Maybe no player in Ravens history symbolized the toughness of the organization more than former defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who announced his retirement Monday after 13 seasons in the NFL, including nine in Baltimore.
The Ravens already have two players who have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and middle linebacker Ray Lewis, and a third, safety Ed Reed, who will be enshrined later this summer.
Ogden was the best of them all from a pure technical standpoint. Both Lewis and Reed had as much flash as substance, but there wasn’t any show in Ngata. He was the quiet storm; just one big, bad, intimidating dude in the purple and black.
“Toughest, gentlest, guy I knew,” said former Raven outside linebacker Jarret Johnson, a tough guy himself. “He was a great teammate and friend. He was the enforcer on the field.”
For nine seasons, Ngata played that role in Baltimore. Opposing teams feared Lewis because he made tackles all over the field. He was the team’s vocal leader, as well as knockout artist, who drained the competitive spirit out of opposing running backs.
Reed got great respect because of his playmaking ability in the secondary. Because of those long loping strides, he made up so much ground on the backend, which helped him to become one of the top playmakers in the game.
Ngata was the grunt guy.
He was a space eater who drew constant double teams but still finished with 449 tackles during his time as a Raven and was named to five Pro Bowls. To play 13 years in the NFL at a position where you’re constantly getting chopped in the legs and hit from different angles is remarkable. But Ngata didn’t want fame or adulation; he just wanted to win and be the team protector.
“Haloti was the ultimate protector, a gentle giant, a dancing bear,” former Ravens linebacker Bart Scott said. “Cleveland had some player being dirty, diving at me and Ray’s knees. After the play, Haloti caught one of them and grabbed him by the facemask. He stood over him and punched him in the face twice and told them to knock it off. Message sent. And that’s Haloti.”
If you took a cheap shot at one of the Ravens, you had to answer to Ngata. If you talked smack to a Raven, it better happen before Ngata was in the vicinity. If Ngata had an opportunity to knock a quarterback into another world, then consider it done.
He was the ultimate tough guy in a tough guy sport.
“He was good teammate, a tough competitor with an edge,” said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens’ former general manager who drafted Ngata. “We gave up a sixth-round pick that year to trade up and get him. We had seen what Sam Adams could do for our team for the two or three years before Haloti arrived, so we wanted another one. Teams had to scheme against Haloti as both a run stopper and pass rusher.
“He was an athletic freak. He wasn’t just a football player but an athlete, and they usually stay around as long as they want in this league.”
The Ravens have had some other guys who could slip into beast mode throughout team history. Right tackle Orlando Brown loved to fight. Right guard Jeff Blackshear might have been the strongest player to ever wear a Ravens uniform. Tony Siragusa and Adams were the sumo wrestling defensive tackle twins of the early 2000s, and defensive end Rob Burnett was as cold as any mob boss when he was on the field.
Ngata was the entire package.
He had swagger. He didn’t just walk onto a field; he had that tough, menacing stride. Along with fellow tackle Kelly Gregg, they could dominate the middle of the line of scrimmage. Teammates always seemed to have that special fondness for Ngata because he was the protective mother hen.
Few Ravens enjoyed being around Ngata more than Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs. They were once roommates in training camp during Ngata’s rookie season, when the Ravens selected him in the first round of the 2006 draft.
When the Ravens traded him to the Detroit Lions before the start of the 2015 season, it was Suggs who wore T-shirts and arm and wrist bands in honor of his former teammate.
Off the field, Ngata was quiet and reserved. He spent countless hours in the community and gave generously to charities. Even though he went to Detroit in 2015, he and his wife, Christina, often visit Baltimore, where all three of his sons were born.
It seems kind of fitting that Ngata retired in the year when a new era is set to start in Baltimore. He made his announcement via Instagram on Monday, posting a video of himself standing at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak.
“I loved the Kilimanjaro timing,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “He was one of the dominant inside players of his era. He was a proud Raven. He was capable of destroying a play single-handedly. He was a great athlete for big man, good person and great family man. It was an honor to work with him. ”
Only a week ago, Suggs signed a free-agent contract with the Arizona Cardinals and longtime quarterback Joe Flacco was traded to the Denver Broncos. Together, they had been with the Ravens for a combined 27 seasons.
Now Ngata is completely out of the game, the toughest Raven of them all.