And Ozzie Newsome saw it all coming — long before Ogden made his debut as one of the finest offensive linemen in NFL history.
Newsome was in charge of the Ravens’ draft in 1996, the team’s first season in Baltimore after moving from Cleveland. The Ravens desperately needed an impact player with the fourth overall selection, someone who could steer the transplanted franchise on a course to greatness.
“That was not a pick we wanted to end up three years later going, ‘Good God almighty, what the heck did we do?’” recalled David Modell, the son of then-owner Art Modell and a key front-office component. “That pick had to be good.”
Nebraska running back Lawrence Phillips, a troubled but talented star, was an option. So was Ogden, a 6-foot-9 offensive tackle out of UCLA.
The day before the draft, Newsome made it clear: Ogden was the choice.
“Ozzie said, ‘Jonathan Ogden will be a perennial Pro Bowl player, will play for this franchise for his career and will have a decent shot at going into the Hall of Fame,’” Modell said. “What a Babe Ruth call that was.”
Ogden was the first player drafted by the Ravens, and Saturday he will formally become the team’s first entrant into the Hall of Fame.
“He’s going to be the Ravens’ golden child forever,” said Edwin Mulitalo, who played guard alongside Ogden for eight years.
How appropriate that Newsome will serve as Ogden’s presenter at the Hall of Fame ceremony.
“He brought me in to Baltimore,” Ogden said. “I could always go talk to him, be honest with him. He’s just one of the people that I really respect in the business. It just kind of made sense to me.”
Newsome, in turn, owes a debt of gratitude to Ogden for justifying his decision in the Ravens’ inaugural draft. Although the team was in dire need of a running back and already had two solid offensive tackles, Newsome chose Ogden because he was the highest-ranked player on Baltimore’s board. That philosophy remains in place today and has enabled the Ravens’ general manager to produce two Super Bowl champions.
Newsome often considers what might have happened if he picked Phillips, who totaled 35 games for three different teams over a dismal three-year span.
“I could say 17 years later, I probably wouldn’t have this job. It’s as simple as that,” Newsome said. “Lawrence had some productive years, but he didn’t pan out. And I don’t know if we would have been able to provide the structure he needed. We felt like we could have, but I don’t know if we’d have been able to do it.”
As a rookie, Ogden played left guard between veteran tackles Orlando Brown and Tony Jones. In his second season, Ogden became an immovable force at left tackle and remained there the rest of his career.
Ogden was a star on the field and a leader within the locker room and on the sideline. He didn’t have the bluster of the Ravens’ other first-round pick in 1996, linebacker Ray Lewis, but the big man showed enough emotion to be noticed by his teammates — especially after being asked to repeatedly drop back to protect the passer.
“He was a great pass blocker, and he was a very technical player,” Mulitalo said. “But man, he loved to run block. There were times he got frustrated on the sideline, and most of the time it was because we were getting a little pass-happy. Whenever we switched to the run, he was like a little kid. Maybe the most fun playing next to him was when we actually run-blocked. He took pride in doing that.”
Many of Baltimore’s biggest games during Ogden’s tenure came against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The majority of those duels were gritty, helmet-banging affairs perfectly suited for Ogden’s old-school mentality. Along the way, he made a very favorable impression on then-Steelers coach Bill Cowher.
“Jonathan is, without a doubt, a Hall of Fame player who is one of the very best left tackles in NFL history,” Cowher recalled. “We couldn’t beat him with speed rushers, and he would just engulf power rushers. Those long arms, the great feet, the strength — he has it all.”
Ogden won’t be talking much at the induction ceremony this weekend. He never did much like boasting about himself.
“J.O. is one of the more humble guys I’ve ever played with,” said Jamal Lewis, who ran behind Ogden plenty of times in 2003 on his way to compiling a franchise-record 2,066 yards rushing. “He led by example and was never outworked. I’ve never seen anybody protect the left side the way he did.”
Ogden was only 33 years old when he quit the game after the 2007 season. He had been fighting a nagging foot injury for years and finally had enough.
“He could have continued playing,” Mulitalo said. “His 75, 80 percent was probably better than most of the players in the league. But when you’re that good, you hold yourself to a different standard, you know?”
Current Ravens coach John Harbaugh had just replaced Brian Billick in January 2008 when Ogden dropped by to talk.
“I was really excited to meet him,” Harbaugh recalled this week. “And then he told me he was going to retire. After I wiped the tears off my cheeks, I hugged him, and I begged and pleaded, ‘Can we get one more year out of you?’ But he said no.”
Harbaugh didn’t get the chance to coach Ogden, but he knows enough about him to assess his place in NFL history.
“Probably the best left tackle that ever played football,” Harbaugh said. “He’s one of the two faces on the Ravens’ Mount Rushmore, for sure.”
The other, of course, being Lewis, who retired after last season and is a virtual shoo-in to join Ogden in the NFL Hall of Fame. But Ogden will always be the first pick in the history of the franchise, and the first to have his bust in Canton, Ohio.
“It feels great,” he said. “When I was playing, I was just out there working. I couldn’t help the fact that I was the Ravens’ first pick. It just kind of happened, and in my mind, all I wanted to do was go out there and help the guys win. So I don’t look at it in that perspective. When I do step outside of myself and look at it, it’s like, ‘Wow, that guy, he had it pretty good.’”