We quickly approach the kickoff of the 2023 NFL season. As a result, this could be the final Episode of the Packers Multiverse for 2023. It has been a fun ride so far. Thanks for joining me as I take a piece of Green Bay Packers history and twist it. Along this journey, we travel to different Multiverse’s where decisions or outcomes were made different. Does it turn out better? Or does it turn out worse? We can only find out by entering, The Packers Multiverse.
The Packers lose out on drafting Ray Lewis by one pick
It was the 1996 NFL Draft. The Green Bay Packers had come one game away from the Super Bowl this past season. This Draft was about seeing if they could find a player to put them over the top. They had pick number 27 and as the dominos fell, they had a chance at a gem. Middle Linebacker Ray Lewis out of Miami University was thought to be a top-15 pick. But NFL personnel thought at 6’1 he was a little on the short side for the Pros.
Lewis was falling to the back of the 1st round and the Packers were one pick away with Lewis still on the board. Packers General Manager Ron Wolf thought Ray Lewis was in the bag. He had personnel on the phone with Lewis informing him that if he’s available, the Packers are drafting him. Lewis’ drop was over, and he was off to start his NFL career. But then at the last minute, the Baltimore Ravens turned in their card selecting Ray Lewis. The Packers were sent into a bit of a panic with their pick, and wound-up selecting OT John Michels out of USC.
Michels had a great rookie campaign starting nine games at Left Tackle and helped the Packers win Super Bowl XXXI. However, after this, the Michels only started five more games before constant knee injuries derailed his NFL career in 1999. Ron Wolf later stated that he probably should have traded back to collect his thoughts before selecting Michels.
Ray Lewis, however, went on to play 17 seasons for the Baltimore Ravens earning 12 Pro Bowl selections and winning the Super Bowl twice. He was the cornerstone of a great feared Ravens defense for almost two decades. Lewis was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018.
But what if history changed? What if the Ravens passed on Ray Lewis as well and the Packers drafted him?
We now visit the Multiverse where that indeed happened.
The Packers Select Ray Lewis with the 27th overall pick
Packers GM Ron Wolf couldn’t believe his luck. He sat patiently in the draft at pick number 27. He was now one pick away from selecting a player he believed was a top-10 talent. With about a minute left he told his staff to contact Middle Linebacker Ray Lewis to inform they were drafting him. The pick was in from the Baltimore Ravens, and they selected Free-Safety Jerome Woods. Without hesitation the Packers sent in their pick, and Ray Lewis was on his way to Green Bay.
Ray Lewis was set to join a great defense lead by Reggie White and Leroy Butler. They were already a powerhouse and Lewis was set to make them that much better. Green Bay had a monster of a defensive line to put in front of Lewis and it was almost too good to be true. His rookie season he split some time with fellow Middle Linebacker George Koonce, but Lewis’ playmaking ability was just too good to keep off the field.
Not only did he help the Packers reach Super Bowl XXXI but he was voted Defensive Rookie of the Year. Whatever the Defensive Line didn’t stop, Ray Lewis stopped. Defensive Coordinator Fritz Shurmur began to send Lewis up the middle on blitz much more than average. With Reggie White on the edge, and Ray Lewis up the middle, Quarterbacks had nowhere to go.
The following year in 1997, Ray Lewis exploded. Along with the rest of the Packers defense, no one could get past them easily. The Packers marched back to defend their Super Bowl title in Super Bowl XXXII. The Denver Broncos couldn’t get a running game going as Ray Lewis blew up the majority of Terrell Davis’s attempts and the Packers repeated their Super Bowl glory.
Come 1998, Ray Lewis had solidified himself as the Packers Middle linebacker. George Koonce had moved to the outside, and the Packers had a new Defensive End in First Round Pick Vonnie Holliday. It was just more of the same for the Packers. Lewis missed two games to minor injury but still held up as an All-Pro. The Packers fell short however, to the Atlanta Falcons in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
Departures and Return to Glory
In the 1999 off-season things were changing in Green Bay. Star Defensive End Reggie White had announced his retirement, and Head Coach Mike Holmgren was moving on for the Seattle Seahawks.
Ray Lewis’s career stayed great, however. He continued to wreak havoc in a Packers jersey and was one of the Franchise’s premiere players. The total team results however didn’t do as well. The Packers were consistently in the playoffs, but would constantly fall short. Until 2003 came.
The Packers were seemingly a team of destiny in 2003. Ray Lewis was returning from missing the 2002 season to injury and was ready to pick up where he left off. Lewis won the Defensive Player of the Year award leading the defense. Their true calling came in week 16 when Quarterback Brett Favre lost his father just days before the game. Favre still elected to play and Lewis fired up his team to be the best they could be in support of their QB.
As fiery as Lewis was, he maintained this desire to win every single game from then on out as the Packers moved on to Super Bowl XXXVIII. They defeated the New England Patriots earning the third Super Bowl of both Favre and Lewis’s careers. After this though, a downward spiral began in Green Bay and it wasn’t until 2006 that things picked up again. There was a new coach in Green Bay in Mike McCarthy and there was a desire to get Brett Favre one more title. They succeeded in 2008 as the Packers went all the way to win Super Bowl XLII. This was Favre and Lewis’ fourth Super Bowl and would be the final game for Brett Favre. Favre retired following the 2007-2008 season.
Ray Lewis himself may have been getting up there in age but he still had a desire to play. The Packers ushered in the Aaron Rodgers era and it got off to a slow start. The defense wasn’t quite what it should be. But in the 2009 offseason the Packers converted to a 3-4 defense and drafted BJ Raji at nose tackle and Clay Matthews at Outside Linebacker. Lewis took Matthews under his wing as he could tell he had a very strong motor like Lewis himself. Before you knew it, Matthews was an All-Pro himself and the Packers defense was scary again.
In the 2010-11 season Lewis and Matthews wreaked havoc on defense. Alongside Aaron Rodgers’ offensive explosion the Packers reached Super Bowl XLV and defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers.
This ended up being Ray Lewis’ swan song. With five Super Bowl rings on his fingers and 15 years in the league, Ray Lewis decided to call it a career.
Hall of Fame Legend
In 2016, the great Green Bay Packers Linebacker Ray Lewis was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. With five Super Bowl rings on his fingers and 11 Pro Bowls he was one of the greatest Packers players of all time.
Ray Lewis has started a new career as an NFL analyst but cannot stay away from Lambeau Field as he returns for 1-2 games a season where he is always welcomed with open arms.
Outside of the late 90s and early 2010s, the Packers never really had a defense to put them over. Nor did they have a defensive player to truly build around. Put Ray Lewis on the late 90s Packers and I feel they would’ve won 1-2 more Super Bowls. With him leading the defense, they may have gotten over that playoff hump in the early 2000s and won another. Then absolutely in 2010 they win with the defense they already had.
I never like to say that one player could’ve brought the Packers 2-3 more Super Bowls. But honestly, Middle Linebacker was a bit of a hole from 1996-2010. There were some decent players. But none that were game-breakers like Ray Lewis.
Many say Ray Lewis would’ve won more Super Bowls if Baltimore had better Quarterbacks. Well, Favre would’ve been his QB in Green Bay. Enough said.
Until we perhaps one day meet again in the Packers multiverse, Go Pack Go.
Greg Meinholz is a lifelong devoted Packer fan. A contributor to PackersTalk as well as CheeseheadTV. Follow him on Twitter at @gmeinholz. for Packers commentary, random humor, beer endorsements, and occasional Star Wars and Marvel ramblings.