"I remember when I got drafted, and I was in New York. I remember Ozzie [Newsome] called me up on the phone. I remember I came out and the commissioner announced, 'The Baltimore Ravens select an offensive tackle from UCLA, Jonathan Ogden,' and we had a white hat with black letters that said 'Baltimore Ravens' and a black coat with white letters that said 'Baltimore Ravens.' I'm like, 'What is this?' We did didn't even have colors." – Jonathan Ogden
It had been 13 years.
The city of Baltimore existed for that many seasons without the Sunday morning traffic, the scent of charcoal in the air or the excitement of a big game teeming in the streets.
The first day of September in 1996 ushered in a new era of Baltimore football. It was the commencement of a Ravens franchise that came to define itself by its first-ever draft pick, Jonathan Ogden, selected fourth overall in April of that year.
"Ozzie [Newsome] sure made the right pick with the first drafted player in Ravens' history," states Art Modell, who owned the team when Ogden was selected. "Jon is impressive when you first meet him because of his size. Once you know him, you are impressed with the man, his intelligence, his passion for the game and willingness to help."
Stepping out on the field that afternoon, Ogden embarked on his journey to establish the legend of No. 75.
He started in his first-ever contest against the Oakland Raiders at Memorial Stadium in front of a crowd of 64,124 – the largest in Baltimore professional sports history at the time.
"I just remember the first game was a blur," Ogden reminisces. "We went out there, and I was just so fired up, and it was so fast. But at the end of the game, we won [19-14], and I was like, 'Yes, we're going to be good.' We struggled that year, but it happens."
The Ravens did struggle through that inaugural campaign, finishing with a record of 4-12.
Ogden, however, excelled in his rookie season – a foreshadowing of accolades to come.
At the end of that year, Sports Illustrated and the Dallas Morning News *selected him as an All-Pro, he earned consensus All-Rookie honors and was selected to *USA Today's All-Rookie team. He even caught a 1-yard touchdown pass for the Ravens' first score in Week 13 vs. Pittsburgh.
"In my 30 years as a player, coach and evaluator, no one played his position better than Jonathan," proclaims Newsome, the Ravens' general manager and executive vice president. "When you start a franchise, your foundation better be sturdy. Jonathan was a key to our first steps. He was the rock we built on."
"Could the Ravens have a better person to represent the franchise?" Modell asks. "I don't think so."
Mere pages cannot contain the breadth of Ogden's prestigious accomplishments. He garnered unprecedented praise and prestige at the offensive tackle position, the most notable of which included:
- Eleven consecutive Pro Bowl appearances from 1997-2007
- Ten All-Pro selections from1996-2004 and 2006
- He is the Ravens all-time leader in games started (176) and is second in games played (177).
- He was an integral part of the Ravens' Super Bowl XXXV victory during the 2000 season, helping pave the way for Jamal Lewis' 102 rushing yards in that game.
- Following many of Ogden's blocks, Lewis set a franchise record with 2,066 rushing yards in 2003, the second most in NFL history. The mark included the second highest single-game rushing total in NFL history (295 yards) against Cleveland on Sept.14.
"Any lineman worth their salt wants to run block," Ogden asserts of his preferred responsibility. "You have to be a good pass protector to make it in this league, no doubt about it. But I didn't get into football to be hit. I got into football to hit people, and that's what run-blocking is."
- The 6-foot-9, 345-pounder consistently anchored an offensive line that protected Ravens quarterbacks. In 2006, a franchise-low 17 sacks were allowed, the NFL's second-fewest, and the highest completion percentage (62.6) in team history was posted. Ogden also led a line that allowed the quarterbacks to complete a franchise-record 341 passes (61.2 percent) in 2007.
"I'm just glad that I was able to perform up to the level of a first-ever pick of a franchise," Ogden affirms of his storied career. "Sometimes that doesn't happen."
Newsome agrees with the self-assessment.
"Not at any point against any defender did we ever have to worry about who was rushing from that right side because we had Jonathan Ogden as that blocker," he boasts. "We knew there were going to be some good battles, but we never, at any point, felt like Jonathan was going to lose one of those battles, and he didn't."
*"A lot of you guys remember a couple of years ago when I said that one day I was going to walk in here and say, 'You know what? I think I'm done. Take it easy,' and just kind of walk out of here. I tried to tell Ozzie Newsome I wanted to do that, but he wouldn't let me. He made me have this press conference. So – it's been a great 12-year run." – Jonathan Ogden *
Thirteen years later, Ogden no longer represents the Ravens as a dominating tackle on the football field. This past spring, he realized it was time to leave the game, and did so with no regrets.
Though content in retirement, he misses the company of his teammates.
"I did everything I could on the field, so once you've felt like you've accomplished everything you could, physically, then you move on," Ogden explains. "But you do miss being around the guys. That is a change."
Football experts and adoring fans alike predict the tackle to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer when he's eligible in 2013.
Such an honor would establish Ogden as another first – the first Baltimore Raven to receive a bust in Canton.
Although leery of discussing the tribute before it comes to fruition, Ogden admits that he thinks being the first Raven in the Hall of Fame would be a singular accomplishment.
"I was the first draft pick and could be the first Hall of Famer. That just kind of ties me to Baltimore forever, really," he expresses. "And, it's a great place here. I'm really just honored to be able to do that."
Ogden played his last NFL game on Dec. 30, 2007, at M&T Bank Stadium in front of a crowd of 71,353 – 7,229 more fans than his first game – a result of 12 years of hard work to make the Ravens franchise thrive in Charm City.
"Oh, the fans are amazing here. I remember my first year in 1996, and they hadn't had football here in a while, and they were a little out of practice," he recalls. "They weren't quite the outside, 'insane asylum' I was expecting that first year or two. But as the team grew, the franchise grew. The city and the fans have become some of the best fans I've ever seen at any time, at any stadium. They're nuts. I mean, the 'insane asylum' is back, and I love it. They're the best."
Ogden concluded his career in much the same way he launched it – with a win, 27-21, over the Steelers in an otherwise disappointing season where the Ravens produced a final record of 5-11. Regardless, Ogden took his time leaving the field that night, savoring moments that he knew could be his last.
"I remember we won that game," he reflects. "And I remember I went out on the field with my little boy [Jayden], and we took pictures. At that point in my career, I knew that it was about over. I wanted to remember that moment. I wanted to have something for my son to remember with me out there on the field, me and him."
From his first win to his last, it had been 12 years.
And, for 12 years, Jonathan Ogden re-awakened the football spirit in Baltimore to support the Ravens. Countless words can describe the enduring nature of his effect on the franchise and the city. Yet, perhaps one exists above all others that will forever perpetuate his essence:
"I'll always be a Baltimore Raven. You know, this is my city. I spent 12 years here playing. The town loved me, I loved the town. There's no reason I'd ever be disassociated with the town. It's going to be with me forever." – Jonathan Ogden