If you love football, the gray box listing previous Defensive Players of the Year on the right side of this page is a time machine. Start at the bottom with Dick Butkus, our inaugral winner in 1970, and work your way up. Close your eyes and think of Butkus getting ready to crush some poor tailback at Wrigley Field. Go on, daydream for a few minutes.
Now, take your right index finger and place it on the name of the 2000 PFW/PFWA DPOY recipient, legendary Ravens LB Ray Lewis. Start tracing upward. You'll see Lewis won it again in '03. The next year, teammate S Ed Reed, one of the greatest center fielders ever to wear an NFL uniform, won the award.
Now, scan to the top of that gray box, where our 2011 honoree, Ravens OLB Terrell Suggs, joins these ranks.
Suggs, 29, earned top defensive honors after notching a career-high 14 sacks for the ferocious Baltimore defense, which allowed the NFL's third-fewest yards per game — and still counts Lewis and Reed as starters. The Ravens have finished in the top 10 in yards surrendered per game in 12 of the last 13 seasons.
This begs the question: Why has this defense kept in such dominant form for so long? Suggs pointed to the group's leadership and mentality.
"We've always, since I've been here, been the most physical, rough defense that's just going to play lights-out," said Suggs, who is in his ninth NFL season.
In eight of those seasons, Baltimore finished in the top six in yards allowed. But in the last two years, Suggs has shone brightest. In 2010, he recorded 11 sacks in the regular season and then added five in two postseason games. This season, he tormented divisional rival Pittsburgh in the regular-season opener, taking down QB Ben Roethlisberger three times, and he never looked back. Suggs earned AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors three times in 2011 and garnered AFC Defensive Player of the Month honors for December/January.
Suggs credits the hiring of OLB coach Ted Monachino, his position coach at Arizona State, as one reason for his improvement the last two seasons.
"We've got a bond that's stronger than blood, if you ask me," said Suggs. "When he became my coach in college, we did some phenomenal things. When he became my coach again here, we did some phenomenal things."
Suggs also began to demand more of himself.
"I used to rest on my laurels, so to say," he said. "You know, 'I've got Ray Lewis and Ed Reed — we're going to be fine.'
"I think the last two seasons, I've kind of put it on myself a little bit more. I can go win a game for us, you know, not just kind of just waiting in the shadows for my two big brothers, so to say."
One example of Suggs' rising to the occasion came Thanksgiving night against San Francisco, when he sacked 49ers QB Alex Smith three times in the second half.
On Suggs' second takedown of Smith, he pushed 49ers ORT Anthony Davis backward and then closed quickly on the Niners' quarterback, forcing a punt. On his final sack of Smith, Suggs looped inside, beating two blockers.
Suggs showed special pass-rush ability from the moment he entered the league at age 20. He notched a dozen sacks in 2003, his first NFL season.
At the beginning, Suggs said, his speed was his greatest asset. Then, he focused on power.
"Now, it's speed, power, finesse, striking of the hands," he said. "It's kind of all of that, putting it (into) one."
His is a skill set that puts the opposition to the test.
"He's very athletic," Texans OLT Duane Brown told reporters last week. "If you try to focus on his athleticism so much, you forget about his power, and he can use that on you."
Pass rushing alone doesn't define Suggs, who recorded six tackles and defended a pass in the divisional round win vs. Houston on Sunday. He had 70 tackles and two interceptions in the regular season.
"I play on the team with the best player ever to play," Suggs said, referring to Lewis. "He's got everything. He's got picks. He's got sacks.
"... He's got everything on his résumé. When I'm done, I would like a résumé similar to that, with everything on there."
Suggs' résumé isn't exactly a blank piece of paper. He's the franchise's all-time sack leader. He's made five Pro Bowls.
He is grateful for the individual recognition. Now, he wants something he doesn't have: a Super Bowl ring.
Was 2011 his best season? Suggs offered a qualifier that said everything about his mind-set.
"Statistically, yes," he said, "but I think my best season will be the one where I'm the last team playing and there's confetti falling on my face.
"Until that happens, I guess we'll just have to wait and see."
MVP / Defensive Player of the Year
2011 OLB Terrell Suggs / Balt.
2010 OLB Clay Matthews / G.B.
2009 CB Charles Woodson / G.B.
2008 LB James Harrison / Pitt.
2007 S Bob Sanders / Ind.
2006 DE Jason Taylor / Mia.
2005 LB Brian Urlacher / Chi.
2004 S Ed Reed / Balt.
2003 LB Ray Lewis / Balt.
2002 LB Derrick Brooks / T.B.
2001 DE Michael Strahan / N.Y.G.
2000 LB Ray Lewis / Balt.
1999 DT Warren Sapp / T.B.
1998 DE Reggie White / G.B.
1997 DT Dana Stubblefield / S.F.
1996 DE Bruce Smith / Buff.
1995 LB Bryce Paup / Buff.
1994 CB Deion Sanders / S.F.
1993 DE Bruce Smith / Buff.
1992 DT Cortez Kennedy / Sea.
1991 DE Reggie White / Phil.
1990 DE Bruce Smith / Buff.
1989 DT Keith Millard / Minn.
1988 LB Mike Singletary / Chi.
1987 DE Reggie White / Phil.
1986 LB Lawrence Taylor / N.Y.G.
1985 No Award
1984 S Kenny Easley / Sea.
1983 NT Bob Baumhower / Mia.
1982 DT Dan Hampton / Chi.
1981 DE Joe Klecko / N.Y.J.
1980 CB Lester Hayes / Oak.
1979 DE Lee Roy Selmon / T.B.
1978 LB Randy Gradishar / Den.
1977 DE Harvey Martin / Dall.
1976 LB Jack Lambert / Pitt.
1975 LB Jack Ham / Pitt.
1974 DT Joe Greene / Pitt.
1973 DT Paul Smith / Den.
DT Alan Page / Minn.
1972 DT Joe Greene / Pitt.
1971 DT Alan Page / Minn.
1970 LB Dick Butkus / Chi.