February 4, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Jerry Green

Ndamukong Suh embodies Lions' optimism

Lions rookie Ndamukong Suh, right, "is the Merlin Olsen of today,” said Gil Brandt, a longtime Cowboys scout. “He just was picked for the Pro Bowl as a rookie. If he plays 14 years, he’ll go to 14 Pro Bowls. Anytime an interior lineman gets 10 sacks is amazing. Suh did it as a rookie.” (Getty Images)

Dallas -- Ndamukong Suh lugged his silver football-shaped trophy through the mad Super Bowl scene, pounding his body ahead. It was a rush similar to his forward, then backward charge with the real football he carried for his first pro touchdown — off a fumble recovery — against St. Louis.

Pounding his way through a mob of gawking journalists, trailed by an entourage, Suh again reached his destination. Two more interviews in the Super Bowl XLV media center.

He had just been named as the NFL-Pepsi rookie of the year Thursday in ceremonies somewhat similar to the Heisman Trophy presentation or theAcademy Awards. The presenters showed a video replay of Suh's touchdown return, a powerful, bravura, one-man show in a Lions victory in October.

The gleaming silver football trophy was his.

There was a grilling by reporters. Then the NFL Network. Then Fox Sports. Then the Detroit media. Then downstairs into the media center, through the hodgepodge, to the two question-and-answer sessions with Sirius-XM satellite radio.

Suh is a bona fide star — not only in Michigan and Nebraska. He truly now is the face of the Lions — just as Barry Sanders was in the 1990s.

"What did we take from those last four games?" Suh responded to a query about the Lions' four-game victory surge at the end of the season. "It was learning how to finish. That was the biggest deal. It was what we didn't do early. We could have beat Chicago but didn't finish. We went back and forth the first game with Green Bay and could have beat them."

Star power

Suh is the first defensive player to win the Pepsi award.

And tonight, he is the favorite to receive more acclaim as Associated Press defensive rookie of the year.

Beyond that, he has earned kudos from some of the brightest pro football minds assembled at the Super Bowl.

"Suh is the Merlin Olsen of today," said Gil Brandt, the longtime Cowboys scout. "He just was picked for the Pro Bowl as a rookie. If he plays 14 years, he'll go to 14 Pro Bowls. Anytime an interior lineman gets 10 sacks is amazing. Suh did it as a rookie."

The late Olson, a member of the Hall of Fame, was a massive anchor of the Los Angeles Rams defensive line — "The Fearsome Foursome." The nickname was stolen, incidentally, from the Lions of the early 1960s when Alex Karras and Roger Brown and Joe Schmidt were able, at times, to manhandle Vince Lombardi's Packers.

"Wow," Suh said when his name was announced. "It's a great honor. I couldn't have done it without my teammates."

Those were words to be spoken, of course, by the winner of a five-player contest.

Then, Suh ticked off some names: Corey Williams, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Cliff Avril — his veteran teammates on the line.

"They took me under their wing," Suh said. "Especially Kyle Vanden Bosch — and showed me how to be a pro. Vanden Bosch took me in and taught me by watching films."

Then, Suh singled out Dominic Raiola, the Lions center, for giving him insight on methods of breaking through opposing offensive lines.

Rare — a tribute from a defensive Lions player for a teammate on offense.

"I was thrown into the fire early and learned from that," Suh said, mentioning Raiola.

Super Bowl coming

Suh was selected as rookie of the year in a vote by fans over Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, Browns cornerback Joe Haden, Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty and Buccaneers receiver Mike Williams.

Among some of the previous winners were Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who is here to play in a Super Bowl for the third time hoping to win ring No. 3.

So, it was a man with Detroit roots who asked Suh when he thought the Lions — a team without a title since 1957 — would reach a Super Bowl.

"Hopefully next year," Suh said.

"Too optimistic," countered the relic from Detroit.

Then I held up three fingers — "in the next three years."

I know — it's the most audacious Super Bowl statement since Joe Namath's guarantee 42 years ago.

But then, Suh is the face of the rising Lions.

Former News staff writer Jerry Green is one of only four sportswriters to cover every Super Bowl. Read Green’s columns all week from Super Bowl XLV in The Detroit News.

Lions tackle Ndamukong Suh admires his trophy as the fans’ choice for ... (David J. Phillip/Associated Press)
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