The Baltimore Ravens have a rock-solid foundation.
Art Modell is a huge part of that bedrock, along with Steve Bisciotti and Ozzie Newsome.
Newsome believes our foundation belongs to Jonathan Ogden, who will be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame tomorrow night, and Ray Lewis. "I've been thinking about this in getting ready for Jonathan's induction. The Ravens stand on the shoulders of Jon and Ray. It was our good fortune to make these gentlemen the first two players we ever drafted. Of course, Jon was first," Newsome, who will present Ogden into the Hall, said.
"For 12 years, any player we brought into our franchise we could point to Jon and Ray and say, 'Do what they do, and you'll know what it means to be a Raven.'"
We drafted Ogden, who grew up in the Washington D.C. area, just a few months after arriving in Baltimore as a new franchise. We were so new that we didn't even have a logo yet. When Commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced our pick, the fourth-overall selection in the 1996 draft, Ogden walked on stage wearing a white hat that was too small that had the word "Ravens" scrolled across the front. Since our jerseys hadn't been designed, Ogden held up a slick black sweatshirt with "Baltimore Ravens" and the NFL shield on the front. The sweatshirt, in Jon's big hands, looked like it would fit a medium-sized high school player.
The Phillips Conversation
Just prior to our pick, Newsome turned to Mr. Modell in our draft room at the old Baltimore Colts' facility in Owings Mills. "You're sure you're OK with this pick? We knew it would come to this," Ozzie told Art.
(I wasn't thinking Jonathan Ogden when I heard this. I was dreading Lawrence Phillips, the powerful running back from Nebraska who many draft gurus had us taking. "Please, not Phillips," I remember thinking. Phillips, now serving a 31-year sentence for assault and other crimes at a California state prison, looked to be a great player, but had already had arrests and problems in college. Phillips had the word "Thug" tattooed across his chest. Nice.
I was hoping for better for the first choice in Ravens history.)
Modell looked back at Oz and said: "If that's what you want to do, I trust you. It's your decision."
Newsome then told the room: "We're taking Ogden."
I was already happy.
Just a few hours after we drafted Jonathan, I met him. He stood in my doorway and literally filled it. In a world of big men, he was, and still is, physically impressive.
"I ran into Jon the year before, literally," Ray Lewis said. "We (Miami) played UCLA. We had a lot of NFL players at the 'U,' but Jon was more physically impressive than any of my teammates. We watched film of them to get ready for the game, and he stood out. So big, so skilled, and he could run.
"So I knew that the team in Baltimore had at least one special player when they drafted me. And, once I got to know Jon to see how smart he was and how he prepared – wow. He's rare, really rare – just a complete player. The best linemen I ever faced," Ray added yesterday when we talked about the Ravens' first Hall of Famer.
When asked about matching up in practice against Ogden, Lewis laughed. "Hey, Jon and I made a pact early in our careers: you don't hit me, and I don't hit you. We barely put our hands on each other. We were like relatives out there. We didn't have to prove anything to each other or our coaches – and they went along with it. I'd say to Jon: 'I would have made that tackle,' and he would say 'Probably not.' Then he would say, 'I got you Ray,' and I'd laugh and say 'Maybe.' But he was probably right."
The Reserved Ogden – Not All The Time
Under the bookish professor-like persona Ogden conveys is a fierce competitor.
One of my striking memories of Jon came after a series late in a game in 2002 when we were clinging to a two-point lead. Ogden literally stomped off the field, yanking off his helmet to reveal an angry face under his big Afro. (We had just finished a "three-and-out" with one run for two yards and two incomplete passes.) "Run the ball," J.O. screamed. "Run the freakin' ball!" Staring at Head Coach Brian Billick: "Brian, run the damn ball! Pound it!"
Billick didn't back down. "We ran the ball," Brian yelled, "and we got two yards." Ogden stared, and with force, yelled: "Run it behind me!"
All righty then.
Ogden's first Ravens head coach, Ted Marchibroda, called me into his office during Jon's rookie season. "I want to show you something," Ted said. "I've coached a long time and haven't seen a play like this. Watch."
The video showed quarterback Vinny Testaverde faking a pitch to the left and then, wheeling his body, throwing a short screen pass to running back Earnest Byner on the right. The play was good for about 45 yards. "Pretty good," I said, not noticing anything too spectacular about it. "Watch Jonathan this time," the head coach directed.
Ogden was at left guard. When the play started, Jon sprinted left to invite the defense to follow Vinny's fake pitch. Big No. 75 then changed directions when Testaverde whirled and threw the short pass. At that time, Ogden was behind the line of scrimmage, 15 yards to the left of Byner, who was three or four yards ahead of Jon on the right side. By the time Byner, in full speed, reached the deep safety on that side of the field, Jon stepped in front of Earnest and knocked the safety away. "No big man has ever run like that," Ted said. It was a marvel and said so much about Ogden: great talent and relentless competitor. A true Raven and our first draft-selected Hall of Famer.
Like Little Kids
Coach Harbaugh has come up with a scoring system to stimulate competition between the offense and defense during practices. John is always pushing the envelope to increase the energy and production at these sessions.
It has made it more fun to watch these practices, and the players are into it. Yesterday it evolved into a competition that was similar to kids playing in the backyard or the neighborhood park. There was some yelling across the fields.
The offense, with Tyrod Taylor at quarterback, hit a big play downfield. Terrell Suggs, on the one sideline with his defensive mates, yelled out. "Hey ref, go back to Foot Locker, that was a push off." Joe Flacco, from the other side, shouted: "Big play, Tyrod. Ref, you got it right."
"Shut up Flacco," Suggs screamed. "No, you shut up, Suggs," replied Big Joe. "No, you shut up with your little boy haircut." "Hey, we've been beating you all day," Joe yelled.
In the middle of the field I saw Harbs trying to hide a smile.
Talk with you next week,