OWINGS MILLS, Md. – Ozzie Newsome just might be the happiest person in New Orleans next weekend.
Newsome, the crafty general manager of the Baltimore Ravens, will be seeking another Super Bowl ring to go with the one he earned after the 2000 season. That would be reason enough to flash his toothy smile in the Big Easy.
But there’s so much more for Newsome to look forward to in the city he insists is best suited to host pro football’s biggest game.
One day before the Super Bowl, the NFL will announce its newest entrants into the Hall of Fame. Offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, the first draft pick Newsome made in Baltimore, is one of the favorites. Former Ravens owner Art Modell, who made Newsome the first African-American general manager in NFL history, is also on the list of 15 finalists.
“For the past 15 months, my dream has been having the opportunity to play in the Super Bowl in New Orleans. I think New Orleans is the greatest venue to have a Super Bowl,” Newsome said. “But to know Jonathan was up (for the Hall of Fame) and was going to have the opportunity to probably be selected the day before the game, and then for Art, who’s now deceased, but also to make it in the top 15, (it’s like) that little dream that little kids have growing up.”
That’s not all. Ray Lewis, Newsome’s second selection in that franchise-altering 1996 draft, will play his final game on Super Bowl Sunday against San Francisco. The 37-year-old linebacker, snagged with the 26th pick in the draft, might be the best player at his position in the history of the game.
“Our ultimate warrior is going to play his last down of football in that game,” Newsome said. “I don’t think you could write a script like that.”
Well, how’s this for an outlandish story? Tight end out of Alabama plays 13 years, is inducted into the Hall of Fame and then becomes one of the shrewdest front-office men in the game.
Known affectionately as “The Wizard of Oz,” the 56-year-old Newsome – along with Lewis – are the key links between this Super Bowl team and the one that routed the New York Giants 34-7 more than a decade ago.
“Ozzie is the foundation of the Ravens,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He has been since 1996. He’s been the GM since the beginning. … There is no us without Ozzie. We’re not here without Ozzie Newsome.”
After he retired from playing for the Browns in 1990, Newsome was hired by Modell in Cleveland as a special assignment scout.
Two years later, Newsome became assistant to the head coach (Bill Belichick). In 1994, Newsome became the Browns’ director of pro personnel, and when the team moved to Baltimore, Newsome took over as vice president of player personnel – a fancy name for general manager.
“The preparation came from being around (then-GM) Ernie Accorsi and Bill Belichick, and being able to listen to those guys for the first two or three years and to gain as much education as I could get,” Newsome said. “We know how great Ernie was and we see how good Bill has been, but being able to learn from both of those guys really helped prepare me.”
Ralph Friedgen, an assistant coach when San Diego went to the Super Bowl in 1995 and head coach at Maryland from 2001-10, marvels at the hurdles Newsome has cleared to keep the Ravens winning year after year.
“Ozzie does a great job of getting character kids,” Friedgen said. “I thought he and Bill Polian were the best GMs in the league, but now that Polian isn’t working Ozzie stands alone. The rules in the NFL are designed against those who have success: you get the worst schedule, you draft the lowest and you run into salary cap issues trying to keep your best players. Yet Ozzie has a team that goes to the playoffs year in and year out. It’s amazing.”
Someone asked Newsome if next weekend – with Ogden, Lewis, Modell and his Ravens on the big stage – might seem surreal.
“It’s part of the dream, that dream,” he replied. “I don’t know if I’ll have to pinch myself to see if I’m still dreaming.”