Jonathan Ogden is officially calling it quits.
The man known simply as J.O. will hold a press conference tomorrow to announce his retirement from the National Football League marking the end of arguably the greatest career any Raven has enjoyed in the short history of the franchise. J.O. is all the dominance of Ray Lewis without any of the controversy or other stuff that may rub some people the wrong way.
Quite possibly the best left tackle, if not offensive lineman, ever to grace the gridiron, Ogden made the Pro Bowl in 11 of his 12 seasons, and every single season since being moved to tackle after his rookie year. He is a 9-time All-Pro and as recently as 1 year ago was voted by NFL players as the most intimidating lineman in the league. The 6’9″ Ogden is truly, as Brian Billick once put it, “a true freak of nature.”
Ogden had the ability to completely shut down the best defensive ends and blitzing linebackers in the league, from Bruce Smith and Simeon Rice in his earlier days, to Jevon Kearse and Shawne Merriman in recent years. In fact, the only guy that ever REALLY gave J.O. anything resembling fits was Dwight Freeney. For whatever reason, J.O. couldn’t figure out how to stop those spins the first couple times they went head-to-head. In their final meeting though, in the January 2007 playoff game in Baltimore, Ogden got his revenge, preventing the whirling dervish from registering so much as a single tackle.For 11 years, the Ravens never had to think twice about the protection scheme on the left side. It was simple – J.O. has it under control. His departure means that Ravens quarterbacks will no longer have the peace of mind that came with having J.O. protecting their blind side. It means that the team can no longer just tuck the running back up between J.O.’s big ol’ crack and get those few tough yards for the first down or score. And it means the learning curve for Jared Gaither, another 6’9″ left tackle who many (unfairly) are calling the next Ogden, just got a whole lot steeper.
Ogden’s size and dominance belied an off the field personality that was a far cry from the bully we saw on Sundays. A soft-spoken, friendly, outgoing, charitable family man, J.O. seems like the kind of guy you would love to hang out with, except for being scared to death that he would step on you the whole time. Seeing J.O. shake his booty on those Gebco commercials or clown around on his “Ravens Wired” segments was a joy for Ravens fans, who saw what seemed to be a little boy trapped inside the body of a monster of a man.
J.O. did from time to time show us a bit of a temper on the field, but it usually just mirrored the way we as fans felt watching the game. He would get as upset with the Ravens anemic offensive and asinine play-calling of Brian Billick as any of us purple faithful, if not more so. Ogden on more than a couple occasions could be seen throwing his helmet, kicking it, or glaring at Billick in disgust after another 3-and-out or 3rd-and-15 hitch pass. It was obvious he wanted the team to win as badly as we did, and that only added to his appeal. It’s a shame the team was only able to get him one Super Bowl ring, but at least he got it, and J.O. was as important to that championship team as any offensive lineman has ever been.
Some may criticize Ogden for “leaving the team hanging,” as he waited until now to announce his retirement, even after hinting at the end of last season that he was done. This isn’t fair. J.O.’s toe injury, suffered near the tail end of the 2006 season, is the kind of nagging thing that he was simply hoping would be gone one day when he woke up. If it was, and he could have competed at his standard, head-and-shoulders-above-the-rest level, I have little doubt he would be suiting up in 2008. Unfortunately, that never happened. The team knew that magical-healing scenario was unlikely, and conducted their offseason business as if #75 would not be returning, all the while hoping against hope that he, in fact, would be.
The first player ever drafted by the Baltimore Ravens has retired – thanks for the memories, J.O. Mark your calendars now – J.O. WILL be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013.