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Holding the line

Ogden finally gets spotlight on Super Bowl stage

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Posted: Friday January 19, 2001 11:51 PM

  Jonathan Ogden Jonathan Ogden has been selected to the Pro Bowl four times in his five seasons in the NFL. Andy Lyons/Allsport

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) -- There is no easy route to the quarterback past Jonathan Ogden, the Baltimore Ravens' perennial Pro Bowl left tackle.

At 6-foot-8, 340 pounds, Ogden is a lumbering fortress for the Ravens. He's the highest paid offensive lineman in the game and certainly one of the best.

He does have one major weakness, although it probably won't do the New York Giants any good in next Sunday's Super Bowl.

"Chocolate chip cookies with 2 percent milk," Baltimore defensive end Rob Burnett said. "He's powerless to resist."

Ogden was the first player selected by the Ravens in their initial NFL draft, in 1996, and he quickly became a cornerstone of the offense. In February, he will play in his fourth Pro Bowl, a testament to his talent at a position that many consider to be the most important on an offensive line.

While it would seem unlikely that a man of Ogden's size could be overlooked, he performed in relative anonymity during his first four years in the league. Such is the fate of an offensive lineman, although that might change when he steps onto football's biggest stage in Tampa.

"I think this will take Jonathan to another level," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "When you're as high a draft choice as Jonathan was, when you've performed at the level Jonathan has and been to as many Pro Bowls, certainly within the industry there's a degree of respect.

"But because of the lack of a forum on the national stage and the lack of winning here previously, I'm not sure if nationally people are quite as aware of Jonathan."

Notoriety means little to Ogden, a quiet fellow whose soft voice belies his behemoth presence. He appreciates all the Pro Bowl nominations, but the only bowl he's ever cared about is the Super Bowl. Now, after enduring four years of losing, he's finally preparing to play in the game of his life.

"You want to win. After a while, the money is not the reason you play the game," Ogden said. "The individual glory of going to the Pro Bowl is nice, but this is a team game, and it's about winning."

During a stretch this season when the Ravens went five straight games without a touchdown, Ogden found it difficult to suppress his emotion. Once, after a fourth-down pass from 1-yard line failed, he stomped off the field and threw his helmet to the ground in disgust.

"That's just the way I am. I try to control it, but I'm out there working so hard, mano a mano. It's hard to just turn it off when the play is over," he said.

That's OK with Billick, who isn't exactly a picture of calm and serenity on the sideline, either.

"I would be more concerned if Jonathan didn't have that display of emotion. Heck, I get frustrated too," Billick said. "If I had a helmet, I'd take it off and slam it down."

It's all about winning, and until this season the Ravens didn't do much of it. This is the first time in the five-year history of the franchise that Baltimore has enjoyed a winning season, and if the Ravens didn't make a move in that direction last year, Ogden probably wouldn't have signed a six-year, $44 million extension in August.

"Jonathan wants to win. That was probably his biggest frustration here in the past," Billick said. "For us to go be going to the Super Bowl, this is nice vindication for him."

Growing up in Washington, D.C., Ogden was like most kids in that he wanted to play a position where he could get his hands on the ball. A few growth spurts later, he laid that dream to rest.

"I wanted to be running back or safety, but it wasn't long until I realized that I was too big and that I was destined to play on the line," he said. "But I'm happy with the job I have. It's important, it's fun."

Ogden excelled at UCLA, where he was a four-year starter and the 1995 Outland Trophy winner, awarded annually to the nation's premier lineman. Upon his departure, he became only the eighth player in school history to have his number retired.

The Ravens considered briefly taking running back Lawrence Phillips with the fourth pick in the 1996 NFL draft but instead tabbed Ogden, which turned out to be a very wise move.

Ogden made an immediate impact, even though he started his career at guard. He returned to his natural position at tackle in 1997, and although he's turned into a star, he's still working to better himself.

"He has a great love for the game," Ravens defensive tackle Larry Webster said. "Even with the skill he possesses, I've never seen him slack off in practice, even for one play."

With that kind of work ethic, no wonder Ogden is so good. The Ravens know it, and perhaps the rest of the country will find out on Super Bowl Sunday.

"I've seen them all, and right now he may be the best there is," Ravens owner Art Modell said. "Hopefully, he'll go down in history as the best to ever play the game."


 
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