OWINGS MILLS, Md. — You get the sense Terrell Suggs would have made one heck of a professional wrestler in another life, walking to the ring while playing to the crowd — the man everybody loves to hate.
That hatred pulsates nowhere quite like it does at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, where the Ravens linebacker’s impact is very real, unlike the heel wrestler cutting a scripted promo or using a steel folding chair when the referee isn’t looking.
Suggs is perfectly fine with the hostility and the crude gestures. In fact, he loves it all.
“This is my Madison Square Garden,” Suggs said. “I love playing in this stadium. I love the way the people treat me, the welcoming they give me with the [No. 1 fingers] — think of it. I love it. We’re going on the road in probably the toughest stadium to play in in the NFL. We’re expecting a physical football game, and this is football. I guarantee you the NFL, the world will stop for this game, and everybody wants to see it.”
Though not quite the Super Bowl — or Wrestlemania, for that matter — all eyes will be glued to the Ravens’ second meeting with the Steelers on Sunday night with Suggs figuring to play a prominent role as he always does against Pittsburgh. Past characters such as Shannon Sharpe, Tony Siragusa, and Chris McAlister have long moved on, but Suggs still carries the torch as the loudest talker on the Baltimore side of the biggest rivalry going in the NFL.
And the 28-year-old linebacker expects an angry Pittsburgh team with the bad taste of a 35-7 beating the Ravens gave them in Baltimore less than two months ago still lingering in the Steelers’ mouths.
“They’ve already declared war on us,” Suggs said. “We’re taking 53 men to the apocalypse and we ain’t bringing flowers. We’re going to make it as hard as we can for them to get organized.”
If anybody can say whatever he wants to Pittsburgh, it’s the one-man wrecking crew Suggs has been against Ben Roethlisberger. Including the playoffs, Suggs has sacked the Steelers quarterback 15 1/2 times, the most any NFL defender has gotten to the two-time Super Bowl winner.
Suggs has accumulated 13 1/2 sacks in 17 regular-season games against Pittsburgh, the most he has against any opponent and the most any active player has collected against the Steelers. The trend continued in Week 1 as the four-time Pro Bowl linebacker compiled three sacks and forced two fumbles to earn AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors in the dominating victory in Baltimore.
His six sacks has led a renaissance in the Baltimore pass rush in which the Ravens have collected 25 sacks through their first seven games, the best start in franchise history and two fewer sacks than the defense had all of last season. While Suggs has likely benefited from improved outputs by other veterans and contributions from young players, there’s no doubt the Ravens’ leading pass rusher makes the job of everyone else far easier.
“We’ve had more one-on-one wins,” coach John Harbaugh said. “Our pass rushers have done a better job of winning some one-on-one battles. That’s all those guys. You look at the young guys along with Terrell Suggs, all those guys have done a good job in one-on-one situations of beating the man over them.”
In his last trip to Heinz Field, the Ravens’ 31-24 divisional playoff loss last January, Suggs tallied a playoff career-high three sacks, which trumped his previous two-sack performance in the 2008 AFC Championship game in Pittsburgh.
Even with tremendous individual success against Pittsburgh, the hunger is visible in Suggs’ eyes as he talks about the Ravens’ aspirations to reach the Super Bowl, acknowledging the team standing in their way nearly every season. Metaphors and WWE promos aside, the facts are very real when it comes to the Ravens’ past failures against Pittsburgh when it matters most.