When he was drafted by the Ravens in 1996, Jonathan Ogden joined an organization without team colors or a logo.
As he stood behind the podium Saturday night at Fawcett Stadium and peered out into a crowd loaded with purple jerseys and T-shirts, Ogden couldn't help but appreciate how far he and the organization have come.
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Seventeen years after Ogden became the franchise's first-ever draft pick, the Ravens have an established fan base, two Super Bowl championships and their first ever Hall of Famer. Ogden, who became one of the best left tackles in the history of the NFL in his 12 seasons in Baltimore, officially joined the pantheon of NFL greats when he was inducted as part of a seven-man Hall of Fame class.
At 39 years old, Ogden became the youngest Hall of Famer in this class and the first to play his whole career as a Raven. He was inducted along with coach Bill Parcells, offensive lineman Larry Allen, wide receiver Cris Carter, defensive linemen Curley Culp and Warren Sapp, and linebacker Dave Robinson.
“When we got there, those first few years at Memorial Stadium, the Ravens were new to everybody. It was a new team and we were new to the city. We were all rookies together. I watched us grow, myself as a player and the fans as an NFL city from infancy to one of, if not the best, football towns in the National Football League,” Ogden said. “I'm so very proud to have been the Baltimore Ravens' first ever draft choice, and I am so humbled to be the Baltimore Ravens' first ever Hall of Fame inductee.”
Ravens' fans, who made their presence known in this northeastern Ohio town this weekend, even shouting the customary “O” during the national anthem Saturday, were already talking about returning in five years to celebrate linebacker Ray Lewis' career. Lewis retired after 17 seasons following the Ravens' second Super Bowl championship in February.
However, this weekend, they were more than happy to see Ogden, who normally shuns the spotlight, receive the adulation and acclaim that he deserved after a career which included 11 Pro Bowl selections, four first-team All Pro awards and one Super Bowl victory as part of the 2000 Ravens.
“We were counting down the days for five years to see the first Raven get in,” said Brian McDonald of Dundalk. He came to the ceremony with his father, Tom, and his son, Greg, along with family friend Neil Krebs of Garrett County. “We've been Ravens' fans since the beginning. We've been to both Super Bowls. Why not come here? This is the best individual honor you can get.”
For Hagerstown resident Brian Gaetano, Ogden's induction was a long time coming for the franchise.
“I was a season ticket holder the last year before [the Colts] moved and [Bob] Irsay took my money,” said Gaetano who attended the event with fellow Ravens' fan Greg Lamp and his son, Joey. “We have deserved this for years. This is important for us.”
Ogden's speech, the first of seven to be delivered Saturday night, lasted 13 minutes, 35 seconds and was vintage Ogden, whose nastiness and intensity in battling the league's best and fastest pass rushers belied a humble, intelligent and gentle man off of it.
He got emotional talking about his late father, Shirrel, who he called “the most influential person in my life.” But he didn't cry, fulfilling a promise that he made early in his speech. He talked very little about himself, preferring to use the time to thank family members, friends and his teammates and coaches along the way, from his high school at St. Albans in Washington, D.C. to UCLA to the Ravens.
“As I examine my career, I look back and kind of say this is where it was supposed to end for me, but not because of arrogance or cockiness, but it's because I was taught lessons,” Ogden said. “Yes, I was blessed with tremendous God-given talent, but talent isn't enough. A lot of people have talent, but they don't always live up to it.”
Ogden was presented by Ravens general manager and Hall of Fame player Ozzie Newsome. In a video tribute, Newsome said, “I don't know of any left tackle who played the position better than Jonathan Ogden.”
It was Newsome who made the decision in 1996 to select the mammoth offensive lineman out of UCLA with the fourth overall pick despite owner Art Modell's preference to take troubled Nebraska running back Lawrence Phillips.
“I think that worked out well for everybody,” Ogden joked after leading off his speech by thanking Newsome.
Wearing the Ravens' 2013 Super Bowl ring that Steve Bisciotti made sure each member of the Ravens' Ring of Honor received, Ogden thanked the team's current owner and several other members of the organization who were on hand to support him. That group included Ray Lewis, Kyle Richardson, Larry Webster, Michael Jackson, Harry Swayne and Brad Jackson, and former coach Brian Billick.
He saved some of his kindest words for Modell, the team's former owner who passed away last year.
“Without a doubt, one of the most generous and kindest individuals that I have ever met,” Ogden said. “I really wish he could be with me today. Someone once said to me, if you can't tell the history of the game of football without mentioning this person, then they are with a doubt a Hall of Famer. Well, there is no way you can tell the history of pro football without mentioning Art Modell so hopefully one day we can get him here because what he's meant to the league has been tremendous.”
Ogden's induction capped a storybook six-month span for Raven' fans that started on Super Bowl weekend. A day after Ogden learned that he'd get his gold jacket and Hall of Fame bust, the Ravens won their second Super Bowl with a thrilling 34-31 victory. The win allowed Lewis to go out on top after a 17-year career in one uniform.
Like Ogden, Lewis is expected to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer when he is eligible in 2018.
Lewis, who was drafted 22 picks after Ogden on that fateful 1996 draft day which would set up the franchise better than Newsome could have ever imagined, quickly became the face of the team and the defense its identity. Few players, however, could match Ogden's excellence, and the unparalleled package of talent, physical gifts and intelligence and that he brought to the Ravens.
At 6-foot-9 and 345 pounds, Ogden is widely considered the prototype of what a left tackle should be. He had the size, but he also had good foot speed, great strength and extraordinary flexibility for a man of his size. He combined that by being a master technician and student of his craft.
“He's part of the foundation of this franchise, part of the reason that we have two Super Bowl wins here,” Newsome said. “If you're taking a journey, the first steps are the hardest steps you have to take and taking Jonathan was our first step.”
Ogden and his size 16 feet took the final step of his career Saturday night and it was one that he'd never forget.