OWINGS MILLS, Md. - Terrell Suggs wakes to an elbow smashing into him most days, to a fight or a wrestling match or a show of strength. His combatant – by the name of Duke – shows no mercy, aiming that elbow at a man who most wouldn’t want to anger.
Suggs loves it. A 3-year-old can only do so much damage, after all.
The wrestling is encouraged at the Suggs house. And, if his locker room antics are any indication, it’s likely to be accompanied by exuberance, by shouting and cheering, by as much glee from the father as from the son.
“I’m a big kid,’’ Suggs said. “Me and my children, you would never know who is the parent.
“I’m not immature. I just like to have fun. I think I’m going to be this way for the rest of my life. I’m perfectly fine with that. It’s worked out thus far.’’
Those are hardly idle words. As Suggs talked Friday, he periodically would let out a scream, as his teammates engaged in a long-time ritual - dunking a football on the heads of unsuspecting media members.
The Ravens linebacker explained that the antics had gone on for five years, since he helped begin the fun and games by turning all the lights out and playing offense vs. defense dodge ball, with the media as an unsuspecting - and perhaps unwilling - audience.
“You hear him,’’ said teammate Bernard Pollard. “Look at him. The guy don’t care what he says. And it’s not that he’s going to be malicious. He’s not going to attack a teammate. He’s a guy that’s a great character.’’
Suggs fits right into the boisterous locker room in Baltimore, a place he has embraced and a place that has embraced him, especially after a season in which he’s been arguably the best defender in the league.
He has become a vocal leader, though he maintains the Ravens ultimately belong to fellow linebacker Ray Lewis. Suggs, though, has areas in which he takes supremacy, and not just with the 14 sacks and franchise-record seven forced fumbles.
“Hands down the loudest in the locker room,’’ Suggs said, having taken over the mantle when Tavares Gooden left this season for the 49ers. “It’s not even a competition. I’m the loudest.’’
And with that, Suggs started yelling.
Suggs has been labeled as different, as special, as the best. His season has been dominant, and there are few who have been able to stop him.
“He’s a beast,’’ said cornerback Lardarius Webb. “He’s a monster. All I see is he’s getting a sack when I turn around.
“He just hates quarterbacks. I hope he keeps hating quarterbacks.’’
That would help today, when the Ravens are looking to stop a Patriots offense that has been rolling. There are few players that have been able to effectively block Suggs from getting to those quarterbacks he hates. New England will have to account for Suggs on every snap.
Said Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, “With [Baltimore linebackers coach] Dean Pees having this experience up there, he knows first and foremost that the first thing [Patriots coach Bill] Belichick went in and talked about with the offense [is], ‘No. 55 is a game wrecker, and we can’t let him wreck the game. So we’ve got to make sure we know where he is every snap and we’ve got to take care of him.’ ’’
If they don’t? Tom Brady could have a long afternoon.
“He’s a freak of an athlete and he plays hard,’’ Patriots left guard Logan Mankins said. “He can do things that other guys can’t do and that makes him really dangerous.’’
And that has been the case this season, something Suggs attributes to an increased sense of urgency, a desire to put more of the burden of the team’s success on him. He knows he can take the Ravens a long way toward their goals. So he has tried to do just that.
The accolades already have started, though the big prize - Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year - doesn’t get handed out until Super Bowl eve. But, still, Suggs has been named Defensive Player of the Year by Pro Football Weekly.
“I’ve won a lot of personal awards, never any championships,’’ Suggs said. “One thing about an MVP is that it dies. There will be another one the next year and the year after that. But champions last forever.
“I want to be a champion. I don’t want to have that [Dan] Marino-type feeling to my career, to have a whole bunch of stats with no ring.’’
It’s clear that the linebacker wants to say something. He asks when the story will appear in the paper. He backs off, knowing that anything controversial will be seen by the Patriots.
So he softens his words, saying, “I know my play is going to be key. I’ve got to have a good game. I cannot afford to have a bad game. Not this week. I don’t think any of us can.’’
He seems happy that he’s shown restraint, something that’s not always been the case, especially when it relates to Brady. But the two have moved on from their 2-year-old tiff. As Suggs said, “You grow and mature.’’
“I am pretty much over it,’’ Suggs said. “I respect him. When it is all said and done, they are going to speak about three quarterbacks: Johnny [Unitas], Peyton [Manning], and him.’’
And against Brady and the Patriots, Suggs and the Ravens can’t make mistakes, on the field or in the newspapers.
It’s a rare moment Suggs isn’t being purely himself. But he considers himself someone with influence, and because of that, he’s unwilling to do anything to put another win in jeopardy. As he said, “It’s still Ray Lewis’s team, but just like any army you’ve got the rank. You have the general, the lieutenant colonel, lieutenant major. I just fall in line. I consider myself third, behind Ray and Ed [Reed].’’
Fortunately for Suggs, fortunately for the Ravens, it works. It wouldn’t work everywhere. Like, say, in New England.
“I think God does everything for a reason,’’ Suggs said, of whether he would have fit in with the Patriots. “I was more of a Steve Bisciotti guy than I was a Robert Kraft guy. And that’s fine. It’s just two different types of teams, two different types of locker rooms, two different types of players.’’
The Ravens are the loose type, the brash type, the loud type. They’re full of personality, full of fun, ready to let it all out. They click somehow, and they value that. As Suggs said, “There are some teams that go to work and just hate it, even if they’re winning. But not us.’’
No, Suggs doesn’t hate going to work. He loves it. He shows it. He yells about it.
He has fun with it, especially this season, with the Ravens one game away from the Super Bowl, with his team - one that fits him perfectly - ready to give Suggs everything he has worked for and wanted, while allowing him to be himself.
“It’s been magical,’’ Suggs said. “It’s been the most fun I’ve had professionally. It’s been a really good season. I don’t know what my career holds in the future . . . but we’re just having fun with it. One day this roller-coaster ride will end and you don’t want to have any regrets.’’Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.