It’s an image that will never look quite right when viewed through a Baltimore lens: Terrell Suggs clad in red and gold rather than purple and black, No. 94 emblazoned across his chest instead of the familiar No. 55.
But as Suggs prepared to play for the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV against the San Francisco 49ers, he said he felt right leaving his former Ravens teammates to grow without him.
“Watching Baltimore’s rise, that wasn’t strange at all,” he said, reflecting on a 2019 season in which the Ravens and Chiefs jockeyed for AFC supremacy. “I kind of foresaw that coming. I had to remove myself so my younger guys could get a chance to play. Had I stayed there, I didn’t want the great teams from the past in Baltimore looming over their heads. When I left, they created something of their own, and it was a beautiful thing to see.”
Suggs already has a Super Bowl ring, earned seven years ago when he played with a torn biceps in the Ravens’ 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers. Now, he has an unexpected chance at a second after his 2019 turned into a winding three-city odyssey.
“This part of it was kind of shocking,” he said Wednesday. “I never, in a million years at the end of last year … if somebody had said, ‘You’re going to be playing in the Super Bowl for the Chiefs next year,’ I would’ve been like, ‘What?’ So this part has been shocking but a good shocking — overwhelming and flattering.”
He made the wrenching decision to leave the Ravens after 16 seasons to finish his potential Hall of Fame career in his home state of Arizona. That plan lasted for all of 13 games before the Cardinals released the veteran pass rusher, who found himself on waivers for the first time. Speculation centered on a possible return to the Ravens, but instead, the Chiefs, a rival contender, snapped him up for their stretch run.
While Suggs, 37, will never occupy the central place in Kansas City that he did in Baltimore, where he was the greatest pass rusher in Ravens history and a revered locker room leader/jester, he has embraced his role as the “old guy” in the Chiefs’ collection of sparkling talent. Teammates pay homage to his wisdom, much as they did in his original NFL home.
“Championship swagger,” Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu said when asked what Suggs has brought to the mix.
Like the 2012 Ravens, the Chiefs are trying to take the last step after a numbing disappointment in the previous year’s AFC championship game. In their case, an offside penalty on outside linebacker Dee Ford (now with the 49ers) wiped out what would have been a game-clinching interception against the New England Patriots.
Suggs has urged teammates to relax rather than dwell on the pressure connected with their second chance.
When he signed with the Arizona Cardinals last offseason instead of accepting a “handsome offer” from the Ravens, homecoming was the driving theme. After all, he set the NCAA sack record at Arizona State and maintained a residence in Scottsdale.
“It felt like if I wasn’t going to be in a Ravens jersey, there was only one place I was going to be playing,” he said, wearing a blazing red polo at his introductory press conference in March.
In a twist Suggs openly described as “weird,” the NFL schedule brought him back to Baltimore for his first road game as a Cardinal.
“I consider myself a good screenwriter,” he said before a 23-17 loss to the Ravens, in which he was cheered by his former home fans. “I could never have wrote this, though.”
He and everyone else assumed that was the last he’d hear of playing in Baltimore for the 2019 season.
Suggs’ season followed a familiar pattern from his last years with the Ravens. He shot out of the gate with two sacks in Week 1 and five in his first seven games as a Cardinal. He had 34 tackles, including eight for loss, in his first 10 games with the team. But over his final three games in Arizona, he produced just three total tackles and no quarterback hits.
With the Cardinals at 3-9-1 and shifting their focus to younger talent, player and team opted to part ways.
“It was mutual conversations as this thing went on,” Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury said at the time. “The respect was both ways. We know what he's meant to this league, the Hall of Fame player he's been, so we just wanted to have those conversations.”
Suggs did not criticize the Cardinals on the way out, but in describing the breakup to Kansas City reporters, he did say he told Chiefs coach Andy Reid, “I just learned the hard way that a player like me just [doesn’t] fit in anywhere.”
With the Ravens dominating the league and in need of a pass rusher, reports and speculation around a possible Suggs reunion accelerated rapidly. Players fueled the frenzy with open allusions to their former teammate on social media.
Because they had the league’s best record, the Ravens sat last in the queue for waiver claims, meaning they had little control over where Suggs landed. “There’s really nothing to comment on,” coach John Harbaugh said when the veteran linebacker was still in limbo.
Asked Wednesday how much he thought about returning to Baltimore, Suggs said: “If I was going to play, I was just hoping for a playoff team.”
Some wondered if Suggs would decline to suit up for a contender other than the Ravens. In the end, he said the decision was not difficult.
Reid called him.
“It didn’t take much convincing,” Suggs said. “My biggest fear is that I wouldn’t fit in. And he was like, ‘Sizz, trust me, you’re going to fit in here.’ That was pretty much the story.”
Suggs was an every-week starter for the Cardinals, usually playing more than 70% of the team’s defensive snaps. The Chiefs have reduced his workload, though Suggs did play 51% of the defensive snaps in their AFC championship game victory over the Tennessee Titans. He produced his best statistical line, with a sack and two quarterback hits, in a Week 17 win over the Los Angeles Chargers.
He seemed headed for another collision with his former team, but the Titans ruined that story when they upset the Ravens in the AFC divisional round.
Suggs has joked that the Chiefs really didn’t require his help to keep rolling behind quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
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But when Reid and teammates describe his contributions, they go beyond on-field production. Suggs brings a big-picture perspective shaped by almost two decades of hard-won experience. He and his head coach are among the few people in the Chiefs organization who truly understand how precious a Super Bowl appearance is.
After the Kansas City defense stopped the Titans for a final time to clinch the trip to Miami, Reid found Suggs and wrapped him in a bear hug.
As he reflected on his previous trip to the big game, Suggs said he did not let himself truly enjoy it. “We was under an extreme amount of pressure,” he said of his Super Bowl with the Ravens. “It was like, ‘We gotta win. We gotta win.’”
So he advised younger teammates to soak up every day, every interview, every bit of spectacle in Miami.
“We know the reason we’re here … and it’s to win the last football game of the year,” Suggs said. “It’s going to be on the biggest stage. There’s no guarantee that you’re ever going to make it back here again. It took me eight years to get back. So I’m just telling the guys to enjoy it.”