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For Ravens Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden, 'it just all came together in 2000'

.@MikePrestonSun talks with the Ravens' first Hall of Famer, Jonathan Ogden, before the team's 20th season.

Jonathan Ogden scored just two touchdowns in a 12-year NFL career, but the Ravens left tackle was so respected that USA Today named him the league's best player in 2003.

He was the franchise's first draft pick — fourth overall in 1996 — and in 2013 became the first player to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a Raven.

As the team approached the start of its 20th season, Ogden spoke with The Baltimore Sun about the team's origins, his career and his expectations for 2015.

What was it like being the first pick for the Ravens, especially for a team that really didn't even have an identity yet in the National Football League?

Looking back on it, it was a tremendous honor. But at the time it was a lot of question marks. Who are these guys? What colors? What emblem? But at the same time, I looked at it as a tremendous opportunity as well to try to establish something in the NFL. Me and the others in that first class, Ray [Lewis] and all those other guys, Jermaine Lewis, came in and tried to make a name for ourselves and make a name for Baltimore.

So in 1996 you go 4-12, and in 1997, 6-9-1, 1998, 6-10, some painful memories there, but what were the problems? Why couldn't those teams win?

I just don't think we really had it together as a team. I think it took bringing in a Brian Billick, and then to continue to draft well. I don't think that first year we had the talent we needed on the defensive side of the ball, and then we continued to build up over there. I think we then kind of understood how we had to come together as a team and play off each other. It was just a process. We had to get the right veteran guys, and guys like myself and Ray had to mature a bit. So I think it just all came together in 2000. We had that right mix of best friends and young talented guys, a young running back like Jamal [Lewis]. We finally had true NFL talent.

In 1998, they get rid of Ted Marchibroda. They bring in Brian Billick. What was different? What did he give you guys that maybe Ted couldn't give you?

He brought a fresh, modern approach to the game. I like Ted as a person. I thought we were little antiquated in the way we did things, looking back at it now. Everyone does the things that Brian Billick was doing in 1999; that's what they are doing today. Trying to take care of the players and be smart about it. I think that Brian brought a mentality of work smarter, not necessarily harder, and try to be professional, and understand that it's a job. And if you don't do your job, you are going to get cut, fired, and I think a lot of the guys responded to that, especially in those early years. Because we had a lot of guys like Tony Siragusa, Shannon Sharpe and Rob Burnett, a lot of old, solid guys who wanted to win, and I think that went well for us.

So in 2000, and we've all been through the stories of the no touchdowns and all these field goals. When did you guys think, "We can actually win this thing?"

I don't remember the exact game, I felt that it was somewhere near the end of the season. I think we had to beat San Diego, wasn't that the game? I think when we won that game and got into the playoffs, Brian Billick kind of said, "Time is here; time to win a Super Bowl." I know that sounds kind of cliche, but he had that p-word thing going for a while and when he said that, we said, "You know what, he's right. We got what it takes," and offensively we knew we were not that super explosive on the outside, but I also knew that we were tough and physical up front on both sides. Trent wasn't going to make a ton of mistakes, and we played smart, efficient football. I knew we had a shot.

Also in 2000, and no one talks about this, but to me this was the best free-agent acquisition in the history of the Ravens. They bring aboard Steve Bisciotti as a minority owner and you guys get some cash flow. What has this man brought to this organization?

Art was the original; he was the godfather, so to speak. I know I made this analogy for someone else, but Steve is more like the Michael Corleone; he kind of took the family into the future. He made us really on par with the New Englands and the [New York] Giants and the other top-notch franchises in the league with the money and the way he runs the organization, the way he treats everyone like family. It's just a really well-run organization in the way he does things.

So after that Super Bowl, and I've never asked you about this, the Ravens did not bring back Trent Dilfer. Was that a big mistake, or did you think it was time for a change, also?

No, I thought it was a mistake but was being a team guy and going along with the team. I'm going to try to make what works work, but there was no doubt a group of guys, and I was one of them, thought that Trent Dilfer, being that he won a Super Bowl, earned the right to come back and fight for his job. But [the front office] didn't and I think Brian would probably look back and say it was a mistake now.

Jamal Lewis was easily the best running back in Ravens history. What was it like in that 2003 season when you guys were going for the NFL record for rushing yards in a season?

It was a lot of fun. That's how I can really describe it because we knew each and every week ... we were getting closer to that number. We knew guys were trying to stop us. We would see all kinds of crazy, exotic defenses that people hadn't showed on film just designed to stop us, but we took a lot of pride in being able to diagnose what they were doing and still being able to find a way. We would say to Jamal, "We are going to block these seven guys right here, but this one guy will be unblocked," and Jamal would either make him miss, run him over, run around him. It was always like we would get 3 yards, 4 yards, 30 yards because once we got past that initial defensive wall, there was nobody behind it. Jamal was such a workhorse, so much fun to block for. He just made it easy for us.

When you retired, you were still playing at a very high level. Have you ever looked back and said, "Maybe I could have went another two or three more years?"

Nah, I knew it was time. I knew I was not playing at the level that I'm capable of because of my foot. My foot was just a mess that whole year. I knew the time we were playing Seattle that year, it was '07 actually, we were on the field and "12th man" is going. I'm looking around the stadium and ... [thinking] "I really don't feel like I want to be out here right now." I mean don't get me wrong, I continued to play and bust my butt, but that was the moment when I said, "You know what, the ride might be over for me." Physically and mentally, I just didn't have what it took to compete at the level and what would make me feel good about myself.

So 12 seasons, 11 Pro Bowls, 10 All-Pro first or second teams. Who were some of the greatest players you played against?

Derrick Thomas was one of the best, without a doubt. Dwight Freeney was one of the best, especially when he was young and healthy in Indianapolis. Bruce Smith, I caught the tail end of his career, but he had a little juice left in his tank. Simeon Rice was a sneaky pass rusher. Tony Brackens was always a good player, and I did well against him. I thought there were a lot of good players, but I always thought that if I did what I was supposed to do, I really wasn't worried about anybody.

What was it like to be the first Raven in the Hall of Fame? What is it like to go back every year in that room and sit down with the greatest players who ever played?

Man, it was just one of those moments that is hard to put in words because you are sitting there on the stage with all the legends of the game. My first time there I see Art Shell, Jackie Slater, and I see Lawrence Taylor and all these guys. I'm 39 years old at the time and I grew up watching all these guys play. So, it was really just an odd moment to be among those guys. But I just felt that I did all I could on the field and I was thankful and appreciative. I was just hopeful that I was able to represent Baltimore to the best of my ability and I just wanted to do Baltimore proud.

You came in with Ray Lewis. What made him a great player?

Well, I'd say the number one thing was his passion. He wasn't the biggest guy in the world. I mean that's why he went [26th overall in the draft] because he was kind of undersized. But you can't factor in his heart, his passion and his knowledge of the game, the way he could read and diagnose and be in the right place at the right time. And then he could get his other guys to buy in and get the best out of those guys. I mean that's the sign of a good leader, really a great leader, is to be able to get everybody around you to perform at their best. I think that's what he did better than anybody in the history of the Ravens, maybe the NFL.

What makes this franchise special?

I think it's the way that it's run. I think it really just starts at the top, starting with Art Modell, and trickled down to Steve Bisciotti, Ozzie, Dick Cass. And now they brought in Brian Billick, that started us on those ways, and continued with John Harbaugh. You just have really good people in leadership roles and they know what it takes to win. They continue to win because it's a belief that we should be in the playoffs every year.

Art Modell, you know everyone who has been through this organization has a special relationship with him. Does he belong in the Hall of Fame?

Without a doubt, Super Bowl aside, just what he meant to football, the history of the National Football League with him helping to start "Monday Night Football" and all the things he did in the early years of Cleveland. He's one of the icons of ownership for the NFL. He's a Hall of Famer. You can't write the history without mentioning Art Modell.

Well, this organization has had three head coaches, two presidents and really only one general manager, Ozzie Newsome. What makes him one of the best in the National Football League?

I think the fact that he played the game and just because he played he didn't come in with the sense of entitlement, like "I know how to do this." He started in the scouting department and learned the game from the bottom up. He has a vision and is able to work with whatever coach they have and knows what they are looking for. I think he's been exceptional at that. We've had some misses at certain positions, but everyone has some misses. But, for the most part, he's done a much better job with successes than with failures in the draft.

What do you think of this year's team? Who are the top teams in the AFC and NFC? Do you have a prediction for the Super Bowl?

I mean, you gotta say New England; they're the defending champions. Tom Brady is still there. Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. Seattle. I mean, we're going to be right there, though. We lost some production when [wide receiver] Torrey [Smith] left. Hopefully, the rookie [Breshad Perriman] gets on the field and can step in for him. Hopefully, the defensive backfield will come through. I like us up front on both sides of the ball, I like our linebackers and defensive line. I know we need a tight end, another weapon or two for [quarterback] Joe [Flacco]. But, if we stay healthy, I like our chances. I think we are just as good as we were last year and we almost made it there [to the Super Bowl].

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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