In the words of Tony “Scarface” Montana, make way for the bad guy. That’s me – I’m the bad guy. I’m the guy who’s going to commit heresy. I’m the guy who’s going to sign his name to a blog bashing a future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. I’m the guy who’s going to rain on Jon Ogden’s parade. Yes, I’m the bad guy.
Ogden’s imminent retirement announcement will undoubtedly lead to an onslaught of teary-eyed tributes, with every media jock-sniffer in town falling over each other to heap the most superlatives on the mass of humanity we call J.O. Well I’m not buying it.
While Ogden certainly holds a special place in Ravens history – after all, he was the team’s first-ever draft pick and held down the fort at one of the most important positions on the field for the better part of 11 seasons – I have a couple of problems with the man.
First, I thought his hand-waving, helmet-throwing tirades after stalled drives or turnovers were childish and detrimental to the team. Many wrote off those tantrums as Ogden simply exhibiting his competitive spirit, and most fans probably gave him a pass for that behavior because he appeared to be criticizing the play-calling or the performance of the team’s quarterback (two aspects of the game that fell under the control of the much-maligned Brian Billick) and they shared his frustration. (Don’t worry about the fact that he did the same thing when Ted Marchibroda was here, so Ogden doesn’t appear to discriminate with his insubordination.)
But ask yourself: was his spoiled child act good for the team? Did it inspire the players around him? Is it the type of behavior you’d tolerate from your kid at a pee-wee game?
For all of Ray Lewis’s misguided words and actions over the years, I’ve always felt confident that you could take any young person to a Ravens game and just tell them to watch Number 52. In my opinion, they would see a guy who gives it his all on every play and wants the best for his team. What would a young athlete learn from Jon Ogden? How to act like a 7-foot tall, 400-pound spoiled brat?
As far as Ogden’s on-field performance, I’ll admit that he probably suffers a little from being so dominant. In other words, it’s easy to write off his value to the team because, like all offensive linemen, the less you notice him, the better he’s playing. That said, I do find it puzzling that the Ravens had a Hall of Fame left tackle and a power back in Jamal Lewis, but always seemed to struggle with short yardage or goal-line situations. You’d think they could run behind a behemoth like Ogden and pick up a couple of yards without even trying.
And what about leadership? I know that’s not technically part of his job description, but as the longest tenured player on the offense, did you ever feel like Ogden was a leader? It’s been documented that one of the first things that Trent Dilfer did when he took over the huddle in 2000 was to tell Ogden to shut his pie hole. That should tell us something about Ogden’s influence on the team – his negativity seemed to further bring down a struggling offense, except when the Ravens were able to squash out his bad attitude with strong-willed quarterbacks like Dilfer and Steve McNair.
My other gripe with Ogden is this whole retirement charade, but my frustration with that matter lies with the Ravens organization as much as with Ogden. I thought this was a new age for the Ravens. No more different rules for different guys. No more sleeping at home during training camp. No more locker room cliques. Yet, in John Harbaugh’s first five months as head coach, one of the team’s most recognizable players is AWOL and nobody seems to care. No fines. No ultimatums. No “He’s dead to me” Parcells-esque quotes from the coach or front office.
Sure, the team’s brass probably knew his intentions all along, but that’s precisely my point – after acknowledging that the Billick way of doing things was no longer acceptable, they knowingly let a star player operate under a different set of rules. I mean, sit back and think about this for a second. Mandatory off-season camps and you’re telling the press you don’t know if your long-time left tackle intends on playing this year or not? I ask you, what other athlete in the history of Baltimore sports would get away with this? Miguel Tejada – the Orioles best player at the time – got crucified for missing Orioles FanFest a few years ago while he was helping the Dominican Republic win the Caribbean World Series; Ogden, meanwhile, is sitting at home watching General Hospital while the Ravens are in “mandatory” camps and nobody gives a hoot.
Don’t look now, but the Ravens are looking an awful lot like the Orioles of a few years ago, when celebrating milestones (Cal Ripken’s streak and retirement, Eddie Murray’s 500th homer, Rafael Palmeiro’s 3,000th hit, etc.) dictated personnel moves and seemed to take precedence over winning. Can you imagine the New England Patriots staging a send-off like the one McNair received a few months ago? For God’s sake, the guy only played 23 games for the Ravens, and butchered his only playoff game with the club.
So excuse me if I don’t shed any tears when old No. 75 officially hangs up the cleats today. After six seasons without a playoff win, I’m more interested in identifying a franchise quarterback and figuring out how to beat the Colts and Pats than wallowing in another sappy send-off.