"Nothing is guaranteed; nothing is owed to you."
It's the first thing that came to his mind as he reflected on the first 11 years of his NFL career.
For 160 games, we have seen the man-child that is Terrell Suggs thrill us with his all-out playing style and one-of-a-kind personality.
But backtrack to draft day in 2003, there were the questions about Terrell's speed, playing style, stamina, work ethic and whether his game could transfer to the NFL. "Sizzle" answered those questions with reckless abandon.
Right out of the gate, Suggs earned Defensive Rookie of the Month honors for September, garnering four sacks and an interception in his first four games. He received the honor purely on his athletic ability.
"I really didn't learn the true game of football until I got here," admitted Suggs. "In college, I was strictly a pass rusher. All I wanted to do was pass rush, and that doesn't take too much, mentally. It's just, 'Put your hand in the dirt and go.' But when I got here, [Defensive Coordinator] Rex [Ryan] and all the other vets said, 'You're going to do it all.'"
And, he has done just that.
Suggs is the Ravens' all-time leader in sacks (93.5), sack yardage (667), forced fumbles (29) and is second in fumble recoveries (12). He has led the team in sacks in six years and has been one of the steadiest defensive players for years now, but Suggs knows that stats don't determine your place in history.
Asked what he would tell his rookie self, Suggs replied: "Chase championships, not stats. I've witnessed a lot of championship-caliber teams end their season ringless. When you chase the overall big picture, everything else will come."
With 70 tackles (50 solo), a career-high 14 sacks, a franchise single-season record and NFL-leading seven forced fumbles and two interceptions in 2011, Suggs won the prestigious NFL Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) award, which he was proud of, but it's not the prize he coveted most.
"It was a shock. I swear to God, it was the furthest thing from my mind. I remember that year, we fell short – we fell a game short. I was like, 'This is my second time here. Last time, I remember feeling disgusted while the other team got to celebrate on their field.' It was like, 'We've got to win.' The awards were in Indianapolis where the Super Bowl was being held. It was like, 'I'm supposed to be playing. Why am I going to the Super Bowl?' I asked my wife, and she said, 'Yeah, let's go because we're not doing anything else.' So, we went, and I won. It is a great award. I was proud to win it and be able to share it with my teammates, but it would've been nice to win it and win the Super Bowl, too."
Four months after winning the DPOY award, Terrell tore his Achilles while preparing for training camp. It was a devastating blow to a man who had truly come into his own as a player and leader. After being named the best player on the defensive side of the ball, he was facing a grueling seven-month rehab to get back to playing the game he loved.
"Rehab was awful. I was hurrying to get back. I wanted to be back with my brothers, back on the field."
Though he had only missed three games in his NFL career (in 2009 due to a knee injury), Sizzle found himself on the sidelines on the Physically Unable to Perform list for the first six games of the season.
Ineligible to play for nearly half the season, it was a situation he had never faced. Adding to his fire, naysayers claimed he couldn't come back to play that year and couldn't play at a high level.
"Basically, the fuel to your fire is people telling you that you can't do it, and that it's impossible that you'll play that year. It's almost like, when you're in that moment of pain, you want to quit, and you want to stop, but you just line up and do it again. You keep doing it again, and before I knew it, I was back lining up at practice, and then I was playing that week against the Houston Texans. It was pretty special to get back out there. It made me realize, 'Don't take this game for granted.' People all say that it all can end in one play. It's just a saying until it happens to you. You never think about it all ending in one play."
With a renewed passion for practicing and the grind of the game, Suggs came back in great shape and was primed for a shot at the ultimate goal – a Super Bowl win. Once he returned, he started all of the remaining regular-season games and all four postseason contests. When reflecting on the Ravens' 2012 championship run, Suggs sat back in his chair, smiled and paused before being able to put it into words.
"You can never explain the feeling of winning a Super Bowl because that's the one pinnacle," he explained. "That's the highest of the high that you can reach. It starts at Pop Warner; everybody wants to play in a Super Bowl if you're a football player. It took me 10 years to do, but it was worth it. I wish I could've done it sooner, but that made me more hungry. I definitely want the chance to go down that road again."
As he has matured, Terrell realized how lucky he is to not only be in the NFL and be a part of a successful franchise, but how lucky he is to have relationships that extend beyond the playing field and beyond his years as a player.
"The best thing about playing a kid's game at the level we do is the camaraderie with the guys," he asserted. "I have had the luxury of playing with some of the best ever to play with Ray [Lewis], Primetime [Deion Sanders] and Ed Reed. I cherish those relationships formed over the years. If you ask any retired player what they miss most about the game, they say the locker room – just the relationship they had with the guys and the things that they did. It's definitely the locker room, and it's even the grind. The grind stinks while you're doing it, but you appreciate it because it does build the camaraderie – a bond, so to say – with the men that went through it with you."
Through a career-threatening injury and a championship ride that same season, Suggs learned valuable lessons.
"We earned that ring the hard way. Nothing promised to you. I took my ability to play in the NFL for granted before my injury – took my teammates for granted. I didn't get to go out to training camp with them or practice with them last year – and all that was awful. You never know how much you'll really miss something until you don't have it anymore."