By Jamison Hensley and Mike Preston
The Baltimore Sun
June 12, 2008
For 12 seasons, offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden was a cornerstone of the Ravens franchise.
As the first player drafted by the team in 1996, he dominated the best defensive linemen of his generation, protecting the blind side of countless quarterbacks with his massive wingspan and opening holes for running backs with bulldozing power.
Now, the end has come for the man who was just as likely to have a novel in his hand as his playbook.
Knowing a toe injury would hinder his All-Pro playing ability, Ogden told The Sun yesterday that he will officially announce his retirement at a news conference today, a long-awaited decision that ends the career of one of the NFL's greatest offensive linemen.
"It took a little while to decide," Ogden told The Sun. "You just can't make a decision like this overnight."
Known to everyone simply as "J.O.," Ogden, 33, is expected to become the first player drafted by the Ravens to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was voted to the Pro Bowl in 11 of his 12 NFL seasons.
"There is nobody better to go from the huddle to the line of scrimmage with," tight end Todd Heap said. "There is nobody else I would want standing next me than J.O."
Inside Ogden's locker yesterday, there were still shoulder pads and game pants hanging. A photograph of Ogden and his son, Jayden, was on the left wall of the locker.
"A player like J.O. is a franchise player," said offensive lineman Jason Brown, who played alongside Ogden for the past two seasons. "You can't put a value or a price tag on him or what he means to our program. He's a great standup guy and also [had] invaluable leadership."
Ogden's retirement ends an era for the Ravens as well as the NFL.
His decision comes at a time when other superstars such as Brett Favre, Michael Strahan and Warren Sapp have walked away from the game.
"I'm watching a lot of good guys retire. It was a good period for a lot of good players," Ogden said. "I just had to take time to make sure it was the right decision."
Although Ogden could have played for several more years, the imposing 6-foot-9, 345-pound lineman leaves the game with little else to prove.
He won a Super Bowl with the Ravens in January 2001. He helped pave the way for running back Jamal Lewis' 2,066-yard season in 2003 - the second-highest rushing season in NFL history. And he was voted to 11 straight Pro Bowls, three shy of the league record.
"He's a true freak of nature," former coach Brian Billick said of Ogden in 2003. "The biggest indicator of J.O.'s ability is every week you look at film and at no point do you see anything that a defense can do to negate J.O. That's an incredible luxury."
Ogden's most impressive performances have come against some of the best pass rushers in the NFL, from Bruce Smith to Simeon Rice to Dwight Freeney.
"Anybody you watch film of the game, you would see one of the best pass rushers in the league get stymied," Heap said. "And he made it look so easy and effortless. It was amazing to see that happen against the caliber of athletes he was going against."
Off the field, Ogden will be remembered as the "Gentle Giant" for his mannerly demeanor. Teammates will also remember his frugality.
Ogden never wore a Rolex or even an earring. Instead, he wore the same T-shirt for three straight days and rarely combed his hair.
With a locker full of books, Ogden regularly read the latest James Patterson thriller or John Grisham whodunit on the treadmill.
But there were several times when Ogden erupted on the sideline. He would throw down his helmet and kick it when the Ravens' offense hit a rut under Billick.
But the course of the franchise was set when it drafted Ogden.
Holding the fourth overall pick in the 1996 draft, the Ravens desperately needed a running back and had the chance to draft Lawrence Phillips, who was considered the best runner coming out of college but had a troubling past.
Though then-majority owner Art Modell wanted to make a splash with Phillips, general manager Ozzie Newsome and director of college scouting Phil Savage held firm that Ogden was the best player available.
Ogden became a fixture at the Pro Bowl, and Phillips lasted three seasons in the NFL.
The first season was an unusual one for Ogden. Because the Ravens had a top left tackle in Tony Jones, Ogden played out of position at left guard as a rookie.
When the Ravens traded Jones the next season, Ogden moved to left tackle, where he immediately established himself as one of the best and most durable players in the game.
From 1997 to 2003, he started 108 games and missed four. Then, in the third-to-last regular season game of 2006, Ogden hyperextended his big left toe in a 27-17 win over the Cleveland Browns.
He missed the final two regular-season games before returning for the Ravens' playoff game, where he limited the Colts' Freeney to no tackles and one quarterback hit.
In 2007, Ogden missed all of training camp but started against the Cincinnati Bengals in the season opener, only to aggravate the injury. He started 10 games last season, his fewest ever.
Ogden said at the end of the season that he was leaning toward retirement and tried to let the toe heal for four months. But he finally came to the decision that he wouldn't play again.
"I tried to work out. I tried to practice on the toe," Ogden said. "But it never came back to 100 percent."
The Ravens are expected to replace Ogden with Jared Gaither, a second-year player out of Maryland.
Ogden said yesterday that there is a "possibility" he could have surgery on the toe.
"We'll have to see," he said. "I don't know yet."
Ogden will be eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2013.
Baltimore Sun reporter Ken Murray contributed to this article.
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