Throughout history, man has always pondered the possibilities of: What If?
What if Friar Lawrence had gotten word to Romeo that Juliet was only sleeping, and not dead? What if President John F. Kennedy's motorcade had taken a different parade route that day in Dallas? What if George McFly had not been hit by his future father-in-law's car, a premise that was explored by Michael J. Fox in the Back to the Future trilogy? What if Jeffrey Maier had been in school that day instead in right field in Yankee Stadium?
Rarely is this exercise more popular than in the weeks and months leading up to the NFL draft. Today, we attempt to reimagine history as we look back through the Ravens' drafts, and see how things could have played out differently. In the course of our journey — especially the first scenario, which really did almost happen — we realize that "What IF?" can be a scary proposition.
April 20, 1996 — Desperate to fill Memorial Stadium after moving the team from Cleveland, and confident coach Ted Marchibroda can deal with any character issues that arise, Ravens owner Art Modell quietly decrees that the team must select Nebraska running back Lawrence Phillips with the fourth pick in the draft. UCLA offensive lineman Jonathan Ogden is selected seventh, by the New England Patriots. The Denver Broncos, torn between linebackers John Mobley and Ray Lewis, grab Lewis.
In a post-draft press conference, Phillips puts his arm around Mobley, the Ravens' other first-round pick, and declares that the duo will win four Super Bowls together.
Later, WJZ reporter Mark Viviano spots Phillips alone in the hallway and asks for an interview. When Viviano asks a question about his checkered past, Phillips drags Viviano down a flight of stairs by his hair.
April 19, 1997 — After going 4-12 the year before, the Ravens' plan going into the draft is to shore up their defense. In a trade that has much to do with financial concerns, they give up their fourth pick to Seattle in exchange for the 11th pick, plus additional picks in the second and fourth round.
Seattle selects Florida State defensive end Peter Boulware, while the Ravens grab defensive back Michael Booker, a teammate of Phillips at Nebraska, hoping a familiar face will settle Phillips down. Phillips greets Booker at his first press conference with a hug, then hands him a ski mask. Sun columnist Ken Rosenthal writes a column wondering whether Peter Angelos' sons might be drafting for the Ravens from behind the scenes.
April 18, 1998 — Eager to give new head coach (and offensive genius) Brian Billick some offensive firepower, the Ravens convince Arizona to trade the second pick to them instead of San Diego. Baltimore then snags Washington State quarterback Ryan Leaf.
"The fact that he could throw a football 80 yards in the air, through the goalposts, from behind his back while drinking a beer convinced me we'd found our quarterback for the next 15 years, at least," Billick says.
Billick tells the media he had hoped to lend Leaf his labtop computer so that Leaf could get an early start on learning Baltimore's 85,000 plays, but that plan had to be scrapped after Phillips stole it and pawned it.
"We are not going to retry the case of Lawrence Phillips here today," Billick scolds the press. "You are not qualified!"
Desperate to fill their hole at middle linebacker, the Ravens select Ohio State's Andy Katzenmoyer.
April 17, 1999 — Although the Ravens go into the draft targeting Arizona cornerback Chris McAlister, the Cardinals (using the draft picks they garnered in the Leaf trade) select him instead.
Baltimore decides to take the best player available, Ohio State wide receiver David Boston, who shows up at training camp looking ripped, running the 40 in 4.2 seconds despite being 274 pounds. Boston says he's been training in the offseason with Seattle Mariners first baseman David Segui.
"I'm going to encourage him to re-sign with the Orioles when his contract is up," Boston says. "I think he could really be a great mentor to some of the younger prospects that the Orioles have."
April 15, 2000 — With Phillips serving a 10-year bid in Jessup for assault, battery and theft of cable television broadcasts from Comcast, the Ravens fill their need at running back by selecting Ron Dayne of Wisconsin, passing on Tennessee running back Jamal Lewis because of injury concerns.
As a joke, Sun columnist Peter Schmuck approaches Ryan Leaf — who is coming off a disastrous rookie season — in the days leading up to the draft. Schmuck asks Leaf if the Ravens should consider picking Michigan quarterback Tom Brady in the late rounds to be his understudy.
"Knock it off!" Leaf screams. "Don't talk to me!"
Five games into the season 1999, Billick yanks Leaf and inserts Stoney Case.
"I've found my quarterback!" Billick declares. "I can imagine him taking snaps for the next 15 years, at least."
April 21, 2001 — After trading down, swapping picks with the Super Bowl champion New York Giants, Baltimore selects Oregon State wide receiver Chad Johnson. Billick yanks Case in the third quarter of the season opener and inserts backup Trent Dilfer, who leads the Ravens to a respectable 9-7 record. After the season, Dilfer is released because he doesn't fit into the Ravens "scheme."
The Broncos, led by linebacker Ray Lewis, win their third Super Bowl in five years.
April 20, 2002 — The Ravens make a bold decision to trade Mobley, Johnson, and the 24th pick in the first round to the Lions for the rights to Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington.
The Lions use the 24th pick to select Miami safety Ed Reed.
"I've found my quarterback!" Billick says. "The fact that he could throw a football 60 yards through the goal posts, from one knee, while playing the piano convinced me he was going to be our quarterback for the next 15 years, at least."
April 26, 2003 — When the Ravens' phone lines don't work on draft day — making it impossible for the team to trade up and grab wide receiver Charles Rogers — Billick accuses Sun columnist Mike Preston of cutting them.
Using a borrowed cell phone, Billick calls former Chiefs quarterback Elvis Grbac and asks if he wants to come out of retirement.
"I've found my quarterback!" Billick says. "The fact that he could throw a wobbly spiral into the dirt while sweat dripped out of his tear ducts convinced me he could be our quarterback for the next 15 minutes, at least."
April 24, 2004 — After assuming control of the team from Art Modell, new owner Steve Bisciotti decides to fire Billick and give the job to Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. Ferentz encourages the Ravens to select offensive lineman Robert Gallery, also of Iowa.
"I really think he could be the next Jonathan Ogden," Ferentz says. "You don't want to miss out on a building block like that."