Farrior, Lewis continue to ward off Father Time
The moniker was not just a nod to the popularity of the sitcom "Happy Days" in the 1970s. It also poked fun at the protruding belly that James Farrior carried around early in life.
"Potsie," given to Farrior by his parents, stuck — and now ranks as one of the more ironic nicknames in sports given its origins.
Farrior will be one of two seemingly bionic men in the middle today at Heinz Field when the Steelers host the Ravens in the first of their two scheduled alley fights.
He and Ravens inside linebacker Ray Lewis have played nearly 30 NFL seasons between them, and their longevity is one of the storylines in a game that, as usual, is flush with them.
"Just two old warriors on two teams," Farrior said. "That's all."
It is anything but that as Farrior and Lewis are the unquestioned leaders of their respective (and ferocious) defenses.
Part of the reason for their exalted standing among teammates is the fact both have made about as many concessions to age as they have to opposing ballcarriers.
While anything but elderly when it comes to their play, there is no question that each qualifies as an elder stateman.
Farrior is in his 14th NFL season and 10th consecutive one as a starter. The inside linebacker has been around so long that he once played a game against his coach, Mike Tomlin, when the two were in college in the early 1990s.
Lewis' NFL career, meanwhile, is as old as the rivalry that Tomlin recently called the "best in the National Football League."
He has been a starter since 1996 when the Ravens heisted Lewis late in the first round of the NFL draft, and laid the foundation for a defense that led them to a Super Bowl title in 2000 and, a decade later, is still unrelenting.
"They are freaks of nature, not only in terms of God-given ability and talent, but endurance," Tomlin said of Farrior and Lewis. "They probably lead in different ways, but it probably fits their personalities."
Indeed, the voluble Lewis talks as fast as he plays and swagger is as big a part of his game as intimidation. Farrior is a more understated leader but no less respected by his teammates.
And, Farrior said, he is not exactly quiet when he is on the field.
"I've calmed down over the years, but I definitely have a mean streak," Farrior said. "I definitely got my share of talking in back in the day. Now, I think I have it out with the refs more than anyone else."
Their personalities are the one major difference between the players that have become friends over the years.
That friendship is based on a mutual respect for how each plays the game, as well as what they do before the whistle blows on Sundays.
Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin, acquired during an offseason trade with Cardinals, said the preparation Lewis puts in during game weeks is "unbelievable."
Lewis is probably just as committed during the offseason as Farrior, who trains at the Tom Shaw Performance Camp in Florida prior to training camp and credits those grueling workouts with helping him ward off the advances of age.
"You have to give credit to guys who can go that long like James Farrior because we play a very, very physical position," Lewis said. "They ask how you can keep coming back. I take that as a credit to the way he and me take care of ourselves."
If each has learned what it takes to make it through the rigors of an NFL season, their experience is invaluable for another reason.
It has allowed Farrior and Lewis to compensate for any speed that has been compromised by the sheer length of their careers and the countless collision in which each has been involved.
"They know the game and they're reacting better than they did six or seven years ago," Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler said. "They're probably not as fast but because they diagnose things quicker and anticipate things quicker, they look almost as fast as they were."
The laws of nature, immutable as they are, have to apply to Farrior and Lewis one of these days.
That is another of saying that the two can't play forever but neither appears to be contemplating retirement.
When asked about the R-word last week, Lewis said, "I don't want to be rude saying that I am tired of answering that question, but I don't know. As long as I am playing at a high level, nothing else matters."
"I understand why people ask me that," he said, "but when you have a love of the game and can still go out and produce at a high level you don't even think about stuff like that."
Tale of the tape
Draft/year: First round by the Jets (eighth overall) in 1997
NFL experience: 14th season
Super Bowl rings: 2
Pro Bowls: 2
Notable: Steelers MVP in 2004
College: Miami (Fla.)
Draft/year: First round (26th overall) in 1996
NFL experience: 15th season
Super Bowl rings: 1
Pro Bowls: 11
Notable: NFL Defensive Player on the Year in 2000 and 2003
*According to respective teamsAdditional Information:
Twenty players in the NFL are in at least their 15th season. Here are five notable ones.
Brett Favre, Vikings QB (20th season): Has already thrown six interceptions after tossing just seven all of last season.
John Kasay, Panthers K (20th): Has been in the NFL longer than his current team and has scored 1,743 points.
Tony Richardson, Jets FB (16th): Long one of the top blocking backs in the NFL, Richardson has made four Pro Bowls.
Brian Dawkins, Broncos SS (15th): Had 116 tackles and made the Pro Bowl the season after the Eagles cut ties with him.
Terrell Owens, Bengals WR (15th): Not a No. 1 receiver anymore, but opposing defenses still have to account for him.