Returning to Baltimore and playing for a different team than the Ravens will stir many emotions in Terrell Suggs. He doesn’t deny it. He isn’t sure what to expect, doesn’t know exactly how he will feel.
He’ll walk into the visitor’s locker room Sunday for the first time as a member of the Arizona Cardinals. He’ll see many friends and former teammates on the opposite sideline. Even if Ravens fans greet him warmly before the game, they’ll be cheering against him after kickoff.
After 16 years with the Ravens, winning a Super Bowl, and building a legacy that could lead him to the Hall of Fame, the franchise’s all-time sacks leader is wearing a different uniform and a different number (56). It’s a lot for Suggs to process, despite the fact he has experienced so much.
Suggs is rarely speechless, but he admits that preparing to play against the Ravens is uncharted territory.
“I don’t know what to expect walking back into M&T (Bank Stadium),” Suggs said during a Wednesday conference call. “I’m going to do my best to enjoy it – the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s going to be kind of weird for all of us.”
The Ravens tried to re-sign Suggs this offseason but he chose to return to the Phoenix area where he went to college (Arizona State) and lives during the offseason. Suggs often said he hoped to retire as a Raven, and said the Ravens made a final “push” to bring him back this year.
“It was a tough [decision],” Suggs said. “Wrestled with it, kind of made a decision in the last hour. As time has shown, both teams made the best decision. It worked out for everybody. They definitely made a last push. I just felt it was time.”
But when asked Wednesday if he expected to join the Ravens Ring of Honor one day, Suggs didn’t want to speculate.
“I haven’t thought about it,” Suggs said. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. I got to be honest guys, I shy away when people start talking about retirement.”
Suggs proved in Week 1 that he can still play with five tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble during the Cardinals’ 27-27 tie with the Detroit Lions. At 36 years old, he is no longer one of the NFL’s most dominant outside linebackers, but remains one of the smartest. And he’s still plenty powerful and skilled enough to get to the quarterback. The Ravens will be wary of Suggs, knowing his ability to anticipate plays is uncanny.
“He’s obviously an incredible player,” Ravens tight end Mark Andrews said. “Here, he’s a legend. It’s going to be fun to go against him. I was lucky enough to play with a guy like that for a year. Just to see his mentality. I’m going to have to bring it, everybody on this team’s going to have to bring it. He’s a beast, so it’s going to be fun.”
Ravens who were teammates with Suggs for multiple seasons like right guard Marshal Yanda are still adjusting to his departure.
“To see his face on the scouting report is pretty funny,” Yanda said. “It’s crazy. That’s just life in the NFL. But come Sunday, it’s business. And he understands that, too. We can talk before the game and we can talk after the game, but during the game, it’s business.”
It's not just Suggs’ play that has left the Ravens, but his large persona. He was a defensive leader and the biggest personality in the room, and few topics were off limits when it came to his sense of humor. As a rookie last season, Andrews couldn’t believe some of the things Suggs did, yet everyone knew he was serious about winning.
“He’s very outlandish, that’s a good way to put it,” Andrews said. “Kind of speaks his mind whenever he wants. Just an incredible teammate. A guy you look after and kind of model yourself after. Just an all-around pro.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a guy like that in the locker room who was just kind of so outspoken. He’d been here forever, so at team meetings he’d just kind of say what he wanted. Talk to (Head Coach John) Harbaugh during the team meetings. I’d never really seen that.”
Asked to reflect on Suggs as a teammate, Yanda said, “I would just call him a pillar of this franchise. Great leader, a great teammate.”
Yanda also remembers Suggs creating a bizarre twist to the media’s visits to the locker room.
“When I was a young player, I remember media dodgeball and Terrell being a big proponent of media dodgeball,” Yanda said. “So, I had a lot of fun watching him and the older guys go crazy with the media. They would literally turn the lights off in the locker room, and people were hiding in trash cans and stuff. That was fun. That was a good time.”
But Suggs’ fun-loving side is balanced with a competitive side that hates to lose. He was mentor to many young players, particularly on defense, and he left an impression that still lingers.
“When I came here, even though I was a first-round pick, he wasn’t quick to say, ‘Oh you’re going to be a good player,’’’ said cornerback Marlon Humphrey. “Once I started to make those plays, he started to call me, ‘The Future.’”
For the past few seasons, Suggs was the last defensive player introduced at Ravens home games, following in the footsteps of Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis. Suggs loved coming through the tunnel and hearing the crowd reach a crescendo as he appeared.
“It was the highest honor you can get, to be introduced last,” Suggs said. “Especially since the guy who did it before you was a football God. There was no pressure on you. You didn’t have to be that good, because you were never going to be as good as the guy who did it before you. I loved every minute of it.”
It will be a much different experience for Suggs this weekend, taking the field with the visiting team. But no matter how the crowd reacts, Suggs knows it will be an experience he can’t fully prepare for.
“I have no clue what’s going to happen on Sunday,” Suggs said. “I don’t know what kind of reception, I don’t know how I’m going to feel. This is a very unique situation for me. This is something that in 17 years I’ve never experienced.
“This is one hell of a storyline. I consider myself a good screenwriter. I could never have wrote this though. This is a very unique week. I’m just going to enjoy the ride.”