Nobody has more on the line in Super Bowl LIII than Ndamukong Suh, who can alter his legacy — one way or the other — come Sunday night.
ATLANTA — Ndamukong Suh needs this. And if you wait long enough, he’ll tell you that himself.
“I wouldn’t say I think about it,” Suh said Tuesday. Then his face softened, his eyes telling the truth before his mouth. “But I wouldn’t sit here and lie to you and say I don’t think about it.”
Nine seasons in the NFL arena have left Suh and his critics with plenty to ponder. For the player, there were plenty of losing seasons and no playoff victories despite his dominant play in Detroit and Miami. For the critics, antics that outweigh the accolades.
That started in his second season with the Turkey Day Stomp. On Nov. 24, 2011, Suh was ejected and penalized for unnecessary roughness for shoving Green Bay offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith’s head into the turf and then stomping on Smith’s arm.
Two seasons later, Suh was fined a record $100,000 for his low hit on former Minnesota Vikings center John Sullivan during an interception return by the Detroit defense. Suh and Sullivan are now teammates.
Finally, in 2014, Suh stepped on the ankle of Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers as Rodgers lay on the ground after a pass. Since joining the Dolphins in 2015, Suh hasn’t been in trouble with the league office, but the damage was done early.
But the damage to Suh’s reputation has long been established. Despite his powerful play in the middle, he is still known as a cheap-shot artist around the NFL. Now, Suh is trying to win the biggest game of his career. After winning his first two playoff games in January, it’s the upcoming February tilt that could define his legacy.
“That means the world,” Suh said. “It’s obviously a great accomplishment, something I’ve dreamed of and something I put in all the blood, sweat and tears (for) in the offseason and in-season and whatnot. Without question, it means the world.”
Without question, the former No. 2 overall pick out of Nebraska is a borderline Hall of Famer. A three-time First-Team All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowler, Suh could add a crowning achievement to his resumè by feeling the fall of confetti on his burdened shoulders in Atlanta come Sunday night.
While some may always remember him for the cheap shots in Detroit, a championship would change the lasting memory in many minds. The Rams bet big this offseason, trading for Brandin Cooks, Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters before signing Suh, who was released due to his oversized cap charge by the Dolphins.
Suh knows there is far more football behind him than ahead. At 32 years old, the earmarks are there for a player who is beginning his gradual decline towards retirement. The sacks are beginning to slow, the uniforms are changing at a more rapid pace and the rage is more controlled. All are signs of a young buck becoming an elder.
Speaking with Aaron Donald, the presumptive NFL Defensive Player of the Year talks about the impact Suh has had on him. Donald watches how Suh works, appreciates his non-stop communication. It’s had an impact, something Suh believes is the most important part of his success.
Now, with one game left to play this season — and potentially in a Rams uniform — a life-altering moment awaits.