It was a serious question, of course. Ray Lewis wanted to know if he should spray the deer antler juice directly on his elbow every two hours in order to help heal his torn triceps muscle.

It was a serious question, of course. Ray Lewis wanted to know if he should spray the deer antler juice directly on his elbow every two hours in order to help heal his torn triceps muscle.

No, no, no, the former male stripper and current dispenser of deer juice told him. You spray it under your tongue. Oh, sure. That makes sense.

Lewis, who, if there is a merciful deity, will retire and disappear from view within days, says none of this happened back in October. He didn't use hologram stickers and negatively charged water and definitely not the deer antler extract that contains a growth substance banned by the NFL, but which, according to medical experts, might not even work on humans and certainly not by putting it under one's tongue.

Unfortunately for Lewis, the dirtbag former stripper recorded the conversation in which Lewis asked for the works. (Of course he did.) And while there are many learned opinions about the restorative value of deer juice and about the sad plight of antlerless deer roaming the hills of New Zealand shunned by their own kind, there is one indisputable in the whole mess: Whether Ray Lewis was cheating or not, he "thought" he was.

The NFL is doing its best to ignore this story as the festival of the Super Bowl approaches. The league is a lot more comfortable with the heartwarming saga of Lewis heading into retirement and his Baltimore Ravens teammates coming together to send him to the other side with a fitting final act. I mean, it's been a good 10 years since the guy was charged with complicity in a double homicide. Let's focus on the positive here.

To be honest, it is difficult to generate a lot of anger about Lewis and the allegations of PED use because the guy looks so stupid right now. What Alex Rodriguez and the other major-league players are said to have done in Miami — buy human growth hormone and anabolic steroids — is sleazy, but it does make sense. If you're going to cheat, cheat.

Putting hologram stickers on your arm and sleeping in front of a special lightbulb, however, is just stupid. If the stripper told Lewis to sacrifice chickens and eat their toenails, he would have done that, too.

The key point, once again, is that Lewis believed he was skirting the rules. When you sneak around and deal with lowlifes, that is the assumption. Otherwise, he would have gotten his Bambi boost from the team trainer. It is the same principle the cops apply when they put someone in jail for buying a bag of oregano. They don't charge you with intent to saute.

Lewis sprayed the spray and stuck the stickers and drank the negatively charged water (something that doesn't exist, according to — I don't know — water experts) and attempted to, in the words of Mitch Ross, the former stripper, "rebuild your brain through your small intestines."

Maybe Ray Lewis has different stuff going through his small intestines than the rest of us, but it does sound as if some of it got to his brain.

If nothing else, maybe the revelations of this week will at least turn down the volume on the Lewis adulation that has been a continuing staple of the postseason coverage because it is an easy story in that phony, heart-tugging way the NFL prefers.

For his part, Lewis will stay in character. He denies all allegations — without actually addressing them, naturally — and chides the media for bringing inappropriate questions to him during "God's time."

When Sunday finally gets here, he will apply his war-paint eye black for the sunless Superdome and will perform his pregame histrionics to the delight of the broadcasting network. It will be quite a show. Then, the game will start and Lewis, a year too old and a step too slow, might have very little to do with the outcome.

After a Hall of Fame career, Lewis will exit the stage as more of a sideshow than a main event. He sprayed the spray that doesn't work and applied the stickers that are nothing more than stickers and maybe did the "Hokey Pokey" in front of a night light. Who knows, and who cares? Just leave.

And somewhere in New Zealand a naked-headed deer sheds a tear and lays the Niners and the 31/2.