the room before Harbaugh could see what it was. Music boomed, and he heard a familiar voice that seemingly bellowed from above. “13 time Pro Bowler, 2 time NFL defensive player of the year, linebacker, number 52, Ray Lewis!” The simultaneous shouts of 70,000 people could be heard at once. In came the spirit, 52 brazened on its chest, it swayed to its right, then to its left, extended its arms, and jumped in a tribal-like dance. Harbaugh instantly recognized the spirit.
“Ray, what are you doing here? It’s three A.M. I am about to go to sleep.”
The spirit was very animated. It paced the room, and its hands moved as it spoke.
“I am not of this world, John. I’m here to warn you. You can’t take no breaks, John. Whatever you want to do, go do it.”
“Ray, it’s the middle of the night, why are you here? Why are you in uniform, where did the smoke come from?”
“Listen to me, John! You gotta make the playoffs this year John! Or you will end up like me. See these chains? I carry my Super Bowl rings and two Lombardi trophies at the end. But that doesn’t matter anymore. Because I’m out of the league. My football days are done! And yours will be too, John, if you don’t make the playoffs! I know they say you’ll be here next year, John, but you can’t find comfort in promises. Make them keep you!”
“Ray, you’re retired, not dead. Thanks for the pep talk, but I think I’ll be fine.”
“John, I am here to-night to warn you, that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate. You will be haunted, by three spirits. Take heed their warnings… The first will come at midnight, the next the next hour, and the final the next. You will soon see, John.”
And at that moment, the spirit vanished. Not a trace of him was left. Harbaugh took off his glasses and looked around the room. The door was closed, the smoke was gone, there was no trace of the ghost of Ray Lewis. To say Harbaugh was puzzled would be an understatement. This time, he had no explanation of what had just occurred. Then, his phone buzzed. Twelve A.M. it said. But that was impossible. It was just three A.M. The phone was wrong. Water must have crept inside it.
But it was not wrong.
The curtains of his windows ripped open. A new spirit emerged and stared down at Harbaugh. It held a microphone, with a small flame at the top of it. Harbaugh could not see its face.
“Who, and what are you?” he asked.
It revealed its face. “I am the Ghost of Ravens Past.”
There stood a familiar figure, the shape of Brian Billick, the previous holder of Harbaugh’s position.
“You look like Brian Billick to me.”
“Look, John, I don’t have time to play games. It’s 12 A.M. and I’m scheduled to appear on the Network tomorrow morning. I’m here for your welfare! Take heed! Rise and walk with me!”
Harbaugh took the spirit’s hand.
“What you are about to see are but shadows of the things that have been. They have no consciousness of us.”
Within an instant, it was warm, and the lights were bright.
“Ravens 2000, John. The best defense to ever tread the turf. Look up at the scoreboard. 34-7. You don’t get that kind of victory, that kind of dominance, in a Super Bowl anymore. To say we were dominant is an understatement.”
At that moment, Harbaugh heard the final whistle blow. He saw a much younger version of the spirit standing next to him be dunked in Gatorade as the field was stormed by players, coaches, and the media.
“They loved me at that moment, John, but it did not last forever.”
The spirit took his hand again, and the scene morphed. No longer were the two beings under the bright lights in Tampa Bay, but in a television studio, watching a broadcast.
“Gerry Sandusky,” said the man at the news desk, “he’s live at the Ravens training facility in Owings Mills, Gerry.”
“Stan the reason why yesterday’s win was not enough to save the job of head coach Brian Billick is team owner, Steve Bisciotti said…”
The voice dimmed, and the spirit turned to Harbaugh. “They loved me when I won this team its first Super Bowl, but seven years later, I was tossed out. Expendable. It’s not what have you done for me, in this league. It’s what have you done for me lately. I couldn’t find the same success I once had, and I paid the price for it.
The setting changed. It was now representative of a memory Harbaugh would never forget. He saw himself upon the platform, hoisting a Lombardi trophy as confetti fell. The quarterback, the general manager, and the owner at his side.
“Hey, this is when I won the Super Bowl,” John informed the spirit.
“Yes, John. It is. But now you live six years later. Three straight seasons without a playoff appearance and a loss next week could make it four. They loved you at this moment, but don’t let pride brought on by your achievements stop you in the present.”
The spirit touched the fire at the top of his microphone and put it out. Suddenly the scene shifted, the spirit vanished, and Harbaugh was back in his chair as if nothing happened. He glanced at the clock. 12:59 A.M. Harbaugh recalled what the first spirit told him. Then, the clock struck twelve, and Harbaugh saw a great light coming from the other room. He arose, and slowly made his way to it. He heard a faint whisper, “Belee dat.”
Harbaugh opened the door. It was his own room. There was no doubt about that. But it had undergone a surprising transformation. The walls and ceiling were so hung with living green, that it looked a perfect grove; from every part of which, bright gleaming berries glistened. The crisp leaves of holly, mistletoe, and ivy reflected back the light as if so many little mirrors had been scattered there. Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam. In easy state upon this couch, there sat a jolly Giant, glorious to see. He was at least ten times larger than Harbaugh. He bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty’s horn. He wore a purple robe, bordered with white fuzz.
“Lamar, is that you?” Harbaugh asked.
“Oh hey, coach! Yes, sir, it’s me! I wanted to make a giant chair of ice cream, but I couldn’t get any. Apparently, Eric bought it all after the win. You want a bite?”
The spirit leaned down and offered Harbaugh the turkey leg it was nibbling on. Harbaugh respectfully declined.
“Grab on to my robe, coach, we’re gonna take a ride.”
Harbaugh did as the spirit asked. Suddenly, the room was filled with his players. They were celebrating the win he had just arrived home from.
“Coach, this is our team. Look at everyone. We got one of the best teams in the league. Yes sir, believe that! We got the best run game, the best defense, and the most elite backup quarterback! If we don’t make the playoffs, it would be a tragedy.
The spirit flicked torch held in his hand. Now they saw another team, the Steelers. Harbaugh’s rivals were sulking about a locker room.
“Look, coach, the Steelers lost to the Saints. That gives us an opening to win the division. All we gotta do is win. If we don’t win next week, these guys are going to take what we deserve.”
The spirit again flicked the torch. Now they looked on at the Browns.
“This is the team we gotta beat, coach. I know it’s the Browns and they usually aren’t very good. But they beat us already, coach. And they’re good this year. We gotta stop him, Baker Mayfield, my Heisman brother. And we gotta get past that defense too. Gotta use my legs and ride the Gus Bus. This won’t be an easy game, coach. We gotta win. We gotta win.”
Harbaugh looked up at the spirit. He saw him growing tired fast.
“Are spirits’ lives so short?” asked Harbaugh.
“My life upon this globe is very brief,” replied the Ghost. “It ends to-night.”
“To-night!” cried Harbaugh.
“Nah, coach. I’m just messing with you. I’m just tired, gotta get up early to lift tomorrow, I’ll see you at practice.”
The earth shook, and the scene fell apart. Harbaugh ran for cover as the ceiling began to collapse on him. But just as it was about to smother him, he woke up in his chair, again. Harbaugh immediately reached for his phone. 1:59 A.M. “Dear me,” he thought to himself “Another is due in a minute.” His phone rang. It was now 2 A.M. Harbaugh remembered the prediction of Ray Lewis, and lifting up his eyes, beheld a solemn Phantom draped and hooded, coming like a mist along the ground, towards him. He could not see a face, no likeness either. He could only see one outstretched hand.
“I am in the presence of the Ghost of Ravens Yet to Come?” said Harbaugh.
The spirit answered not, but pointed onward with its hand.
“You are about to show me the shadows of the things that have not happened, but will happen in the time before us,” Harbaugh pursued. “Is that so, spirit?”
The upper portion of the garment was contracted for an instant in its folds, as if the spirit had inclined its head. That was the only answer received.
Harbaugh followed the spirit into a dark room. The only objects in the room were three newspapers, each situated on identical tables. The spirit directed him to read the headlines, one by one.
“The Baltimore Sun!” exclaimed Harbaugh, “I know this paper!”
The spirit again pointed to the headline.
“Ravens move on to new General Manager. Eric DeCosta replaces Ozzie Newsome.” the first one read.
“That’s no surprise, that was in the works for a long time, and we already announced it,” he said.
The next read, “Ravens move on to new quarterback. Joe Flacco is traded.”
“Poor, Joe. He did a lot for this team, but his run couldn’t last forever.”
The spirit pointed to the final newspaper. Harbaugh was hesitant and nervous. He knew what it said.
“Ravens FIRE Harbaugh! Baltimore begins the search for a new head coach.”
“No, spirit! Oh no, no!”
The finger still pointed at the paper.
“spirit!” Harbaugh cried, tight clutching at its robe, “hear me! I will make the playoffs! I get the Ravens in this and next year! I will get this team to another Super Bowl! I will, I will!
In his agony, he caught the spectral hand. It sought to free itself, but he was strong in his entreaty, and detained it. The spirit, stronger yet, repulsed him.
Holding up his hands in a last prayer to have his fate reversed, he saw an alteration in the Phantom’s hood and dress. It shrunk, collapsed, dwindled down into a bedpost. The bedpost was his own. The bed was his own, the room was his own. He was returned back, but this time he awoke in his bed. His phone, now at his bedside, gave the time. 8:00 A.M.
Harbaugh knew not what to make of the strange occurrences which had just happened to him. Were they all a dream, were they real? He was not sure, but he was sure of one thing. He needed to rally his team. He needed to beat the Browns, and he needed to make the playoffs. He could not be confident until his team was in. He could not be comfortable, or complacent. He had to approach the final game with as much urgency as ever. He knew what he had to do, win.
This short story was inspired by A Christmas Carol (1843), by Charles Dickens. Direct excerpts from the book are intertwined with my original writing.