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The Blind Side
MICHAEL LEWIS
September 25, 2006
The left tackle evolved, through natural selection and intelligent design, into a prized specimen who lived to ensure the survival of his quarterback against a predator he couldn't see
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September 25, 2006

The Blind Side

The left tackle evolved, through natural selection and intelligent design, into a prized specimen who lived to ensure the survival of his quarterback against a predator he couldn't see

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Case in point: Jonathan Ogden. At the dawn of free agency Ogden, the son of a Washington, D.C., investment banker, had just graduated from the St. Albans School. He was 6'9" and weighed nearly 350 pounds. When he arrived at UCLA, to play football and put the shot, Ogden's nickname was Fat Albert. He liked football, but he loved the shot put-and had a legitimate chance to make the U.S. Olympic team. At St. Albans he had played right tackle and enjoyed it, because teams typically ran the football behind the right tackle, and run blocking was fun. At UCLA his new coach told him he was moving to left tackle and becoming, chiefly, a pass blocker. Ogden bridled. "I called my father," he said, "and I told him, 'They're trying to make me play left tackle!' My dad told me just to do it-because if I was going to play football, left tackle was the position to play." For a few years after the birth of free agency it helped a young man suited to play left tackle to have an investment banker for a father. After that the finances became so obvious that no one needed an investment banker to interpret them.

Ogden's freshman year at UCLA wasn't especially encouraging. His high school team had about 10 plays; his college team ran, more or less, a pro offense. Pass blocking, which struck him as an almost passive activity, was a lot less interesting to him than run blocking. But by his sophomore year he had figured out where he was meant to go and what he was meant to do, and it came naturally to him. After that season, three of the defenders he'd faced were taken in the first round of the 1994 NFL draft. Ogden had gone head-to-head with three extremely good blind-side pass rushers- Willie McGinest, Shante Carver, Trev Alberts-and hadn't allowed a single sack. "It was then I thought," Ogden said, "if they can be first-round picks, why can't I be a first-round pick?"

Good question! Nobody called him Fat Albert anymore. Ogden had slimmed from 350 to 310 pounds and then built himself back up in the UCLA weight room to 345 pounds. Muscle had replaced fat. He was faster and quicker and stronger and altogether terrifying. Six feet nine inches and 345 very mobile pounds. "I had some weeks in college where I could have had a cup of coffee in one hand and blocked the guy with the other," said Ogden. "Seriously." There were games when the pass rushers just gave up, and he'd look around and say, "They're not rushing!" His junior year was when he first heard himself described with a term he'd hear ad nauseam for the rest of his football career: freak of nature. The Baltimore Ravens selected him with the fourth pick of the 1996 draft-and handed him the largest signing bonus of his rookie class: $6.8 million.

As a boy Ogden had been terribly shy. When he'd been required to compete in a spelling bee, he had turned his back on the audience because he couldn't face them and spell at the same time. A few years into his sensational NFL career you couldn't find a soul who would describe Jonathan Ogden as shy. He was bright and chatty and funny-and about as sure of himself and his abilities as a human being can be. And why shouldn't he be? He did what he did alone, and he did it as well as anyone ever had done it. His quarterbacks never got sacked. When they went back to pass, they knew that what was behind them didn't matter. Opposing players weren't pleased to see him. "It can be intimidating if you allow it to be," legendary pass rusher Bruce Smith told The Washington Post when a reporter asked him what it was like to go head-to-head with Ogden. "I know when I walk up to the line of scrimmage and I have to look up, I only think to myself, What in the world did his parents feed him?"

Before the 2000 season the Ravens re-signed Ogden to a six-year deal worth $44 million. That was what one prominent agent referred to as "one of the great what-the-f-- moments in the history of pro football negotiations." At that moment Ogden was being paid more money than any quarterback in the NFL-and eight times more than Trent Dilfer, the quarterback he'd be protecting.

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