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FROM THE ARCHIVES

For Ravens, Ogden's big toe may be big woe

By David Steele

The Baltimore Sun

September 23, 2007

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He is at peace with his decision to put retirement off for another year. But even Jonathan Ogden had to admit that this isn't what he signed up for.

"Oh, yeah," the Ravens left offensive tackle said last week as he sat in front of his locker in Owings Mills after trying again to practice with the team. "With the decision I made, if I had known then, I don't know if I'd have done it. But I didn't know. But with the decisions you make in life, you've got to go with it."

He didn't know that the injured left big toe suffered late last season would still be forcing him to go into each game this year unsure whether he can play.

But that's how Ogden is going into today's home game against the Arizona Cardinals. He went into the opener in Cincinnati that way, took a shot at playing and couldn't finish. He couldn't suit up last week against the New York Jets and won't against the Cardinals today.

There's a good chance that this is how every game will go for him, and every week will be the same, too - get treatment, test how much pain he can endure, try not to hurt another body part by compensating for the toe (too late for that, though - now the ball of his foot is hurting), try to practice, hope for the best at game time.

This isn't how the 12th season (maybe his last?) of a certain Hall of Fame, largely injury-free career was supposed to go. It wasn't how his Ravens teammates and coaches, or their fans, figured it would go. The health of the quarterback position is a concern this week. But last week, Steve McNair's health was a notch above Ogden's on the overall concern scale. It's practically fallen off the charts this week, though. McNair and his groin, relatively speaking, are fine.

Ogden stands alone - gingerly, slightly off-balance and quite uncomfortably, for him and everybody else.

You could, in fact, make a case that Ogden's big toe has been, and will be, more of a problem than anything McNair is dealing with. You don't have to be a fan of Michael Lewis' best-seller, The Blind Side, to know the value of a left tackle, much less an all-timer like Ogden, to an elder like McNair and to a backup with a shaky history like Kyle Boller.

Of course, Boller was just fine last week against the Jets - and a big reason was that the line, anchored by someone else protecting his back side, Adam Terry, kept him out of trouble. You can't have one without the other.

All Terry has to do, in his third season and in the position at which he didn't begin the year, is do a reasonable imitation of Ogden. For the most part, so far, so good. But everyone knows the Super Bowl talk makes more sense when Ogden's in the conversation.

OK, so this is one of the greatest examples of stating the obvious you'll ever read in this or any paper. (It didn't escape the notice of Ogden's teammates, of course. "One of the greatest linemen in history? Yeah, you miss him," said Todd Heap, trying to keep the "Well, duh" out of his voice as much as possible.) Sometimes, though, the obvious needs stating.

The not-so-obvious, too: It's driving Ogden nuts that one of the smallest joints in his body is ruining his season so far. Fans and other outsiders love poking fun at the big, strong, rough-and-tough player laid low by the little piggy that went to market - and players often do the same, until they experience it themselves. Ogden knows, Heap knows, Mark Clayton (day-to-day with the same injury to the same toe, suffered warming up for the opener) knows.

"You're a writer - try writing without your pointer finger," Clayton said.

Good example.

"I know - I'm a big guy, why is something like my toe a problem?" Ogden asked rhetorically, then answered. "All it does is support your entire body weight. It's just the part that hits the ground every time you move."

But back to the obvious. It is asking a lot of this team - dominant defense in place again, hopes riding high for another retooled offense, still struggling to strike that championship balance - to get where it wants to be with Ogden's presence up in the air every week, possibly every day.

And that eats Ogden up. He acknowledged that he probably was thinking exactly that when he tried to play against the Bengals. "And maybe I shouldn't have. I don't know," he said. "I'm the type of guy if I think I can go, I'm going to try, even if it's not the smartest thing to do. But that's what made me the player I am, too.

"So the long and short is: I'm just trying to listen to my feet, because I'm trying to get out there."

Everybody's listening to Ogden's feet - and they're not hearing what they want: "This way to Glendale, Ariz."