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Pernell McPhee's Difficult Season Tests Toughness


Torrey Smith had a crowd of reporters around him, all asking about his brother's death and how he's handled it this season.

Meanwhile, defensive end Pernell McPhee sat alone on his stool, taking the scene in.

While Smith is in many ways an open book, McPhee is more circumspect.

But the second-year defensive end went through a similar struggle – times three.

McPhee lost three people very close to him – a first cousin, a father figure and a sister – all within seven months last year. Then he battled knee and groin injuries that took the luster off his seemingly bright future.

After a breakout rookie campaign, McPhee had a challenging sophomore season to say the least. And now he's in the Super Bowl with a chance to write a happy ending.

"He's one of the toughest people that I've ever been around in my life," Head Coach John Harbaugh said.

McPhee's cousin, Tobias Felton, was the first to die in early February. His body was found in a Florida canal after he reportedly drowned.

Then McPhee's sister, Shaqoya Butler, was slain on July 10. According to McPhee, a man was trying to shoot his uncle and Butler was caught in the line of fire. She was shot in the head, chest and arm with an automatic weapon, McPhee said.

And finally, Edwin Coleman, the man McPhee called his "White Daddy," and the closest thing he had to a father figure, passed away suddenly after a heart attack on August 19 at the age of 66.

McPhee attended all three funerals.

"God puts you through things," McPhee said. "He wants to know whether you believe in Him enough to overcome the tragedies you're going through. I always kept my faith in God and kept praying. Look where I'm at now."

McPhee is back in the position of being a key player for the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII.

In the AFC championship, he deflected two passes, one of which was intercepted by linebacker Dannell Ellerbe to essentially seal the game. In the divisional round, McPhee caused a key fumble by sacking quarterback Peyton Manning.

He hasn't had nearly the same season he did as a surprising fifth-round draft pick, when he logged six sacks and 23 tackles in his rookie campaign. But considering all he's gone through, McPhee has performed well and may be hitting his stride heading to New Orleans.

"I've seen a lot of toughness," defensive tackle Terrence Cody said. "We know he's emotionally tough and spiritually tough."

McPhee learned of his sister's death on the same night he was going to pay her a surprise visit. He ended up doing something else, and three or four hours later got the call.

As McPhee talked about the shooting, he didn't seem to hold any anger or resentment. That's just the way life is in Pahokee, an extremely poor and rough part of Florida where McPhee was raised in one bedroom with seven other siblings.

The area is called "The Muck," and McPhee described it as the "real hood."

"Life's crazy down there," he said. "Those things right there, they're life, they're reality. Deal with it. You going to sit and dwell on it or are you going to say that's all in God's plans? He puts people in your life until a certain day when he takes them out."

Coleman entered McPhee's life while the youngster was in junior college. Coleman, a member of the Auburn Baptist Church, learned of McPhee's story of struggle and first offered him some pocket money to do some yard work.

But their relationship turned into much more than that.

"He really just took me in and showed me how a good father could be, as far as love and care and doing things that I never had, things a man does for his kids," McPhee said.

McPhee had lunch with Coleman just three days before his death, during a break from training camp. When they left each other, McPhee said he loved him. They didn't talk for three or four days, and then McPhee got the call. He was a pallbearer at Coleman's funeral.

The memories of when his cousin, sister and father figure died are fuzzy for McPhee. He mixed up the order and had no idea of the dates. It's been too much to remember.

"I try to remember our time together, but I never try to think about the day they died," McPhee said. "I thought one day that I could wake up and it would be a dream. But it's reality."

McPhee continued with his season but was faced with more challenges on the field.

He had offseason knee surgery that knocked him out of some of training camp. Then, on his very first play of the regular-season, Cincinnati Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis went low on a block. He clipped McPhee's knee and sent him airborne.

McPhee didn't come immediately out of the game, but he said the hit damaged his medial collateral and anterior cruciate ligaments.

After coming back from that, McPhee said he suffered a torn groin. He's been playing through that injury ever since and missed just four games total.

"He's had injuries that have just plagued him, and he continues to just fight through them," Harbaugh said. "This guy plays with a lot of injuries."

McPhee doesn't complain, however.

He said he tried to open up more to his teammates this year, tried to talk to them more about what he was going through. But he sometimes went back into his shell, he said.

Cody described McPhee as "not one of those sharing guys."

"A lot of people tried to call me and give me comfort, but I'm a loner," McPhee said. "I feel like every man knows their responsibilities and how life goes. When things like that happen, a real man stands up and is the backbone.

"I'm built Ford tough. Life can't stop me."

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