(USA TODAY) - As the Baltimore Ravens arrived in New Orleans, it seemed the only person who believed the Super Bowl will be Ray Lewis' last game was Ray Lewis.
Despite Lewis' private declarations to close friends months ago and a public retirement announcement Jan. 2, his teammates aren't ready to accept that the linebacker's career will end in Sunday's game against the San Francisco 49ers.
"I wouldn't be so certain about that. Ray might make a comeback. He might play 10 games next year," said safety Ed Reed, who deflected questions about his football future by talking about Lewis.
But for Lewis, 37, the end is quite real, and it never felt more so than Monday when the Ravens' charter plane landed at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport and team buses arrived at the Hilton, a few blocks from the French Quarter, for the start of Super Bowl week.
Players ate oysters at Drago's restaurant and were still wearing their travel suits for their first required news media session, where Lewis was engulfed by a group of reporters and television cameras.
"All week I heard guys talking like, 'Man I really can't believe that we're here, that we made it,'" Lewis said. "And today it actually confirmed for a lot of people that it's real. It's really real. You have to realize now that there is no next week."
It has been 12 years since Lewis and the Ravens last played in a Super Bowl, beating the New York Giants with Lewis earning MVP honors. He was 25 then, and the best middle linebacker in the game.
But Lewis says he wasn't a leader on that 2000 Ravens team. There is no question the current squad follows him, so he's trying to remember how it felt the first time.
"There were so many guys who were so dialed in and so focused, and that's the kind of thing I'm trying to spread to this team. What is our focus? Why are we really here? Because I know it's a lot of things going on. It's a lot of things you could be doing outside, but the bottom line is we're here for a business trip."
Oh, and his final NFL game, even as he deals with his ill grandmother, Elease McKinney, who is hospitalized with complications of diabetes.
"My ultimate goal with this crew of men was to get back to the Super Bowl. I want to experience that with these guys. And now that I'm experiencing it, it's awesome," Lewis said. "And the bottom line is I want to feel what that confetti feels like. It's real with me when I say I'm done."
If Lewis is done, Sunday will conclude a 17-year career in which he played 228 regular-season games and 21 in the postseason.
Reed, 34, told reporters last week that he was planning on playing next season, though he wouldn't firmly confirm those plans Monday.
He joked that he would tell his teammates he was retiring after the Super Bowl if it would provide inspiration similar to what Lewis' announcement did heading into the playoffs.
"We want to send him off the right way," Reed said.
Lindsay H Jones, USA TODAY Sports