Throughout the season, it seemed as if Terrell Suggs was making a conscious effort to keep Tom Brady's name out of his mouth. While spouting out sound bites on other NFL quarterbacks, such as Ben Roethlisberger and Tim Tebow, on the Ravens' long road to the AFC championship game, the linebacker randomly tossed in vague references to his longtime nemesis from New England.
Suggs once mentioned "the pretty boy from up north," and earlier this month, he commented about "the nephew of God," a nod to a recent "Saturday Night Live" skit where Jesus confronts Tebow about having to bail him out in games. In the skit, Jesus reveals that Brady is God's nephew.
Finally, after the Ravens beat the Houston Texans last weekend, Suggs uttered the name of the Patriots quarterback he will be trying to torment on Sunday: "Tom Brady. He is good looking."
For the past three seasons, Suggs and Brady have had one of the NFL's most unlikely individual rivalries, with the rugged, loud-mouthed linebacker often instigating the NFL's poster boy from afar. In the past, Suggs used trash talk to fuel his engine and this rivalry. Brady has responded verbally or physically at times, and he has often gotten the final word in on the scoreboard.
But with a spot in the Super Bowl at stake at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, their chatter has been muted this week, besides Suggs publicly fawning over Brady's handsome looks and the two Pro Bowl players exchanging words of mutual respect at buttoned-up podium sessions.
"There's no beef," Suggs insists. "I respect him. Like I said before … when it is all said and done, they are going to speak about three quarterbacks: Johnny [Unitas], Peyton [Manning] and him."
Suggs said the genesis of his angst towards Brady was when the Patriots beat the Ravens, 27-21, in the 2009 regular season. On one play, Suggs grazed Brady's leg as the quarterback threw a pass. Brady gestured to an official to throw a flag then fist-pumped when the man in stripes obliged.
After the game, linebacker Ray Lewis called the roughing-the-passer penalty "embarrassing." Former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, an NBC analyst, later told Brady to take off his skirt.
Three months later, in the AFC wild-card round, Suggs hammered Brady with a flag-free sack, popping the ball out of the quarterback's hands. The Ravens recovered the fumble and scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive to take an early 14-0 lead. They went on to stun the Patriots, 33-14, at Gillette Stadium.
Both teams have downplayed the mental and emotional significance of that Ravens win as they prepare for Sunday's showdown in Foxborough, Mass. But Troy Brown, a former teammate of Brady, believes that "embarrassing" playoff loss lurks somewhere in the back of Brady's mind.
Brown caught passes from Brady (while also occasionally moonlighting at cornerback) for eight seasons, three of which ended with confetti showers at the Super Bowl. He said Brady rarely is the one to initiate trash talk, but engaging in it has usually motivated him to elevate his game.
"Here's the thing about Tom: He may lead that whole GQ model life, man, but he doesn't back down from anybody," Brown said Thursday. "You give it to him, he'll give it right back to you."
That's what happened when the teams met during the 2010 regular season. At one point in the Patriots' 23-20 overtime victory, Suggs and Brady barked at each other facemask-to-facemask.
"[Brady] was trying to tell me how to bag a Hollywood actress. He said, 'If you want to get a Hollywood actress, take my seminar on Saturday,'" Suggs told reporters after the game. "He was going over the Dow and the economy and politics. He doesn't really talk football that much."
Suggs also relayed this message through the media: "He just better hope he don't see us again."
In an interview with a Boston radio station the following day, Brady fired back at Suggs.
"They talk a lot for only beating us once in nine years," said Brady, who is 4-1 against the Ravens.
Later in the 2010 season, Suggs claimed he didn't vote Brady, who was the league MVP in 2010, for the Pro Bowl. He initially said he voted for Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick instead, but he later backtracked. He also called Brady's three championships "questionable" because of the "Tuck Rule" game during the 2001 playoffs and the "Spygate" videotaping scandal in 2007.
At the time, the "questionable" comment irked Brown, now an analyst for WEEI Radio in Boston and Comcast SportsNet. But Brown, who fired back at Suggs, said Suggs has earned his respect.
"For the most part, it was never anything personal," said Brown, who likes the way Suggs plays. "That's just how he gets himself up to play. He builds up that hype. I don't really see a whole lot wrong with him talking smack. He's not bringing up people's mommas or anything like that. For the most part, he's always been Terrell Suggs and you come to expect that from him."
But this week, Suggs has zipped it. He says he has matured. And after making it clear in recent weeks that his only focus is the Lombardi Trophy, he wants his play Sunday to speak for itself.
"You grow and mature," Suggs said. "As you all can clearly see, I am not the same guy I was back in '09. I am definitely 20 pounds lighter, too. … I am pretty much over it. I respect him."
Brady has shown the Ravens respect, too. On Monday, he told WEEI that the Ravens are the best team the Patriots have faced this season. He said the Ravens have "some of the best players in the history of the NFL at their positions, in Suggs and Ray Lewis and Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata." And Wednesday, he shot down a question from a Patriots reporter about his rivalry with Suggs.
"The comments that guys make really has no bearing or impact on this game nor will it," said Brady, who threw six touchdown passes in New England's divisional round win against Denver.
But Suggs getting to Brady will. In Baltimore's four losses this season, Suggs has one total sack. And in the team's past four games, including the 20-13 win over Houston, he has just one sack.
Brady, a spokesman for designer UGG boots, joked Monday that he would send Suggs a few pairs to soften him up before the game. Asked about that Wednesday, Suggs refused to bite on the bait.
"What's that mean? He wears UGG boots?" he said. "I heard they are really comfortable. Maybe he can get me some. I'll take some. I'll send him some Ball So Hard gear, Ball So Hard T-shirts."
Reporters from Baltimore to Boston and beyond, hoping for another round of juicy sound bites from Suggs, surely sighed after hearing his response. But you have to figure that after Sunday's game, Suggs is going to have something noteworthy to say about that pretty boy from up north.
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