To the uninitiated in the UK, the name Ogden probably conjures visions of ornamental ducks on a gaudy, tropical wallpaper-covered wall. For Brits of a certain age, Mr Ogden will always be Stan, the husband of curler-wearing, fag-smoking, apron-clad, moaning Hilda Ogden. Together they were part of the fabric of British TV for many years as characters on the soap opera Coronation Street.
However, for any Baltimore Ravens fan – indeed for many NFL fans – the name Ogden means something different. Mention Ogden in these circles and and they will think of a giant of a man wearing 75 in Ravens purple: Jonathan Ogden.
When you meet him, Jonathan Ogden is a very softly spoken man who shakes your hand without breaking every bone within it, though he easily could. I have had the absolute pleasure and, I must say, honour, to meet him twice, albeit way too briefly each time. When I say ‘meet’, the first time was simply a high five as he strode past me but the second time lasted for a couple of minutes, before the Ravens’ 2017 demolition of the Detroit Lions at M&T Bank Stadium.
At 6’1” and, not inconsiderable in width, few people dwarf me. Certainly, I seldom meet anyone whose sheer size and presence makes me feel like a child. However, at 6’9″ and with hands that could cover my entire head, Jonathan Ogden made me feel like an 8-year-old meeting his hero.
For the remainder of this piece I was simply going to refer to Jonathan Ogden as “Ogden” but it just doesn’t feel right. This is man spent his entire NFL career as a Raven, was part of the Super Bowl glory of 2000 and is as much a hero to Ravens fans as the legendary Ray Lewis. It’s disrespectful to call him ‘Ogden’. No, I just won’t do it!
Jonathan (as I like to call him) was the number one draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens in 1996. When I say number one, I mean the first ever pick for the brand new franchise. Ozzie Newsome was then Director of Football Operations and later promoted to his current role of GM, and I’m sure the organisation will never stop thanking him for standing his ground when the owner made it clear that he did not want to pick Ogden.
Who knows, maybe the late Art Modell, who owned the team back then, was a keen watcher of British soaps and had a very different vision of what an Ogden looked like? OK, perhaps not, but for whatever reason, Mr Modell was set on seeing Nebraska running back Lawrence Phillips take the honour of being the Baltimore Ravens first ever draft pick.
I can’t help but wonder what would have happened to Jonathan Ogden, Lawrence Phillips and Mr Newsome had Mr Modell got his wish.
Jonathan went on to play for the Ravens from 1996 to 2008, with one Super Bowl win. He was an 11-time Pro Bowler at left tackle, nine-time All Pro and was selected as part of the NFL team of the 2000’s, which named the best of those who played in the NFL between 2000 and 2009. In 2013, Jonathan Ogden got his well-deserved golden jacket and was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.
Jonathan played his college football at UCLA, where they have since retired his number 79 jersey. Such was this man’s greatness both on and off the field, noone could ever do the number justice again. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2012.Embed from Getty Images
All in all, an incredible football career, but whatever happened to Lawrence Phillips? That story sadly shows how easily a man can throw away a promising career, while another man can be blessed with the skill and commitment to make himself a legend amongst fans and fellow players alike.
Lawrence Phillips spent just three years (96-99) in the NFL, with three different teams – the Rams, Dolphins and 49ers. He spent two years in the CFL (Canadian Football League) before falling foul of the law. Lawrence Phillips took his own life in 2016, while serving a 32-year prison sentence. He was 40 years old. His whole career was blighted by off-field trouble and he never realised his potential.
Could the Ravens have saved him? What would have become of Ozzie Newsome had he bowed to the pressure of Art Modell and picked Phillips? Where would have Jonathan Ogden ended up and would he still have had the career he did? We shall never know, of course, and the history of any sport is littered with what if’s and maybe’s, but boy this was a close one!
I remain grateful that a player as brilliant as Jonathan Ogden played his entire career as a Raven, and grateful I got to see what a gentleman he is off the field. I’m not sure a meeting on the field would have been quite as pleasant. For a number of his active playing careers he was actually the biggest player in the NFL. No small feat, if you’ll pardon the pun.
When I read the names displayed around the Ravens stadium of the Ring Of Honour, it reminds me of the wonderful talent we have been blessed with since 1996: Ray Lewis, Matt Stover, Jamal Lewis and Ed Reed to name but a few. But for me, Jonathan Ogden shouts out as the hero of them all, and he was our first. And, well, your first is always special, right?
Top photo: Erik Drost