FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – There is a delicate balance with the Baltimore Ravens, be it on the field where they were mauling Tom Brady – or "12" as Terrell Suggs would only refer to him – or back in a wild celebratory locker room.
It's prideful and petty, powerful and humble, on the edge of controlled rage and on the brink of tears over how this wonderful playoff run has played out. It is a team, especially on defense, that has figured out how to channel it all, to play to an emotional cliff without losing control. It is a team, a linebacking crew, a locker room of Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs, one a 37-year-old, just-hanging on legend who fashions himself a preacher, the other a 30-year-old in his prime juggernaut who doesn't mind playing a wrestling villain for laughs.
One couldn't get here – the Gillette scoreboard reading Ravens 28, Patriots 13 – without the other. And vice versa.
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It is a juxtaposition that has Lewis paying his respect to the Ravens' late owner, Art Modell, by wearing a T-shirt under his shoulder pads with Modell's face and lifespan (1925-2012) printed on it. And one that has Suggs offering a less traditional remembrance.
"Art Mo-deezy," Suggs sang. "Art Mo-deezy. Art Mo-deezy, watching down on us. Shout out to Art Mo-deezy."
And to that Lewis could only laugh because it's what keeps him youthful, what drove him back after tearing his triceps in October, what lets him survive in a young man's game even as he acknowledges his old man legs.
Ray and Terrell. Lewis and Suggs. Old and young, 21 combined tackles as part of the core of a Ravens defense that demolished those Pats, forced Brady into 25 incompletions, two picks and zero second-half points.
"Shut out in the second half … " Suggs shouted, preached, just getting going.
"Oh my God," Lewis screamed like he was a member of the flock.
"… in Foxborough," Suggs went on.
"Oh my God," Lewis matched him.
"Shut out," Suggs said. "Shut out."
This was a locker room born of frustrations past, battles lost, injuries suffered. This here was a long time coming, especially up here in Massachusetts, where a Super Bowl dream died in this very game 12 months ago. That night Lewis stood and answered about retirement but vowed to return. Suggs, the 2011 defensive player of the year, would miss the start of this season with a torn Achilles and then later games with torn biceps.
It wasn't until the start of the playoffs that Lewis, Suggs and safety Ed Reed, the final piece of the iconic triumvirate, were on the field together this season. The Ravens haven't lost since.
Every time Lewis started getting emotional, overwhelmed by the moment, overwhelmed by one last opportunity, Suggs took it back home. These are the Ravens, home to the most vicious and fearsome defense (just ask them) in the league.
There's no time for crying when you can mock the fallen Patriots down the hall, taunt them with the beating they just delivered.
"These are the most arrogant pricks in the world, starting with [coach Bill] Belichick on down," Suggs declared. "Tell them to have fun at the Pro Bowl. Arrogant [expletive]."
He wasn't done.
"That's funny, ever since Spygate, they can't seem to get it done," he said in a mock tone to no one in particular. "I don't know what it is."
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But then this is where it recalibrates and maybe this is Lewis' influence, maybe this is why this works so perfectly, why Baltimore could become the first team to trail Brady at the half up here and come out on top, ending a streak of 67 victories.
Lewis is about respect, not disrespect. He is about honor, not anger. He is about the love of the fight and that means loving the fighters who offer the challenge. If Suggs keeps the Lewis young, then Lewis, by force of example, makes Suggs consider maturity.
So yes, soon Suggs was calmer, sitting down and whispering in a respectful tone that Brother Ray would so approve.
"People don't like them because they win," Suggs said of the Pats. "They are a great team. And they have every right to be who they are. And we respect them. It's a rivalry, it's heated, you know, but even enemies can show respect.
"All b.s. aide, all ego and arrogance aside, that is one hell of a ball [club]," he continued. "I'm speaking to you with so much humility … If we went through somebody else, it wouldn't have been the same game. Yeah it's a rivalry between them and us, between me and 12. Any other team this win would've been unjustified. Who 12 is. Who their head coach is. Who their owner is.
"We have the utmost respect for them."
This is what Lewis means to the Ravens, means to all of Baltimore. Standing there in the locker room, celebrating with the Ravens, was Micheal Phelps, the all-time most decorated Olympian. On this night, he was just a delirious Baltimore kid. "This is worth giving up a gold medal," he said. He'd been through tough times in training, tough times in his personal life, times so tough he thought of quitting. He credits Lewis for talking him through so much of it, the teacher you can't disappoint.
"He is a very powerful man," Phelps said. "A very passionate man. I wouldn't have been able to [swim in the 2012 Olympics] without him. And he's been telling me, 'One more shot, one more shot, we're going to have it.'
"And he did it."
Lewis himself was in his typical mode, in awe-of-it-all, blessed, he said, in ways he couldn't fathom, here by the grace of the Lord.
"Honestly," he said, "God is so amazing. If you're in that locker room, there's something special about that locker room. And every man looks at each other and there's a certain type of love that we have for each other.
"And for me to come out and say that this is my last ride and for me now to be headed back to the Super Bowl, for the possibility of me possibly winning a second ring, how else do you cap off a career?"
How do you cap it off? Well, Suggs had some ideas, more sing-a-longs, more shout-outs, more outrageousness.
"Unfortunately, none of our Pro Bowlers will be able to go," Suggs noted.
"Sizzle," Lewis said to Suggs, using his nickname, "you can't make it."
Ray started singing the old Eddie Money song, "Two Tickets to Paradise" while slipping on a suit. Suggs wore basketball shorts and had preferred a different chant.
"The Ravens … " he sang into the Foxborough air.
"The Ravens," Lewis repeated.
"… are going to the Super Bowl … " Suggs continued.
"The Super Bowl," Lewis said.
There was a beat of silence. Two different personalities, two similar players, side-by-side from field to locker room now headed to New Orleans, this wild last ride just rolling on. They stared at each other and laughed.
"Damn sweetest words you'll ever hear," Suggs said.
"Indeed," Ray concluded.
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