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When Terrell Suggs first glanced at the Arizona Cardinals’ 2019 schedule, the narrative implications of his new team’s Week 2 matchup did not register.
Then, Suggs looked again.
In his first road game as the member of a team other than the Ravens, the 17-year veteran would run onto the field at … M&T Bank Stadium.
“I consider myself a good screenwriter,” he said on a Wednesday conference call with Baltimore reporters. “I could have never wrote this, though. This is a very unique week.”
Suggs, 36, acknowledged he’s not quite sure how he’ll feel Sunday when he takes the field wearing red and white rather than purple and black. He doesn’t plan to go wistful, but how could he not?
He’ll be staring across at Ravens he pranked, battled beside and nurtured.
Yes, he’s a vital piece of the Cardinals’ current plans, wearing No. 56 instead of his familiar No. 55 and coming off a two-sack debut for his new team. But if he goes into the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday, he’ll do so as a Raven. The indelible moments of his career — the sacks against Ben Roethlisberger, the between-his-thighs playoff interception against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the refusal to utter Tom Brady’s name — came from his time in Baltimore.
Suggs played a vast array of roles for the Ravens over 16 years: greatest pass rusher in franchise history, clown prince (and eventually king) of the locker room, Steelers and Patriots provocateur, training-camp trash talker, wearer of memorable masks, font of NFL wisdom.
From the day he walked in the door as a 20-year-old, he knew he’d never be the greatest player in the history of the franchise or its enduring face. Those titles belonged to Ray Lewis, one of the giant figures who taught Suggs the ropes.
He ended up playing more games for the Ravens than anyone, and after Lewis and Ed Reed moved on, he became the voice of experience (and merriment) for a new generation of defenders, from Brandon Williams to Matthew Judon.
“It’s time for you all to start your own legacy,” Suggs told Ravens linebacker Patrick Onwuasor via text on the day he agreed to a two-year, $10 million free-agent deal with the Cardinals.
Ravens tackle Orlando Brown Jr. talks about facing former Ravens Terrell Suggs when the Arizona Cardinals come to M&T Bank Stadium.
Aside from the rookies and recent additions, everyone in the Ravens locker room came up in a world shaped by Suggs. So Sunday will feel odd to them as well.
“It will definitely be a little weird seeing him in red,” Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “Since I got here, he was one of the guys who I always looked [up] to. He was always trying to tell me things here and there and told me plenty of stories.”
“I think the biggest thing that stuck with me from him was that when I came here, even though I was the first-round pick, before I really had started playing, he wasn’t quick to just say, ‘Oh, you’re going to be a good player,’ ” Humphrey said. “He made sure to say, like, ‘You’re going to have to earn [it]. You’re going to have to live up to those roles.’ ”
Williams grinned at memories of his wild rides with Suggs when the two of them regularly pirated owner Steve Bisciotti’s golf cart at practice. Suggs gleefully crashed the cart into blocking pads and other inanimate objects.
“It’s weird just driving by myself now,” Williams said. “I feel like I lost a partner.”
"We don’t know what we’re going to be feeling on game day.”
Terrell Suggs, on lining up against his former teammates
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He’ll cherish his time with Suggs to the day he dies. “He’s got that effect on anyone he encounters,” Williams said. “You can’t explain ‘Sizz.’ He’s just his own person, and that’s why you love him. He is who he is and he’s going to be authentic. Anything he says, it might be crazy, but you know it comes from the heart.”
The locker room has been a different place this year without Suggs around to interrupt teammates’ interviews and share stories of the old days, when veterans would abruptly flip off the lights and fling foam balls at unsuspecting reporters.
“I would just call him a pillar of this franchise,” said Ravens guard Marshal Yanda, one of the few players to share a similar stature in recent seasons.
Yanda and Suggs dressed beside each other in the Ravens locker room and shared obvious respect, though one is an Iowan who’d just as soon hide out with his family and the other is an Arizonan who’d love to work in Hollywood after his playing career.
On Sunday, they’ll clash as rivals for the first time.
“To see his face on a scouting report is pretty funny. It’s crazy,” Yanda said. “That’s just life in the NFL. But come Sunday, it’s business. He understands that, too. We can talk before the game and we can talk after the game, but during the game, it’s business, and everybody has a job to do. He knows that as well.”
Suggs agonized over the decision to leave Baltimore; he’d said many times he wanted to finish his career as a Raven.
“They essentially made a last push,” he said. “They did. I just felt it was time. It was time.”
Bisciotti explained the decision in a May conference call with season-ticket holders, saying: “This is a business. It comes down to money, and I know we were close when we were trying to get Sizzle locked up. The Arizona Cardinals wanted him bad enough that they outbid us.”
The Cardinals certainly seem happy with their move. They’ve paired Suggs with Chandler Jones to form a potentially devastating one-two-punch of edge rushers.
“He’s still a dominant force,” Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “He plays with such intensity and savvy and smarts. In training camp, he’s calling out plays before we even run them. He’s so big and strong. He can stop the run. He can set the edge. He can still get home on the passer. And he brings such great energy to every meeting, every practice. He loves the game. He’s been a huge addition for our organization.”
He added that Suggs has already made a powerful impression on younger teammates, much as he did in Baltimore.
“He loves to help the rookies and share knowledge of what he learned over his illustrious career,” Kingsbury said. “That goes a long way for this building and for the culture that we’re trying to build here.”
Suggs has kept in touch with his former Ravens teammates since he left. He paused when asked if the reality of what he left behind will hit him when he lines up against his old friends.
“I don’t know,” he said. “We won’t know until we get there. We actually do have to line up against each other, so we don’t know what we’re going to be feeling on game day.”
As much as the venue will feel familiar, Suggs anticipates the little differences will throw him off. For one thing, he’s never walked into the visitor’s locker room at M&T Bank Stadium.
“Like I said, it’s going to be a new feeling,” he repeated softly. “It will be kind of weird for all of us.”