AFC North: Hall of Fame

Jonathan Ogden's speech at his Hall of Fame induction Saturday night drew some laughs, a few boos at one point but no tears, although the mammoth 6-foot-9 offensive tackle was close a few times.

His 13-minute, 35-second speech was a sentimental journey on how he grew as a person and how he and a new generation of Baltimore football fans grew up together in the NFL. By the time Ogden delivered his final thank you, it was official: A Ravens team that had no history when it drafted Ogden in 1996 officially celebrated their first drafted player to reach the Hall of Fame.

After general manager Ozzie Newsome presented him for induction, Ogden went to the podium and turned to Newsome, saying, "I've often thought about that day back in 1996 when you drafted me instead of Lawrence Phillips. You know what buddy, I think that worked out well for everybody."

In April 1996, the Ravens were three months removed from relocating from Cleveland. Before they even had a logo, the Ravens wisely chose someone who would help emblemize the fledgling franchise, picking Ogden with the No. 4 overall pick instead of the troubled Phillips.

What would end up as a Hall of Fame career began with a humble introduction to the league.

[+] EnlargeJnathan Ogden
AP Photo/David RichardFormer Ravens offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden went to the Pro Bowl for 11 straight years.
"When I came to Baltimore in 1996, we had no team, we had no history," Ogden said. "We didn't even had team colors. We just had a name. I can remember at the draft, I had that black jacket with the white letters that said Baltimore Ravens and the white hat with the black letters that said Baltimore Ravens. And in the back of my mind, I was saying, 'I don't really know where we're going with this right now.' But Ozzie assured me: 'Our goal is to make a winner here.' I told him: 'I want to be a part of that.'"

Ogden was more than just a part of the Ravens. He became the best offensive player in team history, and the most dominant offensive tackle of his era. He went to the Pro Bowl for 11 straight years (every season except his rookie one when he played left guard).

Dressed in his gold Hall of Fame jacket and wearing two Super Bowl rings on his right hand (he was given one for the Ravens' championship last season), Ogden thanked the important coaches who helped his career, from high school to UCLA to the Ravens. He spoke about his father Shirrel, who passed away seven years ago, and called him "the absolute biggest influence on my life, as far as the way I try to be a man and the way I try to raise my son, and the primary reason why I decided to play football." It was at this point, when Ogden successfully fought back tears.

Ogden drew a mixed reaction when he honored former Ravens owner Art Modell. The Hall of Fame ceremony is in Canton, Ohio, which is 60 miles away from Cleveland, where Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore.

"Without a doubt one of the most generous and kindest individuals that I ever met," Ogden said. "I wish he could be here with me today. Someone once said to me, 'if you can't tell the history of the game of football without mentioning this person, then they are without a doubt, a Hall of Famer.' Well, there is no way that you can tell the history of pro football without mentioning Art Modell. So hopefully, one day we can get him here, because what he's meant to the league has been tremendous."

Ogden concluded by drawing a parallel with his career and a football town that had been without a team for 12 years until the Ravens arrived.

"We were all rookies together," Ogden said. "I watched us grow, myself as a player and our fans as an NFL city from infancy to one of, if not the best, football towns in the National Football League. I am so very proud to have been the Baltmore Ravens' draft choice, and I am so humbled to be the Baltimore Ravens' first-ever Hall of Fame inductee."
NEW ORLEANS -- Former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis has his best shot yet at making the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But it still remains uncertain whether he gets voted in Saturday evening.

In his first two years of eligibility, he has been blocked by other running backs -- Marshall Faulk in 2011 and Curtis Martin in 2012. This year, Bettis is the only running back among the 15 modern era finalists.

Three first-year candidates are expected to get voted in: Ravens offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, Cowboys guard Larry Allen and Giants defensive end Michael Strahan. Bill Parcells, who won two Super Bowls as a coach, should make the Hall of Fame as well.

That leaves one spot left for the modern era candidates. Bettis' chief competition is defensive end Charles Haley or one of the wide receivers (Cris Carter, Tim Brown and Andre Reed).

Bettis ranks sixth on the NFL's all-time rushing list, which seems to weigh heavily for voters. The top four (Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders and Martin) are in the Hall of Fame, and LaDainian Tomlinson, who is fifth, retired before the start of the 2012 season.
Here are the latest happenings Wednesday evening in the AFC North:
When Joe Thomas was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 2007, he said his primary goal was to make it to the Hall of Fame.

Thomas won't have to go very far to Canton, Ohio, once his playing days are over. ESPN's Adam Schefter reports Thomas agreed to a seven-year, $84 million extension that could make Thomas a career Brown. He is also the NFL's highest-paid offensive lineman.

[+] EnlargeJoe Thomas
AP Photo/Mark DuncanJoe Thomas has reportedly agreed to an extension for seven years worth $84 million.
In just four years, Thomas developed into one of Cleveland's few elite players. The 26-year-old was recently voted the NFL's best left tackle by Thomas has been to four Pro Bowls in as many seasons and never missed a start.

More importantly, the Browns have their stud left tackle for the foreseeable future. Thomas plays one of the NFL's most difficult positions. Cleveland has had trouble finding a franchise quarterback. Maybe Colt McCoy is the answer. But whoever sits in that seat has a better chance to succeed with Thomas protecting the blind side.

Thomas was rewarded for remaining steady in an unsteady environment. I often joke with Thomas that he's had three head coaches in five seasons. An eternal optimist, Thomas just smiles and says he hopes the newest regime gets it right.

The Mike Holmgren-Tom Heckert-Pat Shurmur regime got this one right by extending Thomas. Cleveland could not afford to let him hit the open market in 2012. There would have been dozens of teams bidding for his services and anything could have happened.

Cleveland needs to retain its own core players. The Browns are trying to gradually build through the draft and didn't make a splash in free agency. But spending $84 million on one in-house transaction clearly displays Cleveland's approach.

Thomas has played at a very high level his entire career. His hope is that the team around him eventually does the same.
CANTON, Ohio -- When was the last time you heard the name Roland Williams?

What about Ernie Conwell or Ricky Proehl?

[+] EnlargeMarshall Faulk
AP Photo/Paul SakumaMarshall Faulk finished his career with more than 19,000 yards from scrimmage and 136 touchdowns.
Even Mike Martz, who is under fire in Chicago, got some love during Marshall Faulk's Hall of Fame speech Saturday night at Fawcette Stadium. Faulk credited many people and former teammates. But the Rams of the late-1990s and early-2000s mostly defined Faulk's career.

Spending most of his career under the tutelage Martz and Dick Vermeil in St. Louis, Faulk (19,154 yards) finished fourth all-time in yards from scrimmage behind Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton.

Martz made Faulk into the secret weapon. Martz found ways to get Faulk the ball in the running game, out of the backfield and also lined up as a receiver. Faulk became the new gold standard for all-purpose backs.

"Before Aaron Rodgers threw the ball [39] times in the Super Bowl against a vaunted Steelers defense, and before his counterpart Ben Roethlisberger threw it [40 times]. ... we had Mike Martz," Faulk explained. "The 'Mad Scientist' is what they called him."

Faulk also thanked former Rams stars like Kurt Warner and Isaac Bruce. They are among the cogs that made the "Greatest Show on Turf" great and well ahead of its time.

Today most offenses will throw 40 times in a game at some point during the season. But none of those teams have another Marshall Faulk.

AFC North locker-room leaders

July, 22, 2011
Leadership is a huge part of pro football. The league has so much talent and parity that the teams with the best leaders truly can gain an edge.

With that in mind, we take a look at the locker-room leadership for each AFC North team and provide a grade.

Baltimore Ravens

Locker-room leader: LB Ray Lewis

Analysis: In their first year of existence, the Ravens were fortunate not only to draft a future Hall of Famer but also to get one of the best leaders and motivators in NFL history. Lewis is synonymous with the Ravens, and his leadership is a major part of his legacy. At 36, Lewis is not the same player he was a decade ago, but he continues to play at a high level to keep the Ravens in contention. Lewis makes the players around him better -- many defensive free agents who left Baltimore over the past 15 years didn't have the same success elsewhere.

Grade: A

Cincinnati Bengals


Locker-room leader: LT Andrew Whitworth

Analysis: Whitworth is one of the league's underrated players and also an underrated leader. He took over the leadership void left behind by former longtime offensive tackle and mentor Willie Anderson. Franchise quarterback Carson Palmer never had that "take charge" attitude, which was one of the biggest criticisms of him in Cincinnati. The Bengals are hoping Andy Dalton can be different in that way. Overall, Cincinnati doesn't have enough leaders, and that's one reason this team struggles to win consistently. Whitworth wears that hat well, but there's only so much one person can do.

Grade: B-

Cleveland Browns


Locker-room leader: QB Colt McCoy

Analysis: McCoy deserves credit for displaying natural leadership right away as a rookie for the struggling Browns. Once McCoy became the starter, he claimed the Browns as his team. McCoy also played the biggest role in organizing players-only workouts. But eventually, it's going to come down to what McCoy does on the field. He had mixed results as a rookie, throwing for 1,576 yards, six touchdowns and nine interceptions. He's just 2-6 as a starter, and wins and losses will eventually determine whether Cleveland's locker room continues to follow a young, inexperienced quarterback.

Grade: C+

Pittsburgh Steelers

Locker-room leader: Various veterans

Analysis: Pittsburgh has a unique locker-room culture because there isn't a clear-cut leader. If you surveyed the team, some players would say linebacker James Farrior, others would say Hines Ward or Ryan Clark or Troy Polamalu. As a group, Pittsburgh's veterans usually do a good job of keeping younger players productive and in check. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin doesn't have many major issues with his team during the season, because it's usually squashed in the locker room before it reaches the coach's desk. Recent off-the-field distractions this summer caused by Hines Ward and James Harrison prevent Pittsburgh from getting a better grade.

Grade: B+
Former Baltimore Colts tight end and Hall of Famer John Mackey died Wednesday at the age of 69. Here are statements on Mackey from Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and general manager and fellow Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome:


"We are tremendously saddened to hear about the passing of John Mackey, and our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Sylvia and the entire Mackey family. I was fortunate to get to know John and Sylvia personally, and I was struck by her love and loyalty throughout the difficult times of his illness. John set the standard by which tight ends are measured on the field, and he will be sorely missed not only by his family, but also by the entire Baltimore community."


"I am mourning the loss of John Mackey, and my deepest condolences go out to his wife Sylvia and the Mackey family. John revolutionized the tight end position during his Hall of Fame career, and he laid the foundation on and off the field for modern NFL players."
Ben RoethlisbergerMatthew Stockman/Getty ImagesA third Super Bowl title would ensure Ben Roethlisberger's place in Canton.
In February we explained that three Super Bowls victories for starting quarterbacks leads to automatic enshrinement into the Hall of Fame.

The only quarterbacks in that class are Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw, Troy Aikman and Tom Brady. Three are in Canton and one -- Brady -- will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer five years after he retires.

Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers nearly joined that elite group but came up one scoring drive short in Super Bowl XLV, losing 31-25 to the Green Bay Packers. Now he's stuck at two rings.

So what does this mean for Roethlisberger's Hall of Fame chances? It means he still has some winning to do.

And "winning" is the key word for Roethlisberger, because that will be the biggest part of his NFL legacy. Despite playing quarterback, Roethlisberger will never be a numbers guy. He plays for a defensive-oriented team in Pittsburgh, which wants to be efficient on offense. Roethlisberger has thrown for 4,000 yards just once in seven seasons.

Roethlisberger's career numbers will not match other top quarterbacks of his era such as Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. Those three have thrown anywhere from 13,000 to 32,000 yards more than Roethlisberger, and it will be impossible for Roethlisberger to catch up.

Roethlisberger will have to take the Bradshaw and Aikman route to Canton. Neither had eye-popping numbers, but they were winners and extremely effective in big games.

Roethlisberger's 10-3 record in the postseason speaks volumes. His .769 winning percentage in the playoffs surpasses both Brady (.737) and Manning (.473). Roethlisberger also compares favorably with Hall of Fame inductees of the past 10 years in key areas such as passer rating (92.5), completion percentage (63.1) and yards per attempt (8.0).

Some thoughts on this chart:

  • Because of his unconventional, backyard style, Roethlisberger does not get nearly enough credit for his accuracy. But Roethlisberger is very efficient and currently has a better completion percentage than five of the six Hall of Famers we listed.
  • Roethlisberger also faces the stigma of being perceived as a "game manager," particularly early in his career. But his yards per attempt debunk that myth. Roethlisberger isn't afraid to take chances and throws one of the best deep balls in the NFL. His 8.0 yards per attempt is higher than Hall of Famers Dan Marino (7.3) and Warren Moon (7.2), for example, and both were renown gunslingers. Roethlisberger also averaged 8.2 yards per attempt or more in five of his seven seasons.
  • Longevity is key. Each Hall of Fame quarterback listed played at least 11 seasons in the NFL, and several played 16 or more seasons. Roethlisberger, who has seven years of experience, still has a long way to go.
  • Compared with current elite quarterbacks, Roethlisberger has a higher career passer rating (92.5) than Brees (91.7) but not Brady (95.2) or Manning (94.9).

Roethlisberger, 29, is in the prime of his career. Barring injury, there is nothing to suggest he cannot play at a high level for the next 3-5 years.

But these next several seasons will be crucial for Roethlisberger. If he retired today, Roethlisberger probably wouldn't get into the Hall of Fame, because he doesn't have the gaudy numbers or the longevity.

But with each deep run through the postseason, Roethlisberger gets one step closer to football immortality. If Roethlisberger is able to add a third championship along the way, his legend would be bronzed in Canton.
This week ESPN's Sal Paolantonio interviewed Baltimore Ravens linebacker and future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis, who says he hasn't lost a step and has one more Super Bowl run left in him.

Lewis also believes the Ravens were extremely close to winning their second title the past few seasons. Baltimore had a pair of close playoff losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers following the 2008 and 2010 seasons. The Steelers went on to advance to the Super Bowl both times.

"Minutes away," Lewis said. "We've been in the playoffs the last three years. We've been to the AFC Championship and lost it. Minutes. Turnover here, turnover there."

Last season Baltimore blew a 21-7 halftime lead in Pittsburgh, which still stings the Ravens. Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh recently said the Ravens should have held on to win that game, as well. If so, Baltimore would have hosted the New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game with a chance to play in Super Bowl XLV.

Lewis also had a different take on the NFL lockout, which has reached its 68th day and counting.

"Do this research if we don't have a season," Lewis told Paolantonio. "Watch how much evil -- which we call it crime -- watch how much crime picks up if you take away our game."

Here are the most interesting stories Wednesday in the AFC North: Morning take: This would be a bad match. McNabb still believes he's starter material and that could create unnecessary tension in Baltimore. The Ravens need a veteran but not one pushing to take Flacco's job.
Morning take: The Bengals are planning to move Rey Maualuga to middle linebacker, making Jones the likely odd man out. Jones is a solid leader but struggled last season at an important position.
Morning take: I'm going out on a limb to say that poll was just a little biased. But that's OK. These all came down to personal preference, and the brown/orange helmets just aren't my style.
Morning take: This is a great idea by Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Many teams have started its own Hall of Fame or Ring of Honor, and it makes sense for the Steelers to do the same.
Here are the latest happenings Tuesday evening in the AFC North:

Grading the Ravens' 2008 draft

May, 13, 2011
Here is the final installment of our series grading the 2008 drafts in the AFC North. It's often said it takes three years to evaluate a draft, so we took an in-depth look this week at each team's picks at that time.

We conclude with the 2008 draft class of the Baltimore Ravens.

Picks: QB Joe Flacco (first round), RB Ray Rice (second), LB Tavares Gooden (third), Tom Zbikowski (third), Oniel Cousins (third), WR Marcus Smith (fourth), G David Hale (fourth), Haruki Nakamura (sixth), WR Justin Harper (seventh), RB Allen Patrick (seventh)

Analysis: Without a doubt, this turned out to be the best draft of 2008 in the division. The Ravens found their franchise quarterback and starting running back in the first two rounds with Flacco and Rice. Both players are now the young centerpieces Baltimore is building its offense around. Rice, who recorded back-to-back 1,200-yard seasons, has already been to one Pro Bowl. Baltimore also picked up Zbikowski in the third round. He's a part-time starter at safety and may be a full-time option this upcoming season. Later picks such as Cousins and Nakamura have found their way on the field and contributed the past three seasons. The only disappointment from this draft is Gooden. The former third-rounder has been plagued by injuries and never developed into a reliable starting linebacker next to future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis. Other than that, this was a stellar draft by general manager Ozzie Newsome and Co. from top to bottom.

AFC North blog draft grade: A-

In case you missed it, here are the 2008 draft grades for the Browns, Bengals and Steelers.
What key event significantly changed the fortunes of the Bengals -- for better or worse? Give us your take and we’ll give you our definitive moment May 18.

Despite their struggles the past two decades, the Cincinnati Bengals also have a collection of good moments in their history. Using our SportsNation poll, we ask Bengals fans to sift through the good and bad to select the most defining moment in franchise history.

Was it in 1968, when Hall of Fame coach Paul Brown started the franchise? Brown was a great football mind who brought his knowledge and successful track record to Cincinnati.

Twelve years later, the Bengals made their best draft pick by selecting left tackle Anthony Munoz, another Hall of Famer. Munoz protected quarterbacks Ken Anderson and Boomer Esiason and helped lead Cincinnati to two Super Bowl appearances.

Speaking of Super Bowls, was the last-minute loss to the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XXIII Cincinnati's defining moment? The Bengals nearly won it all for the first time before 49ers quarterback Joe Montana worked his magic. Cincinnati hasn't come close to winning a Super Bowl since.

Or was Mike Brown taking over as owner the team's biggest defining moment? Brown has been criticized heavily in Cincinnati, which hasn't won a playoff game in 20 years under his leadership.

Let us know the Bengals' most defining moment. If you vote Other, give us your suggestion in the comments area below.
What key event significantly changed the fortunes of the Ravens -- for better or worse? Give us your take and we'll give you our definitive moment May 18.

The Baltimore Ravens have only been in existence since 1996. But already this franchise has had several memorable moments. We're using our SportsNation poll to ask Ravens fans to vote for their team's most defining moment.

The Ravens created a solid foundation in 1996 when they used first-round draft picks on future Hall of Famers Jonathan Ogden at left tackle and Ray Lewis at middle linebacker. Was this starting point Baltimore's most important moment? Or was it four years later in Super Bowl XXXV following the 2000 season, when Lewis won MVP honors and led the Ravens to their first and only championship?

Brian Billick was hired as head coach in 1999, took the Ravens to the next level, and remains the only Baltimore head coach to win a championship. The Ravens also had another significant draft pick in 2002: safety Ed Reed, a future Hall of Famer who has greatly influenced the way the Ravens have played defense for nearly a decade.

Cast your vote on Baltimore's defining moment. If you vote Other, give us your suggestion in the comments area below.