A throng of reporters and cameramen waited in front of his locker this afternoon, anxiously anticipating a quote or quip that would liven up the Super Bowl rhetoric.
The old Terrell Suggs would have loved this opportunity. This year's version, however, turned the corner in the Ravens' locker room, surveyed the scene and emitted an audible groan.
For Suggs, it was a chance to reflect on a decade in the NFL where he had never before reached this point. It was a chance to revel in his own perseverance, to remind everyone why he worked so hard to return from a preseason Achilles tendon injury and an in-season biceps tear. It was a chance to morph back into the trash-talking and fun-loving player who had no problem providing bulletin-board material and antagonizing the opposition.
Suggs did none of that Friday, refusing even to acknowledge that he takes extra satisfaction in the Ravens making it to the Super Bowl while he fought through significant injuries to remain on the field.
"None, not yet," he said. "Ask me that question on February 4."
That, of course, is the day after the Ravens play the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. Like safety Ed Reed and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, like so many other Ravens who had endured near misses and postseason heartbreak, Suggs had openly wondered if he'd ever get the opportunity to play for the Lombardi Trophy. He had acknowledged several times that the "window" was closing on these Ravens, a message that he reiterated when fellow linebacker Ray Lewis announced plans to retire after the season.
Three days before the Ravens travel to New Orleans in what is expected to be Lewis' last game, an uncharacteristically subdued Suggs admitted that it hasn't "sunk in yet" that he'll be playing in the Super Bowl.
"With the kind of practice that we just had, you would have never known," said Suggs after pulling on a purple shirt that read 'Failure is Not an Option.' "You would never have thought that's the game we were playing for. We thought it was training camp out there. We're just kind of enjoying the ride. It's pretty fun. I'm pretty sure it will sink in when we get down there."
Suggs, 30, was in Indianapolis on Super Bowl weekend last year to accept the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award after a season in which he set team records with 14 sacks and seven forced fumbles.
This season, nothing has come easy. He suffered a partially torn Achilles tendon in late April that required surgery. Believed to be a long shot to play at all this season, he returned in time for the Ravens' Week 7 game against the Houston Texans, finalizing a stunningly quick comeback with a first-quarter sack of Matt Schaub.
Still working his way back into shape, Suggs played in six games before tearing his biceps in a home loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. That type of injury often is season-ending, but Suggs said in the days that followed that he wasn't even considering missing the rest of the year. He sat out just one game before returning for the Dec. 16 contest against the Denver Broncos. He has said that he may have the biceps surgically repaired in the offseason.
"I forgot he even had a torn biceps," Ravens cornerback Cary Williams said. "It just shows how courageous he is, how great of a person he is, how willing of a teammate he is to sacrifice his own self for the greater good of the team. That shows a lot about his character as a person. We lean heavily on him. He's one of our defensive leaders. We know that we wouldn't be at this point if it wasn't for him. We're very thankful that he's continuing to play through those issues. I appreciate him."
In his final three regular-season games, Suggs had five total tackles and three sacks, looking nothing like the player he has been for much of his career and prompting some questions about how useful that he'd be in the playoffs.
After a relatively quiet two-tackle performance in the Ravens' victory over the Indianapolis Colts in the wild-card round, Suggs has put those questions to rest. Working primarily against Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady, Suggs had 10 tackles, two sacks of Peyton Manning and a forced fumble in the win over the Broncos in the divisional round. He then followed that up last week with seven tackles and one quarterback hit on his old nemesis Tom Brady of the New England Patriots.
Defensive end Arthur Jones said Suggs' return coincided with the Ravens getting "our swag" back. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees, meanwhile, can't say enough of what even having a limited Suggs has meant to the rest of the defense.
"If you look at him and Ray, these guys both had injuries that a heck of a lot of people would have never come back from in a season," Pees said. "What that does is it tells the younger players that this is the way that you need to be to be a good pro."
Throughout the playoff run, the normally loquacious Suggs has been eerily quiet, declining several interviews and mostly maintaining a low profile. He broke from that pattern temporarily as he walked to the victorious Ravens' locker room at Gillette Stadium following the AFC championship game last Sunday. He blasted the Patriots to anybody within earshot, calling them arrogant and urging them to enjoy the Pro Bowl.
For a brief moment, that was the return of the Suggs that Ravens' fans and reporters have come to know. The same guy stood in front of reporters Friday, cautiously leaning on his locker and providing stock answers to questions. He even declined to take any verbal shots at the so-called "naysayers."
"I don't really have to say anything to them," Suggs said. "The fact that we're the last two teams playing says it all. We're just going to keep chucking and keep our eyes on the prize. One more to go."
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