AFC North: Jonathan Ogden

Offensive tackle Michael Oher signed a four-year, $20 million deal with the Tennessee Titans last week, becoming one of a handful of Baltimore Ravens' first-round picks not to remain with the team beyond their rookie deal.

Oher, the 23rd overall pick of the 2009 draft, will be known as a durable yet not dominant offensive tackle during his five seasons with the Ravens.

Let's take a look at where Oher ranks among the Ravens' first-round picks:

1. Ray Lewis, linebacker (1996): He will be remembered as one of the greatest players in NFL history. Few can match Lewis' resume: Two NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards, two Super Bowl rings, 13 Pro Bowls and one Super Bowl MVP award.

[+] EnlargeOher
AP Photos/David DrapkinMichael Oher has been a durable, if not outstanding, tackle for the Ravens.
2. Jonathan Ogden, offensive tackle (1996): How revered is Ogden? He became the first pure offensive tackle to be voted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility since Jackie Slater in 2001. Ogden went to the Pro Bowl in each of his final 11 seasons in the NFL.

3. Ed Reed, safety (2002): He was the 2004 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, the first safety in 20 years to win the award. Reed led the league in interceptions for three seasons, and he holds the NFL record for most career interception return yards (1,541) and longest interception return (108 yards).

4. Jamal Lewis, running back (2000): In 2003, Lewis was named the NFL Offensive Player of the Year for rushing for 2,066 yards, falling just 39 yards short of the NFL's all-time single season rushing record. He carried the Ravens' offense in the 2000 Super Bowl run and still ranks as the franchise's all-time leading rusher.

5. Terrell Suggs, linebacker (2003): He became the third Ravens player to win NFL Defensive Player of the Year, earning the award in 2011 by leading the AFC with 14 sacks and topping the NFL with seven forced fumbles. Suggs has recorded 94.5 career sacks, which is 24.5 more than any other Ravens player.

6. Haloti Ngata, defensive tackle (2006): A five-time Pro Bowl player, Ngata was considered the NFL's best interior defensive lineman a few years ago.

7. Chris McAlister, cornerback (1999): The Ravens' first shutdown cornerback, McAlister forced quarterbacks to throw away from him for years before a knee injury and off-the-field issues caught up to him.

8. Joe Flacco, quarterback (2008): He led the Ravens to a Super Bowl with a Joe Montana-like run and has produced more wins than any other quarterback since 2008. But Flacco's pedestrian regular-season numbers have stopped him from becoming an elite NFL quarterback.

9. Todd Heap, tight end (2001): Overshadowed by Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates in the AFC, Heap remains the Ravens' all-time leader with 41 touchdown catches.

10. Peter Boulware, linebacker (1997): The 1997 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, Boulware finished with 70 sacks (second all-time for the Ravens), including a team-record 15 sacks in 2001.

11. Duane Starks, cornerback (1998): He struggled mightily at times, but he had three interceptions in the Ravens' 2000 championship run including a 49-yard return for a touchdown in the Super Bowl.

12. Ben Grubbs, guard (2007): He started 70 of 74 games for the Ravens and made the Pro Bowl in 2012, his last season with the team.

13. Michael Oher, offensive tackle (2009): He never missed a start in his five-year career, but he fell short of expectations because of false starts and inconsistent pass protection.

15. Mark Clayton, wide receiver (2005): He never led the team in receiving, and he had nine 100-yard receiving games. His best season was 2006, when he caught 67 passes for 939 yards and five touchdowns.

16. Kyle Boller, quarterback (2003): A flop as a franchise quarterback, Boller had one 300-yard passing game for the Ravens and seven starts where he threw under 100 yards. His five seasons with the Ravens produced a losing record as a starter (20-22) and just one more touchdown (45) than interceptions (44).

17. Travis Taylor, wide receiver (2000): Yes, Taylor is a bigger bust than Boller. The 10th overall pick of the 2000 draft, Taylor eclipsed 60 catches once and produced a grand total of two 100-yard games. If that doesn't convince you, Taylor didn't score a touchdown in his final 22 games with the Ravens.

Note: Safety Matt Elam was left off the rankings because he's only played one season.

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."
When Jonathan Ogden makes his Hall of Fame speech Saturday in Canton, Ohio, he will talk about the people who helped him achieve this accomplishment. But the list of those who need to thank Ogden is much longer: the entire Baltimore Ravens franchise, the 15 starting quarterbacks he protected and all the left tackles who went in the first round in the years following him.

Ogden defined the blind side and convinced NFL decision-makers that left tackle was the second-most important position on offense behind quarterback. He was the one who got left tackles drafted high in the first round and paid millions of dollars. The Ogden Effect extends from Orlando Pace in 1997 to two left tackles (Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel) taken atop the 2013 draft.

[+] EnlargeJonathan Ogden
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsJonathan Ogden, the first pick in Ravens history, is the first homegrown Raven to make the Hall.
What separates Ogden from the tackles who played before and after him is a rare combination of athleticism, competitiveness and intelligence. In pass protection, Ogden frustrated edge rushers so much with his massive wingspan and graceful footwork that they would frequently move to go against the right tackle by the second quarter. In run blocking, he had the leverage and power of a bulldozer to drive a lineman 10 yards off the line of scrimmage. On screen plays, he would outrun his running backs downfield as the lead blocker.

"I've had the opportunity to be in this league for over 30 years, but in my opinion, there is not a player that played the position as well as Jonathan Ogden," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome once said.

Newsome, who is presenting Ogden at the induction, never thought he would get a chance to draft him when the Ravens were making the first pick in franchise history. Ogden was the No. 1 player on the Ravens' draft board in 1996, but Newsome was prepared to take running back Lawrence Phillips with the fourth overall pick.

Then, contrary to what everyone projected, the Arizona Cardinals didn't select Ogden and chose defensive end Simeon Rice at No. 3. That allowed the Ravens, who didn't have their colors, uniform or logo at that time, to grab Ogden.

"Jonathan is the foundation of this franchise," Newsome said.

Ogden went to 11 Pro Bowls, and the troubled Phillips was out of the league in three years. Without Ogden, there wouldn't have been a Super Bowl championship in the 2000 season and there wouldn't have been a 2,000-yard rushing season for Jamal Lewis in 2003. Ogden was the Ravens' best offensive player and the one around whom the team built the offense.

It's fitting that the Ravens' first overall pick becomes their first homegrown player to reach the Hall of Fame. He put the franchise on the right path.

"If we don’t pick Jonathan Ogden with that first pick," Newsome said, "I may not have this job."

While it's been written repeatedly that Ogden is physically the prototypical left tackle, the secret to his success was a beat-up spiral notebook. It was a personal journal of sorts, in which Ogden kept detailed notes on every defensive end he's played twice.

With a few flips of a page, he could tell whether a player relies more on speed or power, a swim move or a clubbing style, quick feet or strong hands. Because of that, he had to watch only a half-hour of film each week on his own, just to verify his notes. Sadly, Ogden said, the notebook disappeared a few years ago.

"They always say the quarterback and offensive linemen need to be the smartest -- quarterback maybe, but O-line definitely," Ogden said. "It’s all about how quickly you can read and process what’s happening on the field and understand what the defense is trying to do to you. So definitely, the smarter you are, the less hesitation you have in what you’re going to do, the better football player you’re going to be. I always prided myself on never hesitating, because I always knew my assignment.”

Ogden was so respected that USA Today named him the No. 1 player in the NFL in 2003. While Ogden insists Anthony Munoz was a better player than him, he jokingly says he's become less modest since retiring in 2007. In February, he became the first pure offensive tackle to be voted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility since Jackie Slater in 2001.

"On the football field, I just want to be remembered as the guy who was dependable, who was a good teammate, who didn’t go out there and make silly mistakes," Ogden said. "You knew he was going to be there -- game-in, game-out, day-in, day-out -- and had his teammates' back out there."

Ogden was more than dependable. He had a dominating career. He had a distinguished career. And come Saturday, he'll officially have a Hall of Fame career.
Six months ago, after Jonathan Ogden was voted into the Hall of Fame, the former Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle met with general manager Ozzie Newsome and they shared a toast. Then, Ogden asked Newsome to present him at his Hall of Fame induction, which will happen Aug. 3.

"That was another great moment in my life," Newsome said. "To be asked that, I was floored. I really was. I was really humbled."

The Ravens selected No. 4 in the 1996 draft, and owner Art Modell wanted the team to take running back Lawrence Phillips. Newsome, who had Ogden atop the Ravens' entire draft board, convinced Modell that Ogden was the right pick.

Ogden went to 11 Pro Bowls and played a pivotal role in the Ravens' first Super Bowl title. Now, Ogden becomes the franchise's first drafted player to reach the Hall of Fame.

"I chose Ozzie because he brought me into Baltimore, and I respect him and worked well together," Ogden said. "I could also go talk to him and be honest with him. He's just one of the people who I just really respect in the business. It just kind of made sense to me."
BALTIMORE -- Hundreds of thousands of Baltimore Ravens fans lined downtown streets and packed M&T Bank Stadium to toast the Super Bowl champions in a victory parade.

They celebrated Ray Lewis' last ride. They cheered the start of Joe Flacco's legacy. They also witnessed a franchise that has grown up by NFL standards.

[+] EnlargeRay Lewis
Steve Ruark/AP PhotoRavens linebacker Ray Lewis waves to fans celebrating the team's Super Bowl championship during a parade in Baltimore on Tuesday.
On Saturday, Jonathan Ogden became the first player ever drafted by the Ravens to get elected to the Hall of Fame. A day later, the Ravens won their second Super Bowl, a significant achievement for a franchise that is only 17 years old.

Approximately one-third of the teams in this league have won multiple Super Bowls, and 11 teams -- except the Ravens -- have been playing for more than 40 years. The Ravens have achieved this feat while existing less than half that time.

This isn't to say the Ravens are on the same level as the Steelers, 49ers and Cowboys in terms of signature franchises in the league. But the Ravens certainly moved up a class after this past weekend in New Orleans.

And these Ravens are precocious.

"I don't know how many more times we can do this before Baltimore loses that chip on its shoulder," Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti told the crowd. "I hope it doesn't ever happen."

This isn't the franchise formerly known as the Browns anymore, one that got kicked around while losing 31 games in its first three seasons. These Ravens are now among the NFL big boys. Former coach Brian Billick is the one who turned a perennial loser into a Super Bowl champion. But coach John Harbaugh made the Ravens consistent winners.

The Ravens are the only team in the NFL to reach the playoffs the past five seasons. They've advanced to the AFC Championship Game three times in those five years and would've gone to consecutive Super Bowls if Lee Evans had held on to the ball in last year's AFC title game.

Since the Ravens became part of the league in 1996, only five other teams have won more than one Super Bowl: Packers, Patriots, Steelers, Broncos and Giants. And only one team (the Patriots) has more Super Bowl titles than Baltimore during that time.

The Ravens move into the next era of the franchise in 2013. For the first time, they will start a season without Lewis, whose last game was the Super Bowl. At Tuesday's celebration, Lewis did his final squirrel dance at M&T Bank Stadium. Five years from now, Lewis will become the Ravens' second player in the Hall of Fame.

The franchise is now in the hands of Flacco, running back Ray Rice, linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, and their sights remain high.

"Joe Flacco said we're repeating, baby," safety Ed Reed said. "They better look out for us, Baltimore."
NEW ORLEANS -- After being elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden said he couldn't wait to go to to the Superdome to watch Ray Lewis play his final game in the Super Bowl. Both were selected by the Ravens in the franchise's first draft in 1996.

"It's kind of a full circle weekend," Ogden said. "With me and Ray, you couldn't have written a better script over these two days because no one would've believed it."

While Lewis has been the face of the franchise, Ogden was the one who set the set the course for the Ravens. In the 1996 draft, the Ravens needed a running back but decided to pick Ogden over troubled Lawrence Phillips with the first pick in franchise history. Phillips was out of the league in three years, and Ogden became the best lineman of his generation.

There wouldn't have been a Super Bowl championship in 2000 without Ogden. There wouldn't have been a 2,000-yard rushing season for Jamal Lewis without Ogden. He was the Ravens' best offensive player and the one around whom the team built the offense.

The 6-foot-9, 345-pound Ogden's impact extended beyond the Ravens. He redefined the tackle position. He was the ultimate protector of the Blind Side long before the movie made that term popular. Teams have since been in search of their own Ogden, from Orlando Pace to Walter Jones to Joe Thomas. Still, there has never been an offensive tackle with his combination of speed, power, size and athleticism. No one even came close.

Ogden single-handedly took out the opposition's best pass-rusher every week. It didn't matter whether it was Greg Lloyd, Simeon Rice or Joey Porter. On running plays, Ogden was so dominant that he took out two or three defenders at times and was so agile that he could leap sweeps on the outside.

The Ravens never had a franchise quarterback during Ogden's time there. He blocked for 15 different starting quarterbacks. The Ravens never had a game-changing wide receiver. But they had Ogden and he ruled the left side of the offensive line for 177 games -- and he did it in a way that made it look effortless.

Ogden's place in NFL history is now secured. He became the first pure offensive tackle to get into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility since Jackie Slater did it in 2001.

"It means so much," Ogden said. "You don't play to get in the Hall of Fame. You play to gain the respect of your peers. Playing offensive line, you don't look for individual glory. But for the writers to say you're among the best players in the history of football, that's just breathtaking. It really hasn't hit me."
NEW ORLEANS -- Offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden became the first player drafted by the Ravens to be elected into the Hall of Fame.

Ogden was voted into the Hall in his first year of eligibility. He was an 11-time Pro Bowler who was considered the best left tackle of his generation.

He is the fourth player to play for the Ravens to reach the Hall of Fame, joining defensive back Rod Woodson, tight end Shannon Sharpe and cornerback Deion Sanders.

Ogden was the first draft pick by the Ravens, which selected him with the fourth overall pick in 1996.
NEW ORLEANS -- It doesn't seem as if former Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden can go anywhere without someone stopping him and saying he's a lock to go into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Ogden, an 11-time Pro Bowl player, is considered one of the favorites along with Giants defensive end Michael Strahan and Cowboys offensive lineman Larry Allen. The five-member Class of 2013 will be announced Saturday at 5:30 p.m., and it can't come soon enough for Ogden.

"I just want it to be over. Either way," Ogden said. "Don't get me wrong. I want to go in, obviously. I just want the speculation to end. I'm a 'Count my chickens after they hatch' type guy. I'll just say the odds are looking good, but we'll see what happens."

Ogden would become the first player drafted by the Ravens to get into the Hall of Fame. He was also the best offensive player on the Baltimore team that won the Super Bowl 12 years ago. Now, he could be voted into the Hall of Fame a day before the Ravens take the field for the second Super Bowl in franchise history.

"Like anything in life, there are some days where it seems like yesterday and sometimes it feels like an eternity ago," Ogden said of winning the Super Bowl. "There are some things that you're always going to remember from being in the Super Bowl: seeing the confetti fall and watching [wide receiver Brandon] Stokley go over the middle to catch that pass. Those are the images that are ingrained in my mind. Hopefully, these guys will get some of those images, and they'll have the positive finish that we had back in 2000."
Art Modell is among the 15 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

This marks the first time since 2001 that Modell has made it this far in the selection process. Modell, the former owner of the Browns and Ravens, passed away last year.

My stance is that Modell should have been enshrined in the Hall of Fame a long time ago. While Modell's move of the Browns to Baltimore has hurt his chances over the years, Al Davis relocated the Raiders twice and he's in the Hall of Fame. Among Modell's major accomplishments were his working as chairman of the league's television committee for 31 years, his lobbying other owners in the 1960s to share television revenues, and his willingness to move the Browns to the AFC when the AFL-NFL merger took place.

Running back Jerome Bettis, offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and linebacker Kevin Greene are the other players with AFC North ties who were named finalists. Bettis, who played for the Steelers from 1996 to 2005, was a finalist last season. Ogden, who played his entire career with the Ravens (1996 to 2007), is in his first year of eligibility.

The Class of 2013, which can include no more than five modern-era nominees, will be announced the day before the Super Bowl.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced its 27 semifinalists for the Class of 2013 and four members with AFC North ties made the cut.

Running back Jerome Bettis, offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, linebacker Kevin Greene and owner Art Modell now will look to be among the 15 finalists, which will be revealed in early January. The Class of 2013, which can include no more than five modern-era nominees, will be announced the day before the Super Bowl.

Bettis, who played for the Steelers from 1996 to 2005, was a finalist last season. Ogden, who played his entire career with the Ravens (1996 to 2007), is in his first year of eligibility.

This marks the eighth time in the past nine years that Modell has been named a semifinalist. Modell, majority owner of the Browns from 1961 to 1995 and the Ravens from 1996 to 2004, was a finalist in 2001. Click here if you want to read my stance on Modell getting inducted to the Hall of Fame.

Greene, who played for the Steelers from 1993 to 1995, is a semifinalist for the sixth straight year.

Can Ravens rely on Bryant McKinnie?

September, 4, 2012
Offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie has decided to restructure his contract and remain with the Ravens, according to ESPN NFL Insider John Clayton. If I were Joe Flacco, I wouldn't be real happy that McKinnie was protecting my blind side and no one can blame him.

Can the Ravens really rely on McKinnie to hold down one of the most important positions on the team? The Ravens apparently are ready to take that risk.

Earlier Tuesday, McKinnie posted on Twitter, "Decision is made! I'm gone!" Four hours later ... he's back. Maybe this bizarre turn of events wouldn't be another red flag if it was an isolated incident. But it's not.

It was a little more than a month ago when McKinnie failed to report to training camp on time because he fell at his South Florida home. He didn't call the Ravens about his absence. His chiropractor did. And let's not start on his weight issues.

The strange thing about McKinnie is you can depend on him to suit up. He's started 65 consecutive games, including playoffs. The last time he missed a game was the start of 2008. Whether he's effective is another question. Last season, he allowed 8.5 sacks and was penalized five times (four false starts and one holding).

Chalk this up to another failed attempt by the Ravens to replace Jonathan Ogden, who should go into the Hall of Fame next summer. Baltimore tried to replace him with Jared Gaither but coaches couldn't trust his work ethic (the Chargers are seeing that now). The Ravens hoped Michael Oher would develop into a solid left tackle, but that has yet to happen. If it did, the Ravens wouldn't have desperately signed McKinnie before the start of last season.

McKinnie's restructured deal doesn't add any years to his contract. It looks like McKinnie will be the Ravens' problem for only five more months.
The Ravens really could have used an upgrade at left tackle this year, but the free-agent pool was small and Baltimore's salary-cap room was smaller.

The Ravens' best option at improving the blind side is to put all of their efforts into making a better Bryant McKinnie.

Ravens officials acknowledged they are monitoring the McKinnie's weight and want their starting left tackle to get in better shape. This isn't a new issue with McKinnie, who was cut by the Minnesota Vikings after last year's lockout ended when he reportedly showed up weighing nearly 400 pounds.

Baltimore coach John Harbaugh was asked if it was important to see McKinnie before picking up his $500,000 roster bonus on March 16. "It was how much less that we saw of him that was really important," Harbaugh said at the NFL owners meetings last week.

One of the reasons the Ravens signed McKinnie last season was endorsements from safety Ed Reed and linebacker Ray Lewis. McKinnie wasn't a bust, but he wasn't a total success either.

He was graded as a below-average left tackle by Pro Football Focus. McKinnie struggled at times in run blocking and was uneven in pass protection. He gave up nearly one-third of the Ravens' sacks (8.5 out of 31).

Harbaugh said McKinnie remains at his playing weight from last year (360 pounds), which could be considered a victory considering McKinnie's history. But the Ravens want him to participate in the team's conditioning program and attend the offseason minicamps.

"We still want him to be able to move a little better and get a little quicker," Harbaugh said. "He’s committed to that, he’s excited about attacking that and it’s a big goal of his.”

These are the times when the Ravens really miss Jonathan Ogden. For 11 years, the Ravens never had to worry about the most important position on the offensive line.

The Ravens didn't have to worry about his weight. They didn't have to worry about his work ethic. Ogden, who lived in Las Vegas for most of his playing career, would make the occasional appearance at the team facility during the offseason. Come training camp, Ogden was ready for another Pro Bowl season.

McKinnie, who is entering the final year of a two-year, $7.5 million contract, is the fourth player to start at left tackle for the Ravens since Ogden retired at the end of the 2007 season. Based on what he's given the Ravens so far, the team's search for long-term stability at left tackle will continue next year.
Examining the most crucial event in the history of every team in the division.

Fly into the city of Pittsburgh, and there is no doubt what is the most memorable moment in Steelers' history.

Inside Pittsburgh International Airport there is a life-sized statue of Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris' "Immaculate Reception." Harris caught a deflection off teammate Frenchy Fuqua late in a 1972 AFC divisional playoff game to score the winning touchdown in a 13-7 victory over the Oakland Raiders.

[+] EnlargePittsburgh's Franco Harris
AP Photo/Harry CabluckJimmy Ware just missed bringing Franco Harris down and changing the course of NFL history.
One of the most unbelievable plays in NFL history turned out to be the biggest turning point for the Steelers. It was Pittsburgh's first-ever playoff victory and it jump-started the team's run to an NFL-best six Super Bowl titles, including four championships in the 1970s.

Msdmr writes: "[Pittsburgh] had only been to playoffs twice at that point. It got them out of the doormat category, gave them tangible proof that they could win."

Krankor watched the "Immaculate Reception" live on television nearly four decades ago: "I was a kid at the time, about 10 years old. What I remember most clearly was that, after the play, the delay while the officials decided what to call was unprecedented. I'd never seen anything like it, before or since."

Not everyone is impressed by the memorable play, especially those outside of Steeler Nation. Washed_up_ball_player writes: "Funny how the No. 1 selection, the 'Immaculate Reception,' is just a lucky play where the football gods smiled down on the Steelers. That sounds like the definition of the Steelers to me."

The "Immaculate Reception" led the way with 34 percent of the 40,000-plus votes as of 3 p.m. ET Tuesday, edging Pittsburgh's 1974 draft (31 percent) that included four Hall of Famers in linebacker Jack Lambert, center Mike Webster and receivers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. The Steelers' 1974 draft is often considered the greatest in NFL history. We may never see four Hall of Famers drafted by one team in the same year again.

Former Steelers Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll also had his share of supporters. Noll's hiring in 1969 received a solid 26 percent of the vote. Noll coached Pittsburgh to four Super Bowl wins in the 1970s before retiring in 1991. He started an impressive run of only three head coaches -- Noll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin -- running the Steelers since 1969.

Jebei_espn also writes: "The Steelers were always bad before they hired Chuck Noll and have been consistently good since then. Noll turned the franchise around and with great support from the Rooney family they started a great tradition that continues to this day."

RAVENS: First draft was huge

Speaking of impressive draft classes, the Baltimore Ravens had one of their own during their inaugural season in 1996.

The Ravens landed two future Hall of Famers in the first round. Baltimore selected left tackle Jonathan Ogden with the No. 4 overall pick and middle linebacker Ray Lewis at No. 26 overall, which received an impressive 54 percent of the vote as of Tuesday afternoon. Both players were longtime stalwarts on offense and defense, and Lewis, 36, still leads the Ravens entering his 16th season.

[+] EnlargeBaltimore's Jonathan Ogden
AP Photo/Wally SantanaThe Ravens took Jonathan Ogden with the No. 4 pick in the 1996 NFL draft.
DaReel2008 summed it up best by writing: "Drafting Lewis and Ogden was our defining moment, and the others mentioned -- even the Super Bowl -- aren't even close. Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden are two of the best players to ever play their positions. They not only helped carry the Ravens to a Super Bowl, but made us a perennial contender for most of the last 12 years. Our team prides itself on its character and its toughness, both of which are embodied by these two players, who will be in the HOF upon their first year of eligibility."

The Ravens also got a nice sleeper in the fifth round of the 1996 draft by getting receiver and return specialist Jermaine Lewis. He was the first of many gems Baltimore's front office was able to discover in the middle and late rounds.

Baltimore's Super Bowl XXV victory over the New York Giants following the 2000 season came in second place with 40 percent of the vote. It remains the Ravens' only Super Bowl victory.

Clifford from Baltimore makes a good case for Super Bowl XXV when he writes: "It solidified the identity of the franchise. The Ravens were a good defensive football team for two years or so before their Super Bowl run, but winning a championship with defense effectively defined the entire culture of the team as a whole."

BROWNS: Hard luck adds to Cleveland curse

Now we get to the downtrodden segment of our "Flash Points" series. After more than 50,000 votes -- the highest total in the AFC North -- "The Fumble" and "The Drive" led the way among Browns fans with 37 percent.

Cleveland's championship drought in pro sports is at 47 years and counting. The Browns' teams of the late 1980s were solid and had a chance to break that streak. But Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway and the Denver Broncos broke Cleveland's heart in back-to-back years with a pair of late-minute victories.

[+] EnlargeCleveland's Earnest Byner
AP photo/Mark DuncanCleveland Browns running back Earnest Byner (44) is comforted by teammate Brian Brennan (86) after Byner fumbled in the closing minutes of the 1987 AFC Championship game.
First, Elway drove Denver 98 yards for a touchdown with 37 seconds left to force overtime in the AFC Championship Game following the 1986 season. The Broncos got a field goal in overtime to win 23-20 and advance to the Super Bowl.

Denver and Cleveland met in the AFC title game one year later, and Earnest Byner's late fumble on the 3-yard line thwarted a chance for the Browns to tie the score in regulation. Following a late safety, Denver held on to win 38-33.

Daffy87 writes: "I would lean towards 'The Fumble' and 'The Drive' since that's the first thing that comes to people's minds when they bring up the Browns. Anytime anything bad or strange happens in a game, announcers roll the film."

I interviewed Byner a few years ago to discuss his fumble. The play serves as a cruel reality, because Byner had a solid career, rushing for 8,261 yards, but he will be most remembered for one bad play.

"To be honest, it helped me be a better man and a better person," said Byner, who now is an assistant coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars. "Going through something like that really gives you perspective that life is not over when you have something tragic happen or something that definitely challenges you."

Both Denver teams lost in the Super Bowl. Cleveland fans can always wonder if those Browns teams would have been a better representative for the AFC and perhaps won at least one championship following the 1986 or 1987 season.

BENGALS: Downhill since Montana

The Cincinnati Bengals have had some highs and lows in their history. But an overwhelming 49 percent of Bengals fans chose Joe Montana's late, game-winning drive to lead the San Francisco 49ers over the Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII as Cincinnati's biggest turning point.

[+] EnlargeSan Francisco's John Taylor.
US PRESSWIREJohn Taylor catches the winning touchdown against the Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII
GreatestBengalsFanOfAllTime writes: "The last-minute loss to the 49ers defines the Bengals, forever and always. Many fans like to say it was the Mike Brown era, but the truth is, the Bengals weren't exactly legends under Paul Brown, either. The last-minute loss to the 49ers accurately sums up the entire history of Bengaldom in one simple phrase: 'So close, yet so far.'"

Trailing 16-13, the 49ers needed to drive 92 yards in the final three minutes to win the Super Bowl. Montana got in rhythm and connected with receiver John Taylor with 34 seconds left to win the game, 20-16. It was the last Super Bowl appearance for the Bengals, who in turn have struggled mightily for the past two decades.

Bengals owner Mike Brown taking over the franchise was a distant second with 27 percent. Brown's father, Hall of Famer Paul Brown, starting the franchise in 1968 was third with 13 percent, and drafting left tackle Anthony Munoz in 1980 was fourth with eight percent.
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.