NEW ORLEANS ——As the 1996 draft neared, most coverage of the Ravens focused on Phillips, who had mixed on-field brilliance and brushes with legal trouble at the University of Nebraska. The Ravens needed a star on offense, and Modell was convinced, after dining with Phillips, that the young running back would respond to mentoring from veteran teammates. Ogden was an afterthought, both because the Ravens already had two experienced offensive tackles and because the Arizona Cardinals were expected to take him at No. 3.
The Cardinals, however, selected defensive end Simeon Rice. That left Newsome with a dilemma: Ogden was the highest-graded player remaining on his board, but Modell still wanted Phillips.
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This set an important precedent for Newsome, who would forge a reputation as one of the best and most disciplined drafters in the league.
"I love the philosophy he's brought which is that you take the best player available," Ogden said. "You might need a quarterback or a corner, but you take the best guy. And that's really helped build the solid foundation of a team. I know a lot of other teams started trying to follow his philosophy."
It worked out spectacularly in 1996. Phillips managed just three undistinguished seasons with three teams and has been in prison since 2008 for a variety of assault charges. Ogden was not only a good citizen, he became the signature left tackle of his generation.
"When you watched him on tape, he dominated," Newsome said. "There were some questions of 'Is he intense enough?' But really, he dominated so much in college that he made it look easy."
Ogden later told author Michael Lewis that blocking college opponents was so simple, he could have done it with one hand while holding a cup of tea unspilled in the other.
He didn't say things like that to be cocky. In fact, Ogden always served as a mellow, understated counterpoint to Lewis' fiery leadership. He preferred baggy jeans to pin-striped suits and stacks of novels to Rolex watches. But he knew how good he was and wasn't afraid to say so.
"I've always been confident," he said. "I'm not going to say I always believed I was the best. But I always believed that when I did my best, no one was going to touch me. So it was always about me. It wasn't about the other guy."
Standing 6-foot-9 and looking almost svelte at 345 pounds, Ogden paired rare size with equally rare agility and balance. Newsome says the UCLA product remains the greatest offensive lineman he has scouted.
"I think he became the standard," he said. "There were other great players at that position who came before him, Anthony Munoz and Tony Boselli. But I'll put it this way: There's a cul de sac where the greatest players all live. And Jonathan is on that cul de sac."
The case for Modell
Modell died in September at age 87, and his passing spurred a reconsideration of his candidacy, which had floundered since the last time he was a finalist in 2001. Though he was one of the NFL's longest-tenured owners and a leader in pushing the league to television riches, Modell remains a controversial candidate because he moved the Browns to Baltimore. He has advocates among the voters, but others have said they remain skeptical of Modell's legacy, given how deeply he wounded one of the league's most loyal fan bases.
Newsome happily laid out the case for his former boss. "When you look at the body of work that Art did, then why shouldn't he be in?" he said. "If this game is as good as it is today — and we all think we have a very good game — then Art was an architect of the game. He helped build the game for what it is. That's why I think he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame."
Lewis, who describes Modell as a father figure, put a positive spin on the franchise move, noting that it invigorated Baltimore.
"Just the things that man did, not just for me, but for many thousands of players and organizations and the city of Baltimore … he had a vision and he followed the vision," Lewis said. "There is no Baltimore Ravens without Art Modell."
Others say the same about Newsome, who reached the Hall of Fame as a player and pulled a rare trick by making himself into just as good an executive. The Ravens general manager prefers to keep his act behind the curtain most of the time, granting few interviews and avoiding the locker room. But colleagues such as Cass and Ravens coach John Harbaugh insist that no one deserves more credit for the team's second trip to the Super Bowl.
"Ozzie is the foundation of the Ravens," Harbaugh said. "He drafted Ray. He drafted Jonathan Ogden. He's drafted every player. He's made every free agent signing that's come through here. There is no us without Ozzie.
If you want a sense of what makes Newsome so good, consider that he remembers the 1996 draft as much for an errant trade as for the remarkable successes with Ogden and Lewis. "We traded up into the second round, and we made the trade before the player we wanted fell to the right spot," he said. "The successes were good, but the failures, you have to pay attention to your mistakes and learn from them."
So he remains a perfectionist. And as such, he recognizes that this weekend could not have shaped up more perfectly for the Ravens.
"It's been my dream weekend," Newsome said. "It's a celebration of the beginning, but it's also a testament to the fact that we sustained it. We got off to a good start, and we've been able to sustain it by always tweaking our process."