With heavy heart, Jonathan Ogden regains footing


August 16, 2006|By Mike Preston | The Baltimore Sun

Marques Ogden can remember the last words his dad, Shirrel, spoke to him days before he died. Shirrel Ogden wanted to be out of a Washington hospital and in the stands at M&T Bank Stadium on Sept. 17, when the Ravens face the Oakland Raiders in their home opener.

"I took him his hat, cane and glasses. He told me he wanted to be at that game, and then he threw me out of the room because he said he was tired," said Marques, smiling.

Two days later, on July 26, Shirrel Ogden died just eight days past his 57th birthday. He died of complications from open-heart surgery, according to son Jonathan Ogden, the Ravens' nine-time Pro Bowl left offensive tackle. Shirrel not only played a major role in the lives of his two sons, but he also had become a fixture at Ravens practices, especially in Jonathan's rookie season.

Everybody knew and talked with Shirrel, from the coaching staff to players, to trainers and fans. Shirrel would even venture over and joke with reporters. He was a big man with an even bigger smile. So when his funeral was held Aug. 4, it was no surprise that about 25 to 30 people from the Ravens organization attended.

Jonathan, though, is still coping with his father's death while trying to prepare for the 2006 season. His father died one day before training camp opened. Ogden reported to camp last Thursday. He has yet to practice with the team, but has been undergoing strenuous workouts on the sidelines with his younger brother Marques.

Jonathan Ogden said he could play in tomorrow night's preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles, but the Ravens might hold him out of game action for another week or two.

"It's very tough - this is my 11th year," Ogden told The Sun. "I already know that I'm on the tail end of my career, but it makes you think about what is really important in your life, like your family, and other priorities.

"At the same time, I know he'd want me to go out and play my best, too. A lot of things are going through my head right now, and I'm trying to deal with them the best I can. It's not easy, that's for damn sure.

"Since 1996, he has missed only two or three games," Ogden said of his father. "This is going to be tough, no doubt about it. Coming out after games, he was always in the parking lot. Win, lose or draw, he was always there. I'm going to miss that."

Days after his father's death, Ogden thought about retirement, but he was never serious. He just wanted to make sure his younger brother, wife Kema and 1-year-old son Jayden were OK before he rejoined the team.

"This was all pretty sudden, definitely a shock," Ogden said. "I thought about it [retirement] for a second, maybe in the first couple of days after my dad had passed. I didn't know what I wanted to do. Do I want to play? Do I want to stay home with my son?

"Then I thought, I've got a new situation going on around here [in Baltimore] and that I've been a part of this team for a long time. I knew this is where I wanted to be, that I wanted to be playing football this year."

Up until last season, Ogden had been the league's most dominant offensive lineman for five years. After noticing his performance level dropping in 2005, he hired a personal trainer.

When the team had two minicamps in June, Ogden seemed to be going through a rebirth. He was lean and fit, 5 pounds under his playing weight of 345.

And then came his father's operation and about three to four weeks of inactivity.

"That three to four weeks put me in a mind-set that I've never been in before," Ogden said.

During his first few days back with the team, it was easy to see the rust. Actually, it was painful to watch Ogden work on the sidelines because he has always been a technician, just a perfect blend of power, finesse, poise and athleticism.

As expected, his workout partner was Marques. The Ogdens have always been inseparable. When their parents divorced 17 years ago, Shirrel took the boys. With his sons too big to play in weight-restricted recreation leagues, Shirrel personally coached his kids by themselves until they were able to play in high school. The two brothers can't find better workout partners, not at this time in their lives.

"We're feeding off each other," said Marques, who was once on the Ravens' developmental squad. "My father is gone and he is not coming back. My mother is still around, but the only person in our house that is left is Jonathan. When I called him to break the news, he couldn't believe it. He was in shock. Now, I can keep an eye on him and he can keep an eye on me. If we weren't together right now, we'd be worried to death about each other."

Jonathan Ogden was impressive yesterday in workouts. All doubts about his retiring before this season should be gone. His shirts are full of sweat. He started grunting and screaming going through drills for the first time. Twice, he fell to his knees from exhaustion.

He wants to get back to where he was in mid-June physically, and get back to where he was on the field in previous years.

"Over the last six days, my conditioning has gone from a two to a six," Ogden said. "I'm trying to get to 10 by my standards, so come Sept. 10, I'll be ready to go. I've got [to face Tampa Bay's] Simeon Rice. I have to be ready."

But will he return to the Ogden of old?

"First of all, you've got to return to some normalcy, get back into the old routine," Ogden said. "I've been playing football for 21 years; it's like riding a bike. Hopefully, I won't be distracted, and I can focus.

"I'll just play for him; maybe that will help me. I don't know if I'll play like my old self. I wish I could tell you for sure. But I do know I'm going to go out and give it everything I've got."

That should be enough.

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