Emblazoned on Stevie Baggs' left trapezius in cursive letters is a distinctive tattoo: "Shakespeare."
It's safe to say there aren't many NFL linebackers nicknamed after the English poet and playwright.
Signed by the Ravens over the weekend to a one-year, $390,000 contract with no signing bonus, the former Canadian Football League standout has proudly worn the sobriquet ever since his college days at Bethune-Cookman.
"My fellow linebackers told me, 'Bro, you're making so many plays, I'm just going to call you Shakespeare,'" Baggs said. "It became something that stuck. Ever since I incorporated the nickname, I've
gotten really into the quotes. I saw one the other night talking about adversity that really defines my situation right now. No matter what the circumstances, adversity can turn into advantage. That's really where my mindset is."
If "all the world's a stage," as Shakespeare penned, then Baggs definitely has "a lean and hungry look."
Cut by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in March after refusing to accept a pay cut from his status as the highest paid defensive player in the CFL with a salary over $150,000 per year, Baggs contacted the Ravens and was brought in for a tryout early in training camp.
"It was a financial thing," Baggs said of his release from the Tiger-Cats. "I was the highest-paid defensive player in the league and they changed the scheme on me and I wound up with five sacks. So, I
called the Ravens. All I asked for was an opportunity, and they gave me one. I told them I was in shape and ready to do my thing."
The 6-foot-1, 240-pounder has been up to bat before with three NFL teams, starting with the Detroit Lions, who signed him as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2004. Baggs also spent time on the Jacksonville Jaguars' practice squad, and he was released by the Arizona Cardinals two years ago during their final roster cutdown.
The Cardinals brought Baggs in after he led the CFL with a dozen sacks in 2009.
It didn't turn out the way Baggs had planned, though.
"I thought that was going to work out for me in Arizona because they called me a week after they cut me and were going to bring me back, but I was under contract back in Canada," said Baggs, who has also
played for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Edmonton Eskimos and the Sasketchewan Roughriders, along with time spent in the Arena Football League and NFL Europe. "I had finally got my first chance to show what I can really do in the NFL, but everything happens for a reason. It's about timing and opportunity. I
feel blessed to be here in Baltimore. I really appreciate it."
A three-time All-American who recorded 40 sacks in college and was named the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year, Baggs forced four fumbles and was named a West-Division All-Star with the Roughriders three years ago as Sasketchewan reached the Grey Cup.
"I got to be well-known and a fan favorite up there," Baggs said. "The fans are awesome. They love football."
Now, Baggs is determined to find out if his football odyssey includes a final act in the NFL.
Baggs faces an extremely difficult path to make the roster considering the Ravens are stacked at linebacker, but that hasn't deterred his ambition.
"What would I call the play of my life? 'Victory for Life,'" said the deeply religious Florida native. "No matter the circumstances, I'm victorious just because of the resilience I have. I'm blessed by God. I could have given this up a long time ago. I've been [in] all these camps, been through all these things, but I'm still grinding.
"I'm just here to play some football and do everything I can to try to make the team. I feel very blessed and elated to be here. I'm humbled. Obviously, it is what it is. If you make enough plays and do enough
things right, you'll be able to be around."