OWINGS MILLS, Maryland — Terrell Suggs wore a gladiator's mask during introductions at a Baltimore Ravens game this season in an effort to boost the spirit of his teammates for a duel with the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers.
The stunt earned him a $5,512 fine from the NFL. It also aptly displayed the mentality Suggs brings to the field on game day, that of a fun-loving warrior.
"He's entertaining and passionate at the same time," Ravens safety Will Hill said. "You're going to have fun, but it's about business, too. You can see how dedicated and involved he is, not just with this organization but the game of football. He's going to give his all on every snap, and he demands that from every player on the field with him."
Ever since his mentor, Ray Lewis, stepped into retirement, Suggs has taken over as the leader and spokesman for Baltimore's traditionally rugged defense. It's no coincidence that Suggs, like Lewis, is the last member of the unit to be introduced at home.
After the kickoff, the real fun begins — at home or away.
"I love playing football," Suggs said. "It doesn't matter where I'm at."
Suggs will often jabber at the competition and opposing fans, but his main job at outside linebacker is to help Baltimore win.
Suggs broke into the NFL as a brash 20-year-old. Over the course of a dozen years, he's learned when to bark at an opponent and when to show respect.
As the Ravens (11-6) prepare to face the New England Patriots (12-4) for the right to play in the AFC title game, Suggs has chosen the latter approach.
In the past, Suggs insisted that New England quarterback Tom Brady received preferential treatment from referees. He also said: "I don't like him, he don't like me. I don't like his hair."
This week, Suggs toned it down to this: "He's a quarterback; I'm a defender. He has a job to do, and so do I. Naturally, there are going to be some disagreements there."
In eight career games against New England, Suggs has 20 tackles, four sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. If he continues to play as he has this season, he's sure to add to those numbers.
Suggs started all 16 games and ranked third on the team with 61 tackles. He had 12 sacks, tied for the second most in his career, and his between-the-legs interception last weekend helped seal Baltimore's 30-17 playoff win over Pittsburgh.
"It looks like it's his third year out there," Brady said. "He's the leader of that defense, he makes great plays. ... I have a lot of respect for his ability to play the game at a high level. He's phenomenal."
Heard of that assessment, Suggs grinned and said, "Did they record him? Like, they had a camera?"
Suggs says he's maintained a high level of play over the years because he got an early start to his career and has benefited from coach John Harbaugh's tendency to occasionally give veterans time off during the practice week.
"It does help coming into the league at 20," Suggs said. "I wasn't like 23 or 24 when I came. I don't know, I think the past couple years coach has been doing a good job taking care of me, backing off the reps in camp and backing off the reps down the stretch."
"I've had the privilege to be around real professionals, real vets, and not only just gods of the game, but guys that really know how to work and stay around the game for a long time," Suggs said. "I had the luxury and the pleasure of being around guys like that. I got to learn it firsthand."
Now, Suggs is one of the main figures in the Baltimore locker room.
"You have to have an emotional leader, and Suggs is definitely our emotional leader," Harbaugh said. "He's fun; he keeps things loose. He always has high energy. 'A lot of energy, a lot of focus' — that's what he says.
"I enjoy him. I know that, and the rest of the guys do. Along those lines, he's never not ready to play at the highest possible level, and he does that week in and week out."
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