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Monday, November 26, 2012
Updated: November 28, 3:29 PM ET
'My fire is still there'

By David Fleming
ESPN The Magazine

Ndamukong Suh
Suh has 18.5 sacks since 2010 (through Week 11), tied for the most by an interior lineman.

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's Dec. 10 Interview issue. Subscribe today!

The Mag's interview with Suh took place Nov. 13, before he kicked Matt Schaub in the groin in the Thanksgiving game between the Lions and Houston Texans.

INSIDE THE marble and mahogany lobby of the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham, Mich., Ndamukong Suh stands to stretch his legs near a crackling fire and giant mural of a British foxhunt. Though he's working hard not to draw attention, the 6'4", 307-pound All-Pro still manages to crash into the massive crystal chandelier in the center of the room. Suh just laughs and shakes his head. That pretty much encapsulates life for the defensive tackle since his infamous stomp on Packers lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith last Thanksgiving: Even without trying to, Suh somehow wreaks havoc.

In early October, he made headlines when he was involved in his fourth traffic incident since the Lions selected him No. 2 overall in the 2010 draft. (Suh's Range Rover and another car collided on the freeway, but after investigating, police didn't issue any tickets.) And although he hasn't been fined by the league this season, Suh's breathtakingly violent body slam of Bears QB Jay Cutler in Week 7 contributed to his being named by his peers as the NFL's dirtiest player in a Sporting News poll for the second straight year.

On the plus side, Suh's 4.5 sacks were tied for fourth most by an NFL defensive tackle through Week 11, and coach Jim Schwartz said he "might have played the best game since he's been here" after Suh constantly battled double-teams to pressure the pocket in a loss to the Vikings on Nov. 11. Still, an anonymous GM told Pro Football Weekly that Suh "took a million plays off" last season and belongs on the "all-hype team." The Lions' disappointing record only adds to the sense that he's not a franchise player.

So what's the real story? Is Suh dominant or dirty? Unmotivated or misunderstood? The worst driver in the Motor City or a victim of circumstance? Oh, and is he dating Lolo Jones, as has been reported? "I'm a storyline," Suh says back in the hotel, rubbing his head. "I'm the chosen one for negative stories and controversial things. If I worried about it all, I would go insane. I just want to be a part of something that's great. Then I won't have to say anything, because that will always speak for itself."

Until then, the next-best thing for Suh to do is to clear the air, one comment at a time ...


I hated for that to happen to him [on Thanksgiving], and I'm sure he does now too. With time he'll learn how to funnel his fire, but I hope he never loses that fire, because he has to have it to play that position. -- Joe Greene, Hall of Fame defensive tackle, Pittsburgh Steelers
"I love that comment. I definitely understand how to channel my aggression in a productive way. There are many reasons. One is I went through that situation last Thanksgiving. But also, any man, any child, grows up. You learn from your mistakes or you go backward. I'm the kind of person who wants to move forward. My fire is still there. And when I get a full opportunity to unleash my fire, it's like the hit I put on Cutler. By no means am I trying to hurt him, but I am going 100 mph and trying to get him as quickly and as hard down to the ground as possible. That's the way I show my dominance, and I am going to continue to do that. If that situation happens again with Cutler, I'm gonna hit him the same way, if not harder."

Ndamukong Suh
Over the past two and a half seasons, Suh has been fined $42,500 for unnecessary roughness.

Suh could be the nicest guy in the world for the rest of his career and he'll always be the "dirtiest." Might as well embrace it. -- AnthGab, Sportsnation poll
"Embrace the role? I don't know. People want to say, 'We did a poll with 100 players out of 1,800 in the league who say you're dirty.' Do I really care? No. Now, if you got 1,800 out of 1,800 who said I'm dirty, would I care then? Nope. If you find my aggressive and dominating play dirty, then that's your opinion. But I would assume most people want someone who is going to do anything and everything within the lines to win for their team, because I know I would."

We are not currently dating. However, if the Lions win the Super Bowl and he wants to use the ring to propose to me, then we'll see. -- Lolo Jones, U.S. Olympian
"She's a good friend, and we are not dating. We will not be getting engaged, because I won't be giving that Super Bowl ring up. Maybe I'll use the second one I get for that. I do see multiple Super Bowl rings in my future, especially with the team we have now. We're a team where if we don't make mistakes, we are insanely dangerous."

I have listened to the media hype about Suh since he got in the league ... I have never thought he was a very good pro player. Suh belongs on the all-hype team. -- Anonymous GM to Pro Football Weekly
"I'm not going to value your opinion if you don't have the balls to say who you are, what team you work for and who you represent. That doesn't seem like someone who has a job as a GM. That sounds like someone who used to have a job as a GM."

Suh has not been the same player since the Stomp. -- Caller on 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit
"I'm not the same player -- I'm a better player. I have a greater awareness now of how people look at you. Since that incident on Thanksgiving, there are a million cameras on me, so I have to understand that everything I do is being watched. I will always have to deal with that. But you can't worry about it. My job is to defeat the guy in front of me, do it until he quits and then wait for them to send in the next guy."

Suh's donation of $2.6 million to his alma mater, the University of Nebraska, made him the most generous athlete in America and the sixth-most generous celebrity of any kind. -- The Giving Back Fund, a charity to encourage philanthropy, in 2011
"Everybody, no matter who you are, you have a softer side. This is my softer side. I understand there's damage control to do on my image, but people are always gonna have their opinion of me no matter what. I understand 100 people may like me and 1,000 people may hate me. That's fine. So I don't even like this being talked about. I don't need the publicity, and I don't want it. I did it because this university gave me a lot. I don't want your recognition for it."

With all these traffic problems, he seems to be better at NASCARing all around America's streets and highways than he is at playing ball. -- Lions#20 on mlive
"That's funny, but what am I supposed to say back to this person? I drove across almost the entire continent this summer with no issues. It's always gonna be, I'm an African-American guy who's rich with a nice car and I sideswiped somebody who has a Ford Escort, or whatever it might be, and I'm gonna be the bad guy."

Suh just wants to dominate his opponent, and that's just how it has to be on the football field. He puts pressure on everybody else to get on his level. -- Panthers QB Cam Newton
"Cam's words embody what I think a dominant defensive lineman should be: someone who affects the game on every single play for 16 games straight, a force who constantly gives offenses headaches and puts them under pressure. If I can do that in the middle, you can't game-plan against it, whereas with a defensive end, you can shy away from that side of the field or bring in extra help. I also want the guys around me to do well and put up big numbers, because that's a reflection on me. People forget that. If the guy next to you is playing well -- I think Cliff Avril had 11 sacks last year -- I feel like I helped. Even though it was a down year for me, it gives me joy to see one of my teammates doing so well. It's not always about stats in this league, but to the outside world that's what you are always going to be graded on, especially if you're one of the elite guys. Any other regular defensive tackle with four sacks and 30-some-odd tackles, like I had last year, they're in the Pro Bowl."

What Suh did on Thanksgiving made me feel worse about being a lifelong Lions fan than the 016 season did or anything Matt Millen ever did. -- Talitha0118 on espn.com
"I can understand someone feeling that way. It was definitely an embarrassing moment for our fans, and it was for me and my family. It's something that will always be a part of the Lions, because I'm a part of the Lions. It's something I will have to live with my entire life. But it was something you just have to grow from. I have grown tremendously from it. And it will never happen again."

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