Ravens' Haloti Ngata ponders his football mortality after another season of injuries
"Did you see him chase down RGIII out of bounds?" says linebacker Paul Kruger, referring to a play from December against Washington Redskins phenom Robert Griffin III. "I mean, that's pretty insane, a 340-pound guy moving that fast. No matter how banged up he is, he can still move around pretty good."
Asked where Ngata ranks among the physical specimens he has observed in football, Kruger says: "You watch the guy, he can really do anything. He can pick up a basketball, he can throw a football as far as anybody in here. He's just athletic as they come, and at that size, it's a pretty unreal combination."
Of course, if Paul Bunyan played seven years on the interior line in the NFL, his joints would probably hurt as well.
It must be quite a thing to possess gifts unfathomable even to fellow pros and yet to grasp, as a man still in your 20s, how fleeting those gifts are. Of course, Ngata talks about that as stoically as he does about everything else. He inherited the demeanor from his father — Solomone Ngata died at age 45 when the truck he drove for work slid off an icy road near Salt Lake City — and the other men in his family.
"A lot of cultures, the men are supposed to be kind of, I guess, fearless," he says. "Guys don't feel pain, don't show emotion, and that's how it is with Tongan culture. The men just have to go work, don't show a lot of emotion, never see them cry. And I think the same thing goes with playing football. You kind of don't want to show it, show them you're hurt. I think I've always played like that."
In a world of men for whom pain is part of everyday work, Ngata draws particular praise for his stoicism, which he maintained as he played the middle of this season with one good leg and one good arm.
'Just a class-A person'
"Haloti, honestly, is one of the most humble people I know," Kruger says. "He's just a guy who never wants the spotlight on himself, even though it should be on him all the time. Not only is he one of the best defensive tackles to play the game, he's just a class-A person. He's a good family man, he's giving. I don't like to pump him up too much, but he is one of the most humble guys I know."
"The guy never says a word," adds Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees. "He just comes out and plays, does what he's supposed to do, and it's a credit to him. I think he probably, production-wise, maybe he hasn't had the year that he has had in some other years. But he really has been hurt. The biggest thing is just nobody has really talked too much about it. We haven't talked too much about it; he doesn't talk too much about it."
Ngata faced criticism from some analysts for the way his play tailed off at the end of last season, when he played with a deep thigh bruise and other undisclosed injuries. This year, he's probably stronger now than he was at midseason, when his knee and shoulder injuries were more recent. He hasn't made as many plays as he did at his peak, two or three years ago, but he still came within a half-sack of his career high.
"For some reason, this year, I feel mentally stronger," he says. "I think it just comes with experience. I feel like I can go another month or two playing football, at least mentally. I don't know about my body."
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