NEW ORLEANS — Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs fancies himself “a gentleman, a father, a brother and a son.”
His alter ego is the polar opposite.
“T-Sizzle — he’s a caveman,” said Suggs, referring to his trademark nickname. “He’s a barbarian. What did my little brother Donnie call me? An Anglo-Saxon, because we woke up one morning and I was eating cold steak.
“Sizzle, he’s kind of a Neanderthal.”
Where the dividing line is drawn between those personalities is anyone’s guess.
“Terrell is a character beyond characters,” Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain said with a wide smile. “I’ve been with him for five years and I still don’t know what makes him tick. I still can’t define it. But one thing I do know: There will never be a dry moment with Sizzle.”
If in the mood, Suggs can be thoughtful and articulate when dealing with the media. Away from football, Suggs co-wrote and produced a short film (“When Beautiful People Do Ugly Things”) that was acclaimed enough to get shown at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival in France. Suggs, an Arizona State product, also has business savvy with a clothing line promoting both his T-Sizzle and “Ball So Hard University” brands.
“What makes him so different as a person off the field is that he does have a great deal of intelligence,” said Ted Monachino, who became Suggs’ position coach in 2010. “He is quick-witted and thinks ahead. He responds in a way that I think a lot of people appreciate.”
And then there is T-Sizzle, a defensive terror who also fits many of the brutish stereotypes to which he alluded.
The tattoo-covered Suggs often comes across as a goofball with outrageous comments and antics done either for attention or to amuse himself. For example, he sported teammate Haloti Ngata’s jersey for a team photograph during the regular season.
Suggs sings constantly. “He’s awful. God awful,” McClain said while wincing and laughing. “He’s not going to stop, either.”
Suggs can trash-talk with the best of them, too. He made sure the world knew his feelings toward New England when screaming that the Patriots were a bunch of “arrogant f***ers” en route to the locker room following Baltimore’s AFC Championship Game victory.
“Every one of the answers he gives, very few of them are vanilla from the player-interview handbook,” Monachino deadpanned.
To explain why Suggs acts this way requires a psychology degree. Heck, even a trained medical professional may struggle with this diagnosis.
But there is something everyone can agree about when it comes to Suggs: He is the type of football player who could be a game-changer Sunday in Super Bowl XLVII against the 49ers.
At 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds, Suggs is sturdy enough to provide strong run support while fast enough to blow by left tackles. His 84.5 career sacks over the past 10 seasons make Suggs the most prolific pass rusher in the Ravens’ 17-year history.
After suffering a partially torn Achilles tendon during offseason training, Suggs has finally regained much of his explosiveness off the edge. His output in three playoff appearances (19 tackles and two sacks) has been almost identical to what he posted during eight regular-season contests following his return off the PUP list.
The offbeat reason he gave for the difference in play is typical Suggs/Sizzle.
“The second half of the season is always the best half of the season for me,” Suggs said. “In the playoffs, (there) aren’t too many teams playing. All your family members are watching. Most importantly, all of the people that ever doubted you are watching. That’s why the playoffs will always be my favorite.”
The return of Suggs and fellow linebacker Ray Lewis (triceps) from injury to accompany the emergence of Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe in their absence has helped spur Baltimore’s unexpected playoff run. The Ravens have forced eight turnovers and held two of their three opponents (Indianapolis and New England) to nine and 13 points, respectively.
“He’s the most explosive and physically tough player I’ve ever been around,” said Monachino, whose coaching career began in 1991. “Probably the most important thing — his football IQ is through the roof.
“He’s been fortunate enough to understand for a long, long time that the line on a playbook page lasts for about a second and a half (during games). After that, it’s natural instinct. Ability takes over. That’s why he’s capable of making special plays.”
With Lewis retiring after Super Bowl XLVII and free safety Ed Reed set to become an unrestricted free agent, Suggs may be asked to assume a larger leadership role. This means showing more maturity and keeping the violent “Sizzle” persona from trickling into his non-football life. Suggs has been involved in two ugly domestic-violence incidents since 2009. At one point last year, he was forced to surrender his firearms to local police by court order.
Monachino believes the 30-year-old Suggs has turned the corner personally and professionally. Suggs married the same woman from those domestic violence incidents in late 2012 and has lovingly referred to her several times during this week’s Super Bowl media availability.
“He’s at an all-time high right now,” Monachino said. “It’s fun to watch.”
That’s especially true when Suggs transforms into “Sizzle” for the Ravens on game day.
“They’re like night and day. Jekyll and Hyde, definitely,” Suggs said. “I try to keep Sizzle contained, but there’s something about when he puts the helmet and shoulder pads on.