Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is a world-class athlete.
A three-sport standout at Portland’s Grant High and Heisman Trophy finalist at Nebraska, Suh took a vertical leap at the NFL combine that measured six inches short of three feet. Jumping three feet from a stand-still position is an impressive accomplishment, and especially impressive when you consider the person making the jump happened to be a 6-foot-4, 305-pound man strong enough to bench press 225 pounds 32 times.
I am intrigued by this rare combination of size, power and skill, because Suh did something last Sunday that he and the Lions want the world to believe was the innocent stumble of a clumsy clodhopper.
After stepping on the leg of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers — it was an accident, Suh didn’t see that Rodgers was on the ground — the big guy backed up and stepped on the quarterback again: once more, with feeling, 305 pounds of football-cleat pressure on Rodgers’ leg.
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No penalty flag was thrown, but upon further review, NFL vice president of operations Merton Hanks issued Suh a one-game suspension that affected the Seattle Seahawks. Detroit is among three potential playoff teams awaiting the Seahawks. If Suh had been unavailable to anchor the league’s No. 1 rushing defense against Dallas in a first round game Sunday, it’s almost certain the Cowboys eliminate the Lions, guaranteeing the Seahawks a Jan. 10 matchup with the infinitely more beatable likes of either Carolina or Arizona.
But Suh’s suspension was appealed and overturned Tuesday, still another gutless decision by a league that can’t seem to distinguish the difference between right and wrong. Was Suh guilty of egregiously unsportsmanlike conduct? Apparently: He was fined $70,000, a substantial amount for most of us but a virtual slap on the wrist for Suh, whose on-field misdeeds already had cost him $216,875.
Here’s what I don’t understand: Suh’s well-documented history as a cheap-shot artist wasn’t regarded in the appeal process. If a player breaks rules involving substance abuse, for instance, previous violations dictate the severity of the penalty.
But when a player — somebody who’s been cited four times for malicious behavior — attempts to inflict an injury yet again, the NFL wipes the dirt off his slate.
Suh, by all accounts, is a swell citizen when he isn’t trying to damage an opponent’s knee, or slam a head into the ground after the whistle, or take a second backward step onto the leg of a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback. Suh donated $2 million to the University of Nebraska for a strength and conditioning facility and $600,000 for College of Engineering scholarships at his alma mater.
But between the lines, on any given Sunday, Suh’s indifference to rules governing the basic civility of any athletic contest scares me. And if you’re a Seahawks fan, he should scare you, too.
If Seattle draws Carolina for the Jan. 10 playoff game at CenturyLink Field, the Seahawks figure to be double-digit favorites over a Panthers team that finished 7-8-1. During Pete Carroll’s five years as Hawks’ head coach, he’s 4-0 against Carolina.
Against Arizona, Carroll is 7-3, including two victories this season that found the Seahawks outscoring the Cardinals 54-9. The Cardinals, down to their third quarterback, are shot fighters staggering into the corner.
And then there is Detroit. If the Lions get past Dallas, they’ll head to the Clink and pose an authentic challenge. They beat the Seahawks two years ago, 28-24, by putting together a 16-play comeback drive late in the fourth quarter. Two years equates to an epoch in the NFL, to be sure, but these Lions, with the incomparable Calvin Johnson looming as a big-play target and a brutally effective run defense, are essentially the same as those Lions.
In the middle of it all could be a man named Suh, whose second backward step over a fallen quarterback the other day belied the wondrous athletic ability of a dominant defensive tackle.
He can jump just shy of three feet from a standing-still position, but in Green Bay somehow resembled Otis from the Andy Griffith Show. Remember Otis? The harmless lug who drained Mayberry of most of its moonshine and spent many a night sleeping off his buzz in the town jail?
Otis needing a second backward step to achieve balance, that’s plausible. But Suh needing a second backward step to achieve balance? That’s ridiculous.
Be afraid, Seahawks fans, of this phenomenally gifted goon without a conscience. Be very afraid.