By Jamison Hensley
The Baltimore Sun
June 13, 2008
An overflow crowd of teammates, coaches and reporters jammed into the Ravens' auditorium yesterday to bid farewell to Jonathan Ogden.
But the storied All-Pro offensive tackle wasn't ready to say goodbye completely.
In a touching and lighthearted half-hour news conference, Ogden officially retired but made it clear he will remain to help the team, as well as stay committed to the city where he played his 12 seasons.
"I'm a Baltimore Raven for life," Ogden said with a smile. "There's no doubt about that."
Dressed in a black-and-silver, pinstriped, button-down shirt and matching slacks and sporting a new haircut, Ogden seemed comfortable with his decision.
At times, the gathering resembled a reunion more than a retirement. Ogden was never close to shedding tears, and he frequently cracked up the crowd - which included his family in the front row and at least 15 former teammates - with old stories.
The franchise's first pick in 1996, Ogden talked about his shock when he was given a plain black-and-white cap on draft day because the fledgling Ravens didn't have a logo. "I'm like, what is this?" Ogden deadpanned.
He ribbed former teammate Harry Swayne about how he got away with a blocking penalty in the AFC championship game on Shannon Sharpe's 96-yard touchdown catch.
And he admittedly embellished the time when he caught Deion Sanders from behind 80 yards downfield in the Pro Bowl.
Yet amid the laughter, Ogden acknowledged how much he labored over the decision to leave football. "It's mixed emotions, honestly," Ogden said. "There's a huge part of me that is going to miss playing football. But at the same time, I realize that it is time."
The Ravens thought they were close to having Ogden, 33, back a few months ago.
He visited team headquarters in mid-March, sitting in on an offensive meeting with coordinator Cam Cameron and watching a practice.
"There was a glimmer in his eye," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "I think there was a feeling ... that with these changes, J.O. might come back and finish this journey with us. But that euphoria left when he left here."
About a month ago, Newsome called Ogden and asked him for a final decision.
Ogden paused and said, "I'm done."
His hyperextended toe had failed to fully heal, which meant Ogden wouldn't be able to play at his Pro Bowl level.
He wanted to hold off an official announcement until after the Ravens' final full-team minicamp to avoid being a distraction.
"Could I still have gone out there and played? Yes, and I probably could have done an adequate job," Ogden said. "But, in my mind, I wouldn't be helping the team as much as I needed to."
A perfectionist throughout his career, Ogden didn't want to tarnish his reputation with a less-than-stellar season.
"[Offensive linemen] don't have stats like every other position," Ogden said. "So, it's more about how much people respect you."
Ogden will go down as one of the more respected linemen in NFL history.
Coaches such as Brian Billick, Bill Cowher and Mike Nolan recently talked about Ogden's being a lock for the Hall of Fame. And pass rushers such as Jason Taylor, Simeon Rice, Joey Porter and Aaron Schobel have called Ogden one of the best to play the game.
"Not only did he redefine the position of left tackle in the NFL; he also set the standard for what it means to be a Baltimore Raven," Ravens president Dick Cass said. "Years from now, when Baltimore is talking about its greatest sports legends, Jonathan will be part of that discussion along with Cal Ripken, Johnny Unitas and Ray Lewis."
Ravens defensive lineman Trevor Pryce remembered his only game against Ogden, playing him as a member of the Denver Broncos in 2005 just one season removed from having an injured back.
Said Pryce: "I tried to throw him off. ... In the middle of the play, he said: `You can't do that. Your back's hurt. Are you all right?'"
Pryce then added, "In my 11 years of playing, he is by far the best I've ever played against."
Newsome agreed with that assessment.
"I've had the opportunity to be in this league for over 30 years, but in my opinion, there is not a player that played his position as well as Jonathan Ogden played his position," Newsome said.
Ogden has usually shied away from talking about his place in history.
When it comes to players who defined the position of offensive tackle, Ogden thinks of Anthony Munoz instead of himself.
"If people want to say I was the next one to redefine it, I'm very happy with that," he said. "I'm not going to be too modest anymore. I'm retiring."
Ogden made it clear his retirement is final and a comeback "won't be happening."
He wants to hang around the team and help offensive tackles Jared Gaither and Adam Terry. He will stay involved in his charity foundation in Baltimore.
"I know I gave everything I had in 12 years," Ogden said. "I left it out there every Sunday on the field for this town, myself and this organization. I can look back and say I have no regrets. I'm at peace with that."
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