Chichar­ito to be cen­ter of Gal­axy

Antelope Valley Press - - SPORTS - By DAVE SKRETTA

Javier Hernán­dez has been to the top of the soc­cer world. He spent the last 10 years in Europe’s top leagues, win­ning tro­phies and rep­re­sent­ing some of the big­gest clubs. Yet from Manch­ester United to Sevilla, the Mex­i­can striker bet­ter known as Chichar­ito of­ten strug­gled to get con­sis­tent play­ing time.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There was a mo­ment dur­ing prac­tice last week, while the Kansas City Chiefs were prep­ping for their AFC ti­tle game against Ten­nessee, that caused lineback­ers coach Matt House to seek out de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Steve Spag­n­uolo.

It had to do with pass rusher Ter­rell Suggs, and it was just too good to let go.

“He said, ‘Wow, T-Suggs was just over there talk­ing about this tech­nique we do and he just put on a clinic,’” Spag­n­uolo re­called Thurs­day af­ter­noon. “All the lineback­ers, no­body said any­thing. They just watched.”

Sur­pris­ing given that Suggs has only been with the Chiefs for about a month.

Not at all sur­pris­ing given that the 17-year vet­eran has earned his stripes dur­ing a long ca­reer spent pri­mar­ily with the Bal­ti­more Ravens, where he not only reached the Su­per Bowl but won it af­ter the 2012 sea­son. In a strange co­in­ci­dence, the op­po­nent hap­pened to be the San Fran­cisco 49ers, whom Kansas City will face in Mi­ami in less than two weeks.

This is ex­actly what Suggs hoped for when the Ari­zona Car­di­nals waived him late in the sea­son.

The Chiefs had just lost their sec­ond de­fen­sive end to a sea­son-end­ing in­jury, and they were des­per­ate for some help to pair with pass rusher Frank Clark. They never could have guessed it would come in the form of a for­mer All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowl se­lec­tion who had 138 sacks and more post­sea­son ex­pe­ri­ence than any­one on their ros­ter.

There were re­ports that Suggs was ini­tially skep­ti­cal of join­ing the Chiefs, pre­fer­ring in­stead to re­turn to the Ravens and help them down the stretch. But all it took was a look at the ros­ter — quar­ter­back Pa­trick Ma­homes, wide re­ceiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce on of­fense, and Clark and safety Tyrann Mathieu on de­fense — and an hon­est, heart-to-heart talk with coach Andy Reid to con­vince T-Siz­zle to bring his, well, siz­zle to the AFC West cham­pi­ons.

“It didn’t take much con­vinc­ing,” Suggs said. “This team is pretty vet-savvy. Hav­ing been in this po­si­tion a few times, you learn more from fail­ure than you ever would from suc­cess. I think that the things that have hap­pened in years past kind of pre­pared this team for the task that it took. It also doesn’t hurt to have the reign­ing MVP, and def­i­nitely the best tight end in the game, on your team. Once they got rolling and click­ing on all cylin­ders, we got to have fun out there.”

In­deed, it didn’t take long for Suggs to get rolling. He joined the team early in Week 16 and played about a quar­ter of the de­fen­sive snaps in a win at Chicago. He upped that num­ber to about half the fol­low­ing week against the Charg­ers, when a win by the Chiefs cou­pled with a loss by the Pa­tri­ots gave the No. 2 seed and a first-round play­off bye.

Suggs has con­tin­ued to play about the same amount the past two weeks, help­ing to cor­ral Tex­ans quar­ter­back De­shaun Wat­son in the divi­sional round and shut down Ti­tans run­ning back Der­rick Henry in the AFC ti­tle game.

His value doesn’t just lie be­tween the side­lines, though. It lies on the side­line. The 37-year-old Suggs has seen just about ev­ery­thing dur­ing the course of his ca­reer, and he’s ea­ger to pass along that knowl­edge to the next gen­er­a­tion. The scene that played out at prac­tice last week was but one ex­am­ple of Suggs tak­ing a de­fen­sive player — or a bunch of them, in that case — to the side and giv­ing them some point­ers that of­ten res­onate with play­ers far more than if they were com­ing from a coach.

“He’s a true vet­eran,” Mathieu said. “I think he has a lot of that cham­pi­onship swag­ger. He comes to work ev­ery day. Al­ways tak­ing notes. I can re­mem­ber a few plays in the (Tex­ans) game where he was scrap­ping down the ball and looks 28.”

Af­ter the Chiefs took care of the Ti­tans last week­end, Suggs be­came the go-to player in the locker room for tips on deal­ing with the Su­per Bowl, whether it was the daunt­ing crush of me­dia obli­ga­tions, the count­less friends and fam­i­lies try­ing to get tick­ets or se­cure flights, or the ac­tual chal­lenge of pre­par­ing for the big­gest game in pro­fes­sional foot­ball.

“Just talk­ing to those guys and see­ing what the week is like, first of all,” Chiefs quar­ter­back Pa­trick Ma­homes said. “It helps to have those guys and their ex­pe­ri­ences to un­der­stand what we’re get­ting into and what to ex­pect.”

As for Suggs, he never could have pic­tured him­self play­ing in an­other Su­per Bowl when he was strug­gling through the sea­son in Ari­zona a few months ago, or even when he joined the Chiefs mid­way through last month.

“It’s def­i­nitely one of the most hum­bling feel­ings to be a part of,” he said. “I’m very for­tu­nate to be a part of it.”

NOTES: Kelce and SS Jor­dan Lu­cas did not prac­tice Thurs­day be­cause of an ill­ness . ... The Chiefs will prac­tice on Fri­day be­fore get­ting Satur­day off to take care of travel prepa­ra­tions. They head to Mi­ami on Sun­day . ... Spag­n­uolo, who twice was the de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor for the New York Gi­ants and later served as in­terim coach, said he had “just good thoughts” when asked about QB Eli Man­ning’s re­tire­ment. “I think the world of Eli. I’m happy for him,” Spag­n­uolo said. “Had a tremen­dous ca­reer. I was lucky to be with him and share in the ul­ti­mate mo­ment, so I wish him the best.”

As­so­ci­ated Press

IM­PACT Kansas City Chiefs de­fen­sive end Ter­rell Suggs (94) sacks Los An­ge­les Charg­ers quar­ter­back Philip Rivers (17) dur­ing the sec­ond half of an NFL foot­ball game in Kansas City, Mo. on Dec. 29

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