Jonathan Ogden was asked if he is troubled by the pressure that comes with being the point man in the Ravens' grunt and grind offense. He smiled and shook his head. Do you think Mount Ogden is the highest-paid player in the NFL because he looks majestic in purple?
"I wouldn't have it any other way," Ogden said. "I feel that if the game is on me, we can win."
At 6 feet 8 and 340 pounds, Ogden is a large answer to a trivial question. He was the fourth player taken in the 1996 draft, and the first ever selected by the Ravens, as they sought a fresh start in Baltimore. The franchise has several free-agent issues looming, but it cleaned up an immense contractual concern last August, when Ogden signed a six-year extension that included a $12 million signing bonus for this season.
The deal made him the highest-paid player in the NFL in 2000. If you need to validate Ogden's worth, go back to "The Drought," the name owner Art Modell gave to the five games in October in which the Ravens didn't score a touchdown. That situation reached drastic levels in part because Ogden wasn't always around to shepherd that unit out of the desert.
Ogden sprained an ankle in the third quarter at Cleveland on Oct. 1. He did not play the next week at Jacksonville, and aggravated the injury at Washington on Oct. 15.
By the end of the month, coach Brian Billick tried a new direction at quarterback, benching Tony Banks in favor of Trent Dilfer. As the defense reached new levels of dominance, the rhythm of the plays sent into Dilfer have become more conservative and the smile on Ogden's face has gotten wider. Dilfer has thrown just 16 passes per playoff game, and Ogden said there is no reason to change that philosophy tomorrow against the New York Giants.
"I can't give away our game plan," Ogden said, "but I think we are going to do what we've done all year. We're going to try and run the ball. We're going to try and make some plays through the air. That's gotten us 10 wins in a row. Why change now?"
Clutch catches by tight end Shannon Sharpe are featured in the postseason highlights, but if one play typifies the evolution of the Ravens' offense, it was a sustained block by Ogden in the second quarter of the wild-card game against the Denver Broncos. Jamal Lewis got 20 yards behind Ogden, who had a head of steam. Lewis scored on the next play, and the Ravens' playoff momentum was established.
That play reinforced the fact that the biggest left tackle in the NFL is also one of the most athletic. At UCLA, the Washington, D.C., native skipped spring football for track and field practice, and placed in the shot put at several NCAA championship meets.
Ogden and offensive line coach Jim Colletto can't remember the last time he was to blame for a sack. While opponents keep losing quarterbacks, Ogden continues to provide health insurance for Dilfer. There is great satisfaction in protecting the quarterback and freaking out Tennessee Titans end Jevon Kearse, but Ogden is the complete package.
"I'm not going to lie," Ogden said. "I would prefer running the ball more than passing. More to the point, in 1996, we were throwing the ball all over the field, and we were losing."
The Ravens finished 4-12 in '96, and their prospects didn't seem much better when Billick's hiring coincided with the free-agent departures of Orlando Brown, Jeff Blackshear and Wally Williams. All started on the offensive line with Ogden, who publicly complained about the exodus.
"I'm happy now," Ogden said. "I don't think I was ever displeased with the Ravens, but there were a couple of guys on the team who I enjoyed playing with and we were broken up. However, we have other players, and we're playing well as a unit."
The Ravens' other starters up front can all be replaced. Where else are you going to find a 26-year-old All-Pro offensive lineman who is one of the keys to a Super Bowl?
"I feel that if I'm playing my game," Ogden said, "I really shouldn't have a problem."