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NEW ORLEANS – Not to burst Ray Lewis’ bubble, but this redemption tale isn’t quite going according to plan. That is, unless the script called for him to stand in front of the Super Bowl media and deny he had ever used performance-enhancing drugs.

Lewis was laughing when he said it. He’d be the first to tell you how hard he’s worked over the years — in fact, he did it again Wednesday. How absurd for anyone to suggest he would stoop to using PEDs to get an edge, or to make a quick recovery from a torn triceps injury.

But Lewis is so wrapped up in his own manufactured, God-fearing persona, that he doesn’t realize how numb we are to athletes swearing they never used PEDs. No matter how passionate or sanctimonious the denial, we’re just not moved anymore.

It’s not entirely fair. But the more defiant an athlete is, the more skeptical we become. When it comes time for the requisite denial, I think of Lance Armstrong or Rafael Palmeiro and remember that when it comes to drugs, pro athletes are the most skilled liars on the planet.

Lewis can deny all he likes, but a digital Sports Illustrated report has raised questions about his recovery from an Oct. 14 triceps injury. The story claims that Lewis used deer-antler spray, which contains the substance HGH, which is banned by the NFL.

“I think honestly, I’m going to say it very clearly again,” Lewis said before a packed conference room in the Ravens’ team hotel. “It’s probably one of the most embarrassing things we can do on this type of stage.

“You give somebody the ability to come into our world. Our world is a very secret society. We try to protect our world as much as we can. But when you let cowards come in and do things like that, to try to disturb something …

“I’ve said it before,” Lewis said. “I’ve said it a million times,” he continued. “The reason why I’m smiling is because it’s so funny and absurd. Because I’ve never, ever took what he says I, or whatever I was supposed to do. It’s just sad, once again, that someone could have that much attention on a stage this big, where the dreams are really real. They’re really real.”

Wow. In recent days, I’ve discovered that a lot of the NFL media consider Lewis a self-aggrandizing phony. Now I’ve witnessed it first-hand. He acts as if we’ve all been privileged to spend time in his “world,” the “secret society” of pro football.

Never mind that the secret society is rife with violence, head injuries, concussions, bounty scandals, lawsuits from ex-players, drunk driving deaths and creeping suspicion of performance-enhancing drugs. Let’s just sit back and watch dreams unfold on the big stage.

Later, Lewis basically said he announced his retirement early in the season to give football fans the chance to celebrate his greatness one last time.

“I believe that you should give everybody a fair chance to say their goodbyes,” he said. “Playing that last game in Baltimore, announcing it the way I did, and knowing that it would be my last ride. Knowing that it would be my last time in M&T (Bank Stadium), it was one of the most amazing feelings ever.”

Unless Sports Illustrated is guilty of some very shoddy reporting — and they were among the many who bought the Manti T’eo girfriend — Lewis is one of a legion of athletes who have been entangled with a sleazy, Alabama-based company called Sports with Alternative to Steroids (SWATS), which provides various remedies to athletes looking to gain an edge and recover from injuries.

Many of the products are legal. They include everything from holographic stickers to negatively charged water. Mitch Ross, who runs the two-man company in Alabama, preys on athletes’ need to believe in any substance or gadget that can give them a competitive edge.

But evidently, the deer antler spray has been found to contain a banned substance. The SI story said Shawne Merriman used it during his comeback with the Bills in 2011. It said Joe DeLamielleure, the Hall of Fame guard and former Bill, used it to help with sleep deprivation.

Lewis said Ross has no credibility. He said Ross has been sued “four or five times.” Ross was sued successfully by a former NFL player who used deer antler spray and later tested positive for HGH.

That doesn’t mean the SI story isn’t true, or that Lewis is telling the truth about his own involvement. Remember, this is a guy who lied to the police on the night of a double homicide after the Super Bowl 13 years ago and admitted to hindering the prosecution.

Lewis doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt, regardless of his charitable works, his legendary leadership on the field, or the deep religious faith he never fails to mention in press conferences.

I asked Lewis if he could at least understand how, in the time of Lance Armstrong, the baseball steroid scandal, etc., it’s hard for the media to take anything athletes say about PEDs at face value.

“Yeah, I don’t … you know, I’m always very careful with speaking about something that I don’t know about. I don’t know about Lance, I don’t know about nobody. I can only tell you about Ray Lewis. So to speak about other people’s cases, other people’s situations, that’s totally on them and whatever you guys want to write about them.

“As far as me,” he said, “I live a certain way. I do things my way, and everything else is everybody else’s business.”

There are only four more days in his “final ride.” After Sunday, Lewis retires. He says he never tested positive for PEDs. Of course, the NFL still doesn’t have a test for HGH, so we’ll probably never know.

Lewis should be thankful for one thing. Because of the deer-antler saga, no one asked him about the old murder case on Wednesday.

email: jsullivan@buffnews.com