Ogden retires: 'I'm good with it'

OWINGS MILLS -- Jonathan Ogden walked through the lobby at the Baltimore Ravens' training complex late Wednesday afternoon, strolling past the Vince Lombardi trophy and a portrait of former majority owner Art Modell. It marked the star offensive tackle's final steps as a football player.

Ogden wore a smile on his face and his trademark casual clothing as he headed into a meeting with team owner Steve Bisciotti to finalize plans to announce his retirement at a press conference this morning.

The inaugural draft pick in franchise history and a foundation on the offensive line for the past dozen seasons who revolutionized the left tackle position with his rare size and graceful footwork, Ogden paused briefly on his way up the stairs to discuss his impending departure from the NFL.

"I'm all right," Ogden told the Times. "I'm good with it."

Following a spectacular career where he earned 11 consecutive Pro Bowl selections, Ogden, who turns 34 next month, had struggled with a difficult decision ultimately influenced heavily by a painful turf toe injury that has hindered him for nearly two years.

The injury to his left big toe, originally hyperextended in December of 2006 in a victory over the Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium, never fully healed despite over a year of grueling rehabilitation.

Of course, bearing the weight of his 6-foot-9, 345-pound frame didn't help matters.

While Ogden wrestled with his choice, it wasn't a surprising move since he had reiterated several times that he was leaning toward trading his helmet and shoulder pads for long days on the links in Las Vegas.

The Washington native leaves the game with a Super Bowl ring, a sterling reputation for stonewalling pass rushers and as a future lock for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013. That would make him the first Ravens draft pick to be enshrined in Canton, Ohio.

"There is nobody better to go from the huddle to the line of scrimmage with," tight end Todd Heap said. "There is nobody else I would want standing next to me than J.O. He was the smartest guy I've ever been around.

"Many times you go back and watch film and you see one of the best pass rushers in the league get stymied, not even get up the field on him and he made it look so easy. He made it look effortless. It was just amazing to see that against the caliber of athletes he was going against."

Ogden's locker, which features a photograph of his son, Jayden, offered no obvious signs that he was retiring since a pair of gigantic shoulder pads was left hanging.

But Ogden's exit sent reverberations throughout the locker room as his teammates reflected on the uncommonly high standard he established.

"The fundamentals we do, it would just seem to come to him almost as if he was made to play left tackle," center Jason Brown said. "Very few people in this league are like that, where you'd say that person was made for that position. Jonathan Ogden was born for left tackle."

Ogden protected the blind side of 13 different starting quarterbacks, ranging from Scott Mitchell to Jim Harbaugh, Stoney Case, Tony Banks, Trent Dilfer, Elvis Grbac, Randall Cunningham, Jeff Blake, Kyle Boller, Anthony Wright, Steve McNair and Troy Smith.

"It was a blessing," Boller said. "To know I wasn't going to get touched on the left side was huge. I'm going to miss him."

Ogden leaves the game on his own terms while still playing at a high level even though he was limited to a career-low 11 games last season. He withdrew from the Pro Bowl due to soreness in his foot.

"He plays more like a basketball player and that's the key to your game is your feet," Heap said. "You could tell when it was bothering him, but that was the sign of a true pro. He was still at the top of the game even when it was bothering him."

Jared Gaither, a former University of Maryland player similarly-sized at 6-9, 350 pounds, is expected to replace Ogden. The Ravens are also bringing in former Oakland Raiders starter Barry Sims for a visit today.

"It would be an honor to be the guy to replace J.O.," Gaither said. "The man is a football legend. Those are really big shoes to fill, but I feel like I'm ready."

Ravens coach John Harbaugh acknowledged that the former supplemental draft pick has a lot of room left to grow as a player, but said the coaching staff is encouraged by his vast potential. Gaither didn't practice Wednesday due to migraine headaches.

"Jared Gaither has jumped into left tackle," Harbaugh said. "He's young. He's not J.O. by any stretch, but he's had a chance to watch J.O. for a year and he's got some of the same kind of skill set that J.O. has. He's got a long way to go to become a great offensive tackle in this league, but we're really pleased with his progress."

It will take a lot for Gaither to approach Ogden's stratosphere.

Ogden helped pave huge pathways during running back Jamal Lewis' 2,066-yard rushing season, the second-highest single-season total in NFL history. Voted the most intimidating offensive tackle in a 2007 players' poll, Ogden finished three Pro Bowl selections shy of the league record for most consecutive invitations to Hawaii.

The Ravens strongly considered drafting ultra-troubled Nebraska running back Lawrence Phillips in 1996 with the fourth overall pick. Modell initially lobbied for Phillips, but general manager Ozzie Newsome and former executive Phil Savage made a strong case for Ogden.

It turned out to be an extremely wise decision to draft the massive lineman from UCLA.

"He was clean as a whistle," Savage said in an interview years ago. "And he was the better player."

Savage reportedly turned toward Modell during the draft and said, "Mr. Modell, you'll never regret that pick."

Modell didn't, and neither did the Ravens. While Ogden became a standout who never got into trouble, Phillips only lasted a few seasons and was a fixture on the police blotter.

Ogden emerged as a blocker capable of matching wits with defensive ends like Simeon Rice, Dwight Freeney, Michael Strahan and Bruce Smith. Speedy pass rushers like Freeney and Rice gave him the most trouble, but he almost always held his own.

"His composure when he had a speed rusher on him, he'd just sit back and be relaxed," reserve tackle Mike Kracalik said. "He almost had a smile on his face when he did it."

Away from football, Ogden is known for his love of golf, for being a tad tight with a buck and not being flashy.

He favored T-shirts and old sandals and a messy Afro hairstyle. His chief jewelry was his wedding ring. He was often seen carrying Michael Crichton and John Grisham novels on his way to ride the stationary bike.

"J.O. is just a regular guy," former teammate Spencer Folau said. "What you see is what you get."

Although Ogden had a laidback personality off the field, he often flashed a temper on the sidelines. He would throw or kick his helmet in frustration when the offense struggled for several years under former coach Brian Billick.

"There were moments on the sideline where he was getting after the coach about something," Heap said. "That was probably the most memorable because it was out of his character. You knew when it got to that point that it was something he believed strongly in.

"Usually, it was, 'Run the ball.' I didn't always agree with it, but usually he was right. He didn't have any problems telling coaches what he thought."

Ogden wasn't known as a vocal athlete, instead leading by example.

"He could snap sometimes," Boller said. "I kind of wanted not to make too many mistakes and make him unhappy. He didn't say that much, but when he did it really meant a lot." And Ogden wasn't hesitant to offer advice or reproach his younger teammates on the line.

His legacy is based on the example he set through the skills he displayed.

"He brought me along so fast," Brown said. "He wouldn't always tell me what to do, but if I ever did something wrong he would definitely let me know. He'd tell me I need to step my game up. I was like a young pup going out there, saying to myself, 'I just want to make this guy happy.'

"After every single double-block we would have, I'd ask, 'Is that good enough, J.O.?' He'd be like, 'Yeah, that's good, buddy.' Coming from a guy like that, if my career could be half of what his career is, honestly that's the pinnacle of our sport."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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