Coaches, teammates, mentors reflect on Jonathan Ogden's Hall of Fame career

Ravens' first draft pick will be enshrined this weekend in Canton, Ohio

July 31, 2013|By Childs Walker and Mike Klingaman | The Baltimore Sun

When Ozzie Newsome reflects on the remarkable exploits of Jonathan Ogden, the Ravens general manager thinks first of silence.

You have to be awfully good at your job to avoid the barbed scrutiny of NFL fans and analysts. You have to be an awfully decent citizen to avoid off-field headlines if you're the 6-foot-9, 345-pound star of an NFL franchise.

So for Newsome, the greatest testament to Ogden is the lack of noise the Ravens tackle generated while playing so brilliantly.

Ogden, the first player drafted by the Ravens after the team moved to Baltimore from Cleveland and the pre-eminent offensive lineman of his generation, will spend a rare moment in the spotlight Saturday when he is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Mellow as he was massive, Ogden paired with linebacker Ray Lewis to form the foundation of the Ravens' first Super Bowl winner in 2001. Though he won't be the first former Raven to enter the Hall in Canton, Ohio, Ogden will be the first who played his whole career in Baltimore.

"The foundation of this franchise stands on the shoulders of Jonathan as well as Ray," said Newsome, who drafted both. "But Jonathan was first."

Ogden offered a cool contrast to the fiery Lewis, often perceived by the public as the face of the Ravens' franchise. The great lineman was more apt to bury his head in a novel than bark an inspirational speech at teammates. Unlike Lewis, Ogden was never a polarizing figure nationally. If fans in other cities thought of him at all, it was about his string of 11 Pro Bowl appearances.

Though he was as smart and charming as any Raven, Ogden did not entirely fit with an NFL generation defined by bling and braggadocio. He was happy to wear the same T-shirt for three days and to steer far from the latest debate on ESPN.

Ogden recently summed up his career in typical ho-hum fashion: "I just want to be remembered as the guy who was dependable, who was a good teammate, who didn't go out there and make silly mistakes, you knew he was going to be there game-in game-out, day-in day-out, had his teammates back out there."

He was a little more than that.

On the field, Ogden was as great and confident as any player in franchise history. He mastered left tackle, a position that steadily gained importance as passing became the NFL's dominant form of attack. As the chief protector of his quarterback's blind side, Ogden was almost offended if he allowed even one sack in a given season.

"It would be an understatement to say playing behind him was a good feeling," said Trent Dilfer, quarterback of the 2000 championship team. "He wanted all the big runs to go in his direction. He wanted the responsibility of going one-on-one with the best defensive ends."

Ogden was so good for so long that despite his modest star power, many Hall of Fame voters described him as a "lock" for induction when his name hit the ballot. That was exactly how it played out when the selectors gathered to pick this year's class, the day before the Super Bowl in New Orleans.

Though debate raged over players such as Warren Sapp and Michael Strahan, no one blinked when Ogden's name was announced.

On Friday evening in Canton, Ogden will receive the gold jacket reserved for Hall of Famers. The next night, he will be introduced by Newsome and will give his valedictory address on a 12-year career.

Ogden isn't much of a speechmaker and said he's been "dreading" the experience. But the induction has prompted a period of reflection — on his late father who helped him develop personal standards, on his bond with the Ravens franchise and its fans, on the coaches who taught him football.

"When I do step outside of myself and look at it," he said, "it's like, 'Wow, that guy — he had it pretty good.'"

'Nobody could handle him'

Ogden was born in Washington, D.C., to distinguished parents. His father, Shirrel, was an investment banker who'd played football as a 300-pound tackle at Howard University. His mother, Cassandra, a Georgetown-trained attorney, runs a nonprofit that prepares low-income students for law school.

Though hardly a giant at birth (8 pounds, 14 ounces), Ogden grew quickly. Denied a spot in rec football because of his size, Ogden settled for karate lessons and pickup games with friends in the back yard.

His parents pegged their oldest son for medical school.

"Our focus with Jonathan was always academic," his mother said. "The odds of becoming a professional athlete are so low that we thought the odds of him becoming a renowned surgeon were much better."

Disappointed, she is not.

"Based on what he was given — determination, focus, and a belief in himself — he ended up being what he needed to be," Cassandra Ogden said.

Ogden first suited up at St. Albans, an Episcopal boys school where he enrolled in seventh grade. There, among affluent kids named (Charles) Rockefeller and (David) Marriott, the one dubbed "Oggie Doggie" fit right in.

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