By Jeff Zrebiec
The Baltimore Sun
8:42 PM EDT, September 4, 2013
They are together all the time, sitting next to each other at their lockers, walking from meeting to meeting and relaxing in the cold tub after a long practice. When Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata walk out to the Ravens' practice field side by side — which they do at virtually the same time every day — the contrast remains striking.
Suggs doesn't walk so much as he struts, his head bobbing with each step. He surveys his surroundings, poses for the assembled media and belts out lyrics from whatever song is in his head.
Ngata has the gait of a man who has spent years battling in the trenches. He doesn't say anything and mostly stares straight ahead, not even acknowledging his teammate's antics that he has seen so many times before.
"We couldn't be more opposites but we're best friends," Suggs said. "Our relationship is legitimate. It's not for the papers, it's not for TV. It's not fate. It's 100percent real. We're more than just teammates. We're brothers. It goes deeper than football with us."
When the Ravens take the field tonight against the Denver Broncos to begin the regular season, their offseason defensive makeover will be on full display. There will be no Ray Lewis and no Ed Reed, but the two new leaders of the defense will be old and familiar faces.
Suggs, the brash, 30-year-old rush linebacker, and Ngata, the soft-spoken, 29-year-old nose tackle, have been teammates for eight seasons. From different backgrounds and with entirely different personalities and demeanors, Suggs and Ngata have become so close that Ravens safety James Ihedigbo likened them to comedy duo Frick and Frack. Nose tackle Terrence Cody called them "brothers from a different mother."
Partners in pranks, locker room games and trips to restaurants and the movies, Suggs and Ngata's latest undertaking is upholding the standard of Ravens defensive excellence set by Lewis over 17 seasons.
"I think we both understand that we need to be leaders not just with our unit, but lead this team as well," Ngata said. "Terrell has definitely taken that to another level. Hopefully, I can be a great right-hand man for him. We just have this bond that could never be broken."
Suggs, the 10th overall pick in the 2003 draft out of Arizona State, is a five-time Pro Bowl selection, the 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and the franchise's all-time leader in sacks. The 12th overall selection in 2006, Ngata is a four-time Pro Bowl pick and he's long been considered one of the top interior defensive linemen in the NFL.
After several near-misses, Suggs and Ngata finally got to experience the ultimate team accomplishment in February with the Ravens' victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.
"[The 49ers] were on the goal line, and all I was thinking was, 'We're going to have to win it on defense,'" Suggs said. "As phenomenal a playoffs that our offense had, at that moment, they couldn't save us. It rested where it started. This team was built on defense, and we're going to win our Super Bowl on defense with a goal-line stand. We did it. You couldn't have written a better story."
Suggs flashes a wide smile just thinking about it. Yet he and Ngata went their separate ways in February not completely satisfied with how their seasons had gone. Suggs missed the first six weeks of the 2012 season after offseason Achilles tendon surgery, and he returned to the field only to tear his biceps. He persevered through eight games, but conditioning and mobility issues prevented him from being the type of pass rusher that he's always been.
Ngata played in all but two games in 2012, but his ultimate frustration was having to watch the second half of the Super Bowl from the locker room after aggravating a knee injury.
"For [Suggs] to come back with an Achilles, that's just remarkable," defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. "It tells you how bad he wants it and how much he loves football — the same with Haloti. They could have both dropped out of it and used injuries as an excuse, and they never did."
Ngata's knee problems lingered into the mandatory offseason minicamp, but he hopes he's beyond them now. Suggs has dropped a significant amount of weight and appears to have regained some of the quickness that he lost from the Achilles injury.
Both players acknowledged that being sidelined or limited last year provided perspective and offseason motivation. Ngata lives in Utah in the offseason, while Suggs spends much of his downtime in Arizona. However, not a day would go by without them calling or texting each other to provide status reports.
Reed, who spent 11 seasons in Baltimore before signing with the Houston Texans this offseason, and Lewis forged a well-documented friendship that was rooted in similarities. Even Suggs and Ngata say they are polar opposites, but something just clicked when the Ravens drafted Ngata and set up his locker next to Suggs.
Of Tongan descent, Ngata's activity of choice is a quiet night with his wife, Christina, and their two young boys. He lets loose on occasion with his teammates, but he never appears comfortable or content in front of reporters.
Meanwhile, Suggs — or "Sizzle," as his teammates call him — is a movie and music buff who doesn't shy away from the nightlife. While Ngata "just likes to be quiet," Suggs' voice reverberates everywhere. Yet the two are inseparable, especially, Ngata says, at the team facility, where "I can't go by myself to do anything or he can't, and if one of us does, we get on each other pretty bad."
"If I told my wife I was with Haloti, she wouldn't worry about a thing," Suggs said. "She'd say, 'All right, you guys have fun.' He's a real good person to be around, especially if you want to stay out of trouble. The man doesn't even curse. Haloti is a big teddy bear, and everybody knows he's an amazing family man. But when Haloti is in pads and he has a helmet on, there's no more gentle giant. He's ferocious."
Their relationship has become a source of great amusement among their teammates. During lulls in training camp, Ngata and Suggs stood off to the side trying to toss footballs into garbage cans. When players would run sprints across the field, Suggs and Ngata were in the middle of the pack, pushing each other and grabbing each other's jersey to try to gain an edge.
"When they are both together, you never know what's going to happen," Cody said. "Sizz is the more outspoken one, but you have to keep your eye on Haloti. Sizz is kind of the distraction, and Haloti is the enforcer. He comes in and cleans up."
But not everything is fun and games. When Suggs and Ngata are in the sauna or cold tub, the conversational inevitably steers toward their respective families. Suggs and his wife have two kids, while Ngata's wife is due with a third.
"A lot of times, it's just making sure that we're both OK, not only on the field but at home," Ngata said. "He's always asked me for advice on marriage and being a father. I'm just proud of the way he's grown to being the man that he has to his wife and the father he is to his kids. We always talk about when we're retired, we want to have our kids call each other uncle and things like that."
Ngata, of course, knows that's for another day. Helped by an improved defensive line, Ngata feels there is another level his game could reach. Suggs declined to make any predictions about his 2013 season, but he's clearly buoyed by being healthy again and the addition of another top pass rusher in Elvis Dumervil.
Seven months later after reaching the pinnacle of their sport, Suggs and Ngata are as determined as ever to do it again. That road starts tonight against Peyton Manning and the Broncos.
"Last year's team achieved some great things, but why settle for that when you have the opportunity to do it again?" Suggs said. "As long as I got air in my lungs, I'm going to try and win another one. The first one is great, but I'd guarantee you the second one feels better."
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