1996 was an important year in Baltimore Sports.
Finally, after a twelve year absence and numerous failed courtships NFL football would return to Charm City. That first draft would be an important one for the foundation of the new franchise for many reasons. The roster arriving from Cleveland wasn’t packed with much promise as a 5-11 season would attest. That squad would even be the first NFL team to get swept in a season series by an expansion team, losing twice to the Jacksonville Jaguars that year. So as you can imagine owner Art Modell was hoping to grab some star power to energize his new city and struggling team from among the rookie crop.
Nebraska star Lawrence Phillips, fresh off a dominant performance in the National championship game appeared ready to fill the team’s vacant running back position as the new “Ravens” held the fourth pick on the board. Phillips however wasn’t exactly a model citizen and the dreaded draft adjectives of “character issues” was attached next to his name. Modell wanted Phillips anyway as some analysts called him the best talent in the draft that season. Instead General Manager Ozzie Newsome hoped to take the top player on his board, a hulking lineman from UCLA – Jonathan Ogden. A less exciting pick but one that Newsome felt would provide stability for years to come.
Of course we know who won out and why that first draft proved to be such a crucial one for Newsome, the Ravens, and Baltimore sports fans. Not only was Ogden everything that was advertised and more but Newsome also grabbed his defensive centerpiece for the next seventeen seasons later in that same first round. (More will be written on that story five years from now.) The legend of the Wizard of Oz was born. Ask the Jaguars and Panthers how many Hall of Famers they’ve drafted, even though they’ve been in the league longer. It’s not easy.
Phillips played for three different teams in as many seasons while Ogden’s 12-year career in Baltimore was filled with accolades. An 11-time Pro Bowler, 10-time All Pro, a Superbowl Ring in 2000, a spot on the NFL’s All-Decade team (2000s) and now the youngest player (39) to ever enter the Hall of Fame. You could hardly ask for more from a player. On Sundays you’d see a man who often dominated the defender across of him as he handled some of the league’s greatest pass rushers with ease. The rest of the week you’d see a true professional, always practicing his craft studying opponents and letting his play do the talking for him.
As I reflect upon my memories of watching his career unfold for my favorite team I will always remember him as a man that was very easy to be a fan of. Fans often expect much of their athletes, maybe too much, and Ogden the person from what I’ve read was equal to Ogden the player. A hard working competitor who didn’t spout off to the media or seek controversy with poor decisions. A man whose community involvement with disadvantaged youth is still going strong with the Jonathan Ogden foundation that holds charity events throughout the year. A player that is talked about with great respect and reverence by his peers and a gentleman whom people speak fondly of for his gentle affable nature away from the field. Plus he was just possibly one of the greatest to ever play his position in history of the game.
The Ravens fans were rookies much like Ogden was back in 1996 and they grew together and experienced growing pains along the way especially being part of a team that most of the nation didn’t care for. Over the years the supporters of the purple and black have continued to embrace that underrated quasi villain status even to this day. Still Ogden, the original Raven, is a player and man that fans and the entire city of Baltimore can be proud of as he enters into Canton as their first representative.
Ogden’s entry this weekend is yet another piece of history, along with two Lombardi trophies that further adds to the legitimacy of this franchise. Jon Ogden is a truly memorable player that will only get better with age as the stories of his greatness get passed down from generation to generation of Ravens faithful.
Congratulations J.O.! You’ve truly earned it.