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Each Ravens player prepares for the first whistle his own way

From the moment the Ravens wake up today, they are preparing for battle

January 01, 2011|By Kevin Van Valkenburg, The Baltimore Sun

While Yanda is eating and Lewis is praying, Suggs is typically across town, at his home in Windsor Mill. He always wakes up early, usually around 6 a.m., because he can't sleep. He watches film or takes a walk, and then he leaves the hotel and drives 30 minutes to see his two kids, Dahni and Duke, and his fiancee. She makes him bacon and eggs, his favorite meal, while he plays with the kids and tries not to think about football.

"I'm always nervous," Suggs said. "I'm always nauseous, all the way up until kickoff. You want to play well for your city and your fans and your team. And that can get to you. So I always play with my kids and kiss them on the head before I go. Because at the end of the day, I have to walk through those doors and be a dad. It reminds me that, even though I love it so much, it's just a game. Regardless of how I play, I'm not going to be a football player when I come back. I'm back to being daddy and a fiance."

Every player gets one parking pass for home games, and he's responsible for getting himself to the stadium. A lot of players give the pass to their wives, their parents or their friends, and take a taxi. Jarret Johnson and Kelly Gregg catch one outside the hotel each week. It's become a cherished superstition.

"We're undefeated every time we take a cab," Johnson said.

Yanda, however, covets the serene, short drive to the stadium. Yanda, Chester, Tony Moll and Bryan Mattison pile into Yanda's SUV, and Chester typically puts his favorite band, Sublime, on the stereo.

"It sounds weird to me, just crazy California music, but it's fun," Yanda said. "We don't have a specific routine. If it's my music choice, I'll have country on. I like the calm before the storm. I like the old stuff, Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks, George Strait. Anything nice and easy."

Suggs drives from his house, alone, trying to clear his head.

"That's when I go from being Terrell Suggs into T-Sizzle," Suggs said, referencing his nickname. "It's kind of like Clark Kent going into the phone booth."

Most players try to sign autographs as they walk from the VIP parking lot to the stadium entrance, and throngs of fans will stand for hours in anticipation, hoping to get even a glimpse of a player like Lewis or quarterback Joe Flacco. In three hours, M&T Bank Stadium will be filled with a deafening roar, but when the first players reach the locker room, it will be eerily quiet. Cundiff will sit down in front of his locker, and lose himself in a book. This week, he's reading "The Big Short" by Michael Lewis, a book about the financial crisis.

"I have a good book, I can't put it down," Cundiff said. "I'll be reading and I'll start thinking 'Man, I've got to allow myself enough time to stretch.' But it's a good way to get my mind off of football. Because once the game begins, it's four hours of constant focus. So any chance I can get to take some time away and be somewhere else is good."

Yanda finds a copy of the game program, and before he gets dressed, taped or stretched, he looks at the faces of the players he's going against. It's hard for him to put into words why this is important, but it is.

In the training room, Donte' Stallworth will be listening to gospel music or Frank Sinatra while he gets his hamstrings and quads rubbed down. Early in his college career at Tennessee, he used to listen to pulse-pounding rap music hours before the game, but coach Phillip Fulmer convinced him he needed to calm his nerves, not fry them before kickoff. He's followed that advice ever since. Only 45 of the 53 players on an NFL roster can be active on game day, so Stallworth may not know two and half hours before kickoff if he'll be playing. But he has to prepare like he is either way.

"I like the quiet," Stallworth said. "I don't like to be rushed."

Pre-game

Ravens coach John Harbaugh says he doesn't believe in gauging the mood of his team prior to kickoff. With so many players experiencing so many different emotions, it's impossible to anticipate how the team will play on Sunday.

"I think you learn as a coach over the years to not try to make that judgment, because you just never know," Harbaugh said. "I've never seen our guys not ready to play, but in terms of the emotional stuff, you can just never tell. Sometimes they're laughing and they're really loose, and other times they're really intense and you don't see as much emotion. We joke even as a staff that it's one thing you can never try to judge."

Two hours before kickoff, Johnson will take his Bible into the shower area, eager to be alone. At some point during the morning, he'll call his wife, tell her he loves her, and they'll say a prayer together, asking God to bring him home safe. On the floor of the shower, he likes read the same Bible passage he's read before every football game he's played in since he was a freshman in high school — Psalm 18:30: As for the God, his way is perfect; The Lord's word is flawless. He shields all who take refuge in him.

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