Before 2000, I didn't care about football. I was 15, growing up in Maryland. My sports were soccer, basketball, sometimes baseball. Football was boring, played by a bunch of fat guys who, given my high school bravado, I was sure I could run circles around.
Baltimore, to me, was a baseball town, and the Ravens were a poor distraction from the fact the Colts, much like prosperity, had left Charm City years ago.
Then came the Ravens' run to the Super Bowl in 2001. All of a sudden, Ravens pride sprouted up overnight. Call me a fair weather fan, but I like to think of it as street smart. Cautioned from the years of the Peter Angelos-run Orioles, who haven't made the World Series in my lifetime, I was hesitant to adopt a team that we stole in the middle of the night, just as the Colts had been stolen from us. But my whole hometown did, snapping up the black and purple flags being sold by street vendors on the main roads where water or flowers stands usually were.
My parents had the terrible idea of going to California just when the playoffs were getting interesting. Every game, I would sit preparing for the inevitable, just another Baltimore team losing. And every game, the bigger-than-life lineup of Jonathan Ogden, Ray Lewis, Jamal Lewis and Shannon Sharpe would power through to another win. When they won the Super Bowl, I was in Los Angeles, sitting in a bar for the first time in my life (with my dad) and cheering loudly as people looked at me confused. There are pictures from that trip still sitting in my childhood room at my parents' house in Baltimore: my first time at the Walk of Fame, my first time in a bar, my first time watching a team in Baltimore actually win.
It's been seven and a half years since that game, but it's something that I, along with my childhood friends, still hold tightly. At my high school graduation two years later, the student speaker received a standing ovation when she shouted "GO RAVENS" at the end of her speech. And now that I'm all grown up in New York, a poster of Ray Lewis adorns my cubicle.
When Ogden, the 11-time Pro Bowler who had the thankless job of blocking for questionably talented quarterbacks, announced his retirement this week, it was just another sign that the era of that heroic team is over, headed to the annals of history just like the Orioles' success stories of the 80s. Ray Lewis spent the end of last season trying to play through a painful arm injury. The coaching staff was dismantled due to subpar performance, as the team finished 1-6 in the last seven games of the season. And Jamal Lewis, for the first time in his professional career, spent last season on a team other than the Ravens.
The media is running with the storyline about how four potential Hall of Famers -- Brett Favre, Michael Strahan, Warren Sapp and Ogden -- retired in the same offseason. While accurate, it's more noteworthy to me that Ogden is retiring as a player absolutely beloved by Baltimore fans. He was an unselfish lineman who embodied the same blue-collar work ethic as the city he represented.
When asked what his biggest accomplishment was while playing, Ogden answered it was when he helped pave the way for Jamal Lewis to run for 2,066 yards in 2003, the second most in NFL history. But still wearing his Super Bowl ring, he said his favorite season was 2000. He also said that what he looks forward to most about retirement is watching football as a fan on Sundays. I only hope he finds a team that he can love as much as we loved the one he helped build.