NEW ORLEANS — Jonathan Ogden, the first draft pick in Ravens history and the quintessential left tackle of his generation, was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday in his first year of eligibility.
Late Ravens owner Art Modell, who brought pro football back to Baltimore and was also one of 15 modern-era finalists, fell short of election. Modell has been a divisive candidate in part because he moved the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore after the 1995 season.
Ogden's selection came the day before his former team will play for its second Super Bowl title against the San Francisco 49ers here in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. He was a key figure for the 2000 Ravens, who won the franchise's only Super Bowl championship.
"It's such a nerve-racking thing just waiting," said a jovial Ogden after his name was called. "It was like, 'Come on, just tell me.' It was well worth it though."
Ogden said he phoned his mother first after hearing the news. He also took a moment to endorse Modell.
"It would've been really great if Art had gotten in," he said. "He's a deserving candidate and one of the best owners."
Ogden was joined in the 2013 Hall of Fame class by Dallas Cowboys guard Larry Allen, Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Warren Sapp, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Cris Carter, longtime coach Bill Parcells and two older-era candidates, defensive tackle Curly Culp and linebacker Dave Robinson. Allen and Sapp were also in their first year of eligibility.
The Ravens drafted Ogden No. 4 overall in the 1996 draft out of UCLA. With the addition of linebacker Ray Lewis 22 picks later, they pulled off one of the great first rounds in NFL Draft history and laid the foundation for their success in Baltimore.
Ogden was a lower-key presence than Lewis, but many football purists considered him an equally dominant player at a position vital to the modern passing game. The 6-foot-9, 345-pound Ogden not only dwarfed opponents, he moved with agility and balance that would have been impressive for someone a foot shorter and 100 pounds lighter.
Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of pro personnel in charge of the draft in 1996 before becoming general manager in 2002, fought to select him over troubled running back Lawrence Phillips. Newsome recently said Ogden remains the best offensive lineman he has scouted.
He became the lone constant in an offense that often failed to meet the standard set by the team's defense. In his prime, Ogden might go a whole season without allowing his man to sack the quarterback.
"It was one of the highlights of my professional career to be allowed to work with J.O.," said former Ravens coach Brian Billick. "Preparing for the pass rush on the left side was never an issue, and it didn't take any meeting time."
"I am so proud that Jonathan is the Ravens' first Hall of Famer," said owner Steve Bisciotti in a statement. "My pride also extends to Ozzie, because his first-ever draft pick became our first-ever Hall of Famer."
First Ravens draft pick
Being the first Raven drafted didn't mean a lot to Ogden at the time, but he has come to appreciate the distinction.
"That wasn't my goal," he said earlier in the Super Bowl week. "My goal was to be the best football player I could be. Looking back at it now, it's cool. It's just a unique opportunity, because most of the teams that had history … I don't know who was the first player drafted in most organizations. I'll always be that trivia answer for the Ravens."
Ogden, who retired after the 2007 season, said the Hall of Fame didn't become a glimmer on his horizon until he made the fifth of his 11 Pro Bowl appearances.
"Even then, you don't think about it until maybe like the 10th Pro Bowl, when I knew my career was almost done," he recalled. "When you're in it, you don't think about it. It's always next play, next play. You're only as good as your last play. But looking back at all those next plays, you say, 'You know, I did it pretty good.' "
Ogden is the first Ravens Hall of Famer to have played his entire career in Baltimore. Three other Hall of Famers played part of their careers with the Ravens — Rod Woodson, Shannon Sharpe and Deion Sanders.
A candidate needed at least 80-percent support from the 43 media members who gathered at a closed-door meeting in New Orleans Saturday to pick the 2013 class. Only five could be selected from the 15 "modern-era" finalists. Voters said the discussion took about eight hours, with the debate on Parcells alone lasting an hour.
"It's about as long a discussion as we've ever had," said voter Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News. "It was a very competitive class."
Ogden and fellow members of the 2013 class will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio on the weekend of Aug. 2-4.
"I was just very happy happy for him, very happy for his family, and happy for Baltimore," said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who appeared in a pro-casino campaign ad with Ogden last fall and called him her favorite player. "It's a good omen for tomorrow."
Sentiment for Modell
Modell, who died in September at age 87, was a finalist for the first time since 2001. It was an important milestone for his Hall of Fame candidacy, because unlike the semifinalists, who are winnowed down through a mail-in vote, all 17 finalists were actively discussed by the panel of media members that picks the Hall of Fame class.
"We are obviously disappointed, but extremely grateful that Art Modell was considered among 17 high quality candidates,'' his son, David Modell, said Saturday. "It really is an incredible honor to be considered. We love Art and were disappointed for him, naturally, as people who love each other would be, but the Modell family is so excited that the Baltimore Ravens will be playing in the Super Bowl tomorrow with my father's name on their chests."
Modell was one of the first five candidates eliminated as the voters narrowed the field on Saturday.
Many NFL executives, including Newsome and Bisciotti, have called for Modell's induction, noting his 43-year tenure as an owner and his leadership in building the league's television presence and in adding diversity to its front offices.
Modell was widely admired in Baltimore, both because he restored pro football to a city that had lost its beloved Colts in 1984 and because he embraced his new home through major philanthropic efforts in the arts and medicine
He also had strong advocates among the Hall of Fame voters, but skepticism about his case lingers, with some voters saying they can't get past the fact he wounded a loyal fanbase when he moved his franchise from Cleveland.
Modell said he had to make the difficult decision to avoid bankruptcy. But many Browns fans have never forgiven him and continue to campaign against his induction to the Hall of Fame, located only 60 miles away from downtown Cleveland.
He also faced stiff competition on the ballot, which some voters called the deepest in memory. Others who fell short of selection included former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie Debartolo Jr., New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan and Charles Haley, a brilliant pass rusher for multiple teams. Voters say it's extremely hard for owners and coaches to beat out players.
"It's not just that they hate Art because he left Cleveland," said longtime Baltimore broadcaster Scott Garceau, the city's representative on the selection panel. "I think maybe the greater reason is that it's very tough for contributors."
Garceau said he told Modell before he died that "you know you were Hall of Fame caliber. It's just a matter of when the [voting] room catches up to you."
Baltimore Sun reporters Peter Schmuck and Aaron Wilson contributed to this article.
Born: July 31, 1974 in Washington, D.C.
High school: St. Albans
Drafted: By Ravens, fourth overall in 1996
Career highlights: An 11-time Pro Bowler (1997-2007) who ranks third in games played by a Raven (177) and is second in games started (176). … 10-time All-Pro (1996-2004, 2006). … Super Bowl XXXV champion (2000). … Helped Jamal Lewis set a franchise record with 2,066 rushing yards in 2003, the third-most single-season rushing yards in NFL history.