Throughout a 12-year career that culminates here this weekend when he officially joins the pantheon of the NFL's best, Jonathan Ogden never minded being left alone.
At 6-foot-9 and 345 pounds, he struck an imposing figure at left tackle, operating comfortably without additional help against the league's quickest and strongest pass rushers. He made 11 Pro Bowl teams and won a Super Bowl, but he shied away from the attention and the adulation. Ogden was far more comfortable reading a book in the corner than engaging in locker room horseplay.
On Saturday night when he is presented into an exclusive fraternity by a long-time member and the man who brought him to Baltimore — Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome — Ogden will again be all alone for the only part of the experience that he's been dreading for six months.
Ogden will be the first of the seven members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2013 to be introduced at a ceremony starting at 7 p.m. at Fawcett Stadium, meaning like he did so often for the Ravens' offense, he'll have to set the tone. Never comfortable being front and center, Ogden likened it to "just yanking the Band-Aid off [and] just get it over with."
"I've got to get up there in front of how many other people? I don't know what it's going to look like just yet," Ogden said Friday, a couple of hours before he was given a gold jacket as a member of the Class of 2013. He admitted he was still nervous about his speech and he even might do some more editing later Friday night. "I practiced it a little bit. It's not me talking about myself a whole lot. It's very little of me talking about myself. It's me thanking a lot of people. In my mind, this is going to be the opportunity to tell those people thank you in person and in front of the whole world."
Ogden will enter the Hall with wide receiver Cris Carter, offensive guard Larry Allen, linebacker Dave Robinson, defensive tackles Curley Culp and Warren Sapp, and two-time Super Bowl-winning coach Bill Parcells. The former Raven is the only one of the seven to stay with one organization throughout his career. The organization's first draft pick in 1996 and its most accomplished offensive player until he retired in 2007, Ogden will become the first Hall of Famer to play his entire career as a Raven.
"It was a perfect situation that the first pick ever to play for the franchise was able to complete his career with the organization," Ogden said. "I think that's the way the organization tries to do things. If you're one of their guys, they'll try to keep you, a la Ray Lewis. I just love the Ravens for that. … It's family."
Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, Newsome, team president Dick Cass, senior vice president of public and community relations Kevin Byrne and vice president of corporate sales and business development Kevin Rochlitz traveled to Canton to be part of this weekend's festivities. Brian Billick, Ray Lewis, Kyle Richardson, Harry Swayne, Brad Jackson and Larry Webster are also expected to be here to support their long-time teammate. One man who will not be in attendance — late Ravens' owner Art Modell — will get special mention in Ogden's speech.
Lewis, who was drafted by the Ravens 22 picks after they selected Ogden in 1996, is eligible to be inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2018 and, like Ogden, he will likely be a first-ballot choice in that class. This weekend, however, Lewis and so many of Ogden's former teammates and coaches will celebrate the career of the pre-eminent offensive tackle of his era.
"The thing that was unique about him was he was such a good athlete and he was physically strong," said Jim Colletto, Ogden's offensive line coach in Baltimore from 1999 to 2004. "You'd think at his height he'd have a hard time drive blocking but he could bend his knees so well. He could not only strike guys and knock them backwards but he was nifty enough to handle the speed guys coming around the edge. If you wanted to build an ideal left tackle, that's the guy you clone. You wouldn't find a better guy."
Chris Foerster was Ogden's offensive line coach for the final three years of his career. Now as the offensive line coach of the Washington Redskins, he brings up Ogden's name often in his teachings.
"We all see who makes a difference in the game. When Adrian Peterson plays, he makes a difference. He's going to do something that is above and beyond. There are always guys in the game that are that way. You don't say that much about offensive lineman but Jonathan made a difference in every game," Foerster said. "You see a lot of great guys on film and then you go to Baltimore and you coach Jonathan Ogden and you say, 'Oh, that's what it look likes. That's what it's supposed to be.' There's the bar and you try to make [players] understand how high that bar is if you want to get a yellow coat."
Ogden, who turned 40 this past week, admitted that the past couple of days have given him a chance to reflect on his career, something he isn't apt to do very often. Before even talking to reporters Friday afternoon, he had already posed for a picture with Hall of Famers Joe Namath and Joe Greene. He got to shake hands with Earl Campbell and he exchanged war stories with fellow offensive linemen Russ Grimm, Jackie Slater and Art Shell.
"I'm having a lot of fun," Ogden said. "It's busy. I'm doing a lot of talking which I haven't done in a while [but] I've enjoyed it. I'm definitely soaking it all in. One of 280 [Hall of Famers]. That's amazing. Just to kind of realize it is kind of a blur and a dream, really."
He certainly has come a long way since 1996 when on draft day, he held up a black jacket that said "Baltimore Ravens," rather than the jerseys that the other first-round picks were getting. At that time, the Ravens, who had just recently moved to Baltimore, still didn't have a team logo or colors.
"When you get drafted and you have no team colors, you have no anything, you can't help but wonder, so how are we going to do this, what's our plan here? But after meeting Ozzie and talking to Art Modell, I knew they really wanted to be successful and this was an opportunity to help start something and create something," Ogden said. "Seventeen years later, it's a two-time Super Bowl champ and one of the best organizations out there. I feel honored to be along for the ride for a lot of that."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun