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mesaSteeler
10-02-2010, 11:55 PM
Farrior, Lewis continue to ward off Father Time
http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/steelers/print_702507.html
By Scott Brown
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Sunday, October 3, 2010

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."

Farrior agreed.

"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."

Scott Brown can be reached at sbrown@tribweb.com or 412-481-5432.