By Larry Fine
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Linebacker Ray Lewis wanted to cap his "last ride" in the NFL with a Super Bowl win, and the goal-line stand that clinched the championship for the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday was an ending fit for a fairytale.
The inspirational leader for each of the Ravens' 17 seasons in the NFL rose up with his cohorts on defense to stop the San Francisco 49ers from getting into the end zone on three straight plays from the five-yard line to secure a 34-31 victory.
"The most exciting thing ever was the conversations that we were having at the goal line," said Lewis, a 13-time Pro Bowler and two-time winner of Defensive Player of the Year, who had previously announced he would retire after this season.
"Nobody ever panicked, everybody looked at each other and there was no panic. When you have that, when your back is against the wall, and they have three more plays at the goal line, and if we all do our jobs, they won't get in.
"For us to stand up like that ... to me, that was one of the most amazing goal-line stands I've been a part of in my career. What better way to do it than on the Super Bowl stage."
The sequence began with a first-and-goal from the seven-yard line with the Niners poised to cap off a sensational comeback from a 28-6 third-quarter deficit, needing a touchdown to seize the advantage late in the fourth quarter.
After a two-yard gain put San Francisco on the five-yard line, the veteran Ravens defense refused to let the Niners in and after three successive incomplete passes the threat was squelched.
The victory provided Lewis with his second Super Bowl win as the lone remaining member of the Ravens team that won the franchise's only other crown in 2001.
Lewis, who missed 10 games this season with a torn triceps before getting back on the gridiron in time for the playoffs run, said he was driven to see his team mates get showered with confetti after a Super Bowl triumph.
"What better way to go out?" said Lewis, 37, who shared shouts of "We did it! We did it!" with a host of other Ravens after the down-to-the-wire victory.
"It was an up-and-down rollercoaster with the injuries," added Lewis about a rough finish to the regular season in which Baltimore lost four of their last five games before catching fire in the playoffs.
"And now, I get to ride off into the sunset with my second ring."
Fellow Ravens, who revere the fiercely competitive linebacker, also thought the climax of the contest was fitting.
Safety Ed Reed, whose first-half interception helped the Ravens build a 21-6 halftime lead, said it was the perfect ending for Lewis.
"That was it, man. We had Mr. Football (Ray Lewis) on our team," said Reed.
Fullback Vonta Leach said the victory properly crowned Lewis's career.
"That put him on top," Leach said. "And I already thought he was the greatest linebacker to ever play the game. This put the icing on the cake."
Ravens coach John Harbaugh added his vote.
"The final series of Ray Lewis's career was a goal-line stand to win the Lombardi Trophy," said Harbaugh. "How could it be any other way than that?"
(Editing by Frank Pingue)