In one sense, Terrell Suggs finished on top.
The final game of his career was Super Bowl LIV, when he got two tackles and a championship with the ascendant Kansas City Chiefs. It gave him the chance to retire a winner after piling up 139 career sacks, which places him eighth all time.
But it wasn’t his highest point, Suggs said. As much as he enjoyed a whirlwind, five-game run with Kansas City, the stakes could never match what he faced in the 2012 run with the Baltimore Ravens, culminating in the Super Bowl XLVII win over San Francisco.
The difficult path to that championship — overcoming an Achilles injury, avenging an AFC Championship loss, holding off a late 49ers onslaught — gives it more meaning as the 41-year-old looks back.
“That was just getting to the peak of the mountaintop with people you started the journey with,” Suggs told The Baltimore Banner this week. “It’s the pinnacle of football. To do it with your brothers that you bled with, that’s special.”
On Sunday, Suggs will join several of those brothers in the Ravens’ Ring of Honor in a halftime ceremony during the game against the Detroit Lions. Suggs thinks of himself as fortunate because he got to play alongside Ray Lewis and Ed Reed for the majority of his career. But, in his heyday, Suggs was just as feared as either of them, including a 2011 season that saw him tapped as the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year with 14 sacks and seven forced fumbles.
After two decades breathing down the necks of quarterbacks, the mean-mugging, intimidating pass rusher is feeling something ahead of the Sunday honors that might seem at odds with his image: butterflies.
“I’m getting a little anxious, and of course I’m a little nervous,” he said. “When they told me, I was blown away and ecstatic, like, ‘This is really happening.’”
Suggs’ last season with the Ravens was 2018, so there are still plenty of folks in the franchise with memories of the 6-foot-3 hulking linebacker. Then-rookies Lamar Jackson and Mark Andrews remember Suggs smack talking the offense in practice.
Said Andrews, chuckling: “I think for me, every time I lined up, he said, ‘Aw, he’s not blocking — he’s going out for a pass.’”
In the locker room, Suggs was known as more of a prank-pulling jester.
After arriving in 2008, coach John Harbaugh had a run-in with Suggs when the star linebacker wasn’t wearing dress shoes in accordance with Harbaugh’s travel policy. The team held up its flight for a road game until Suggs got compliant footwear (Suggs claims not to remember this, although he admits, “It’s not far-fetched.”).
But, as the relationships strengthened, Harbaugh relaxed some of his more stringent policies and trusted the colorful personalities on his defense to get the job done.
“When you have a new coach, he comes and says, ‘OK, this is how we do things now,’ and we understood that, and after that first year [with Harbaugh], we were pretty much good,” Suggs said. “Everybody knew their place, and it showed up in how we came to work. We were allowed to be ourselves.”
When he’s honored this weekend, of course, Suggs will think about that Super Bowl. Beyond that, the games that leap to mind are the ones with heartbreak and hurt behind them. At the end of the 2010 campaign, the Steelers topped the Ravens in a divisional playoff matchup; the next season, Suggs took pleasure in a season-opening, 35-7 annihilation of Pittsburgh at home.
But the non-Super Bowl highlight has to be Jan. 20, 2013. After the New England Patriots bested the Ravens in the AFC Championship the previous season — a game of infamy for Lee Evans and Billy Cundiff to this day — going back to Foxborough and beating Tom Brady and Bill Belichick was probably the most cathartic experience Suggs has had in football.
“After that major disappointment the year before, it was like going back to the scene of the crime,” Suggs said. “It’s everything, all the subplots. You had the best offensive player to ever play the game going against probably the two best defensive players ever in Ray and Ed. Just the IQ on that field, it was great to be a part of.”
Suggs also played just eight games that regular season, recovering from an offseason Achilles tear in half a year to suit up again, defying all reasonable expectations. It was the second Achilles tear of his career, and somehow he was still a standout player. In 2017, in his mid-30s, he pulled together a Pro Bowl season with 11 sacks and four forced fumbles.
It’s that tenacity in the face of adversity that is one of the reasons Harbaugh calls Suggs, “one of the all-time great players to ever play here.”
The ending was arguably the painful part. After 16 seasons with the Ravens, Suggs took a free agency deal with the Arizona Cardinals in 2019, which he now acknowledges was in part to spend time with his mother, who was terminally ill. Toward the end of the season, the Cardinals waived him and it looked as if a Baltimore reunion could be in the works, but the Chiefs swooped in instead.
Suggs said he would have liked to finish his career with the Ravens, all things being equal, but his decision to leave Baltimore worked out, too.
“It’s not like the storybook ending that I wanted, but it was still a good ending,” he said. “I got to spend my last year playing close to my mom, then going off and winning the Super Bowl. It was definitely fortunate for me.”
These days, Suggs leaves the competing to others. His daughter, 16-year-old Dahni Suggs, is a rising star basketball player at Baltimore powerhouse St. Frances. Does it bring the old juices back? No, he said. “I just sit there and be a proud dad. It’s very flattering to see what she’s doing.”
This weekend could see a reunion of some of the vaunted figures of Ravens defenses past. Suggs admitted he doesn’t keep in touch with Lewis or Reed as much as he should. “We’re all adulting now — we all have kids,” he said, laughing.
He’s not sure how much he’ll allow the emotions to take over Sunday.
“You can’t say what you’re gonna do or not do in a situation like that,” he said. “You can try to say you’re going to stay contained, not get too emotional.”
“I guess we’ll have to see.”