Top of the line

When Brett Favre officially retired that day in March in Green Bay, he drew a big crowd, much as Jonathan Ogden did yesterday in Owings Mills. Just like Favre's announcement, and like Michael Strahan's earlier this week, Ogden's farewell was carried live on national TV (in homes that get the NFL Network, at least).

The same kinds of adjectives were showered on all of them - greatest, champion, never another like him. Vivid memories were recalled by those who played with him and who had the pleasure of watching him. The same deep sense of loss was expressed.


Let's remind everybody that yesterday's celebration, this flood of admiration, this bearhug from not only the city where he played but also from the entire football world, was for an offensive lineman. In Ogden's words, one of the "mushrooms - in the dark, just go ahead and feed them."

So it was no surprise that of the swarm of former and current teammates in the room to send him off, the majority played the position and lived the anonymity with him. Among his other accomplishments, Ogden turned the spotlight on the trenches in ways it never had been before.


"He's a lineman. He's real humble; he's not in it for the fame," said Orlando Brown, aka Zeus, the other tackle on the Ravens' line on the Super Bowl team. "We want to be in it for the fame, but the camera doesn't look for us.

"The camera always did look at him, though," he added.

The camera couldn't ignore Ogden, even if he tried to ignore it - until the very end, when he did everything he could to not make his farewell a big public show, even fooling his large family contingent into thinking the day would be a lot more low-key.

The NFL has featured great lines, of course, and great linemen. But with Ogden, you didn't have to be a film addict to see that he was not only a different breed at the position, but that he was also the best offensive player on the Ravens, sometimes the best on either team, even though he never touched the ball.

In essence, he made blocking for the cool players cool in itself. It's taken for granted that he and his brethren do the dirtiest work for the least reward and recognition (unless they do it wrong). With him, though, the left tackle became the star. His became a popular jersey. He became a force in every game in ways that the casual fan couldn't ignore. He became a major character in a book about the evolution toward him, the prototype (Michael Lewis' The Blind Side).

Ogden and the times converged perfectly and seamlessly. It culminated yesterday when he got the kind of universal praise his predecessors had always been denied. His fellow linemen on hand at the Castle - Zeus, Spencer Folau, Wally Williams, Harry Swayne, Edwin Mulitalo, Jason Brown - appreciated that.

"Of course I had to be here," Jason Brown said, not long before getting Ogden to autograph a jersey for him. "Look at J.O. A lot of the things we work on trying to become great offensive linemen, or even just good offensive linemen, he makes it look so simple."

So, how great is it to see one of their own get the full-blown superstar treatment, the kind usually reserved for quarterbacks and running backs with stats that validate their status?


"Oh, there are stats for J.O. A bunch of zeros," Orlando Brown corrected, laughing, then naming the great pass rushers of the past 12 years who got shut out on sacks.

But, Jason Brown added, just seeing him play was validation: "He's the man, the myth, the legend, Jonathan Ogden. What else can you say?"

Ogden actually said a lot, speaking for more than a half-hour, a major exposition for him. He was typically self-deprecating - asked how the talk of his redefining the position and creating a standard few ever have and ever will match, his response drew a laugh: "I'll take that. I'm not going to be too modest anymore. I'm retiring."

But he said that after being almost tongue-tied at the idea, showing again that patting himself on the back was about the only athletic move he never mastered.

It was more proof of how extraordinary this event was. It might have been the finest moment an offensive lineman has ever experienced - the day the world treated him like a quarterback.


Listen to David Steele on Wednesdays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).