(Patrick Semansky/AP)
(Patrick Semansky/AP)

Oz the Great and Powerful

Ozzie Newsome, Hall of Fame tight end and architect of the Ravens’ two Super Bowl champions, doesn’t talk much about himself, but listen to the men who know him and you’ll learn something of the esteem in which he’s held throughout the league

By
Greg A. Bedard
· More from Greg·

On Friday, April 19, 1996, the brain trust of the brand new Baltimore Ravens was sitting in the windowless draft room at the team’s training facility housed inside an old state police barracks in Owings Mills, Md. After the exodus from Cleveland that ripped the hearts out of Browns fans, there was plenty of work to do in building the new franchise. The group had been working non-stop, not only on the draft, but on trying to make their new space functional. It still wasn’t close to that. In the hallway outside, VHS tapes numbered 1 to 2000 were lined up on the floor against the wall up one side and then back down the other, because there were no storage units. People would roam the halls, yelling, “Where’s Virginia Tech vs. Virginia?” Television monitors were strewn all over the place. The stationery had a blank white helmet on it. The practice uniforms were black and white, drawing jokes about the Mean Machine from The Longest Yard. College secretaries, not knowing that the Ravens were a real NFL team, sent scouts on campus visits to the soccer offices.

“You talk about a wing and a prayer,” says Phil Savage, the team’s director of college scouting at the time.

But there they were, one day before the first draft in Ravens history, charting the course for a franchise. Present were owner Art Modell, his son David, team president Jim Bailey, chief financial officer Pat Moriarty and vice president of player personnel Ozzie Newsome.

Newsome, 40 at the time, was in charge, but he was greener than the Jolly Green Giant. After starring for four years at Alabama and then for 13 seasons as a tight end for the Browns, he was certainly at home around the game. But this was altogether different. Yes, he had studied tirelessly in the five years since his retirement, working at times as an assistant coach with Cleveland, and then in personnel under coach Bill Belichick with the Browns. But in Cleveland, Belichick, general manager Ernie Accorsi and later personnel chief Michael Lombardi did the heavy lifting. Everyone else was a glorified grunt, grinding tape and writing reports.

When Art Modell moved his franchise to Baltimore, he handed Browns legend Newsome the task of building the roster for the newborn Ravens.  (Roberto Borea/AP)
When Art Modell moved his franchise to Baltimore, he handed Browns legend Newsome the task of building the roster for the newborn Ravens. (Roberto Borea/AP)

During his playing career, Newsome had become very close to Modell. Maybe the owner didn’t have many options or people he could trust after the controversial move out of Cleveland. Whatever the reason, he chose Newsome  to direct the front office. “There’s a difference between managers who make purely intellectual decisions, and managers who manage intuitively from the gut,” said David Modell about his late father. “I think Art obviously had that sense of people, because say what you want about him, he was definitely a people person. He had a feeling about Ozzie.”

Powerful people in the NFL face critical decisions at some point in their careers. The inexperienced Newsome, armed with the fourth and 26th picks in the first round, was staring his seminal moment in the face, just a few months into the job. His choices in this draft could shape a franchise, or spin it further into the vortex of irrelevance.

Art Modell and coach Ted Marchibroda preferred to make a splash in the new market with an explosive running back—Lawrence Phillips from Nebraska. The Ravens desperately needed someone in the backfield. Seemed like a good marriage.

Newsome kept coming back to an offensive tackle from UCLA named Jonathan Ogden, even though the team already had a good offensive line and a solid left tackle in Tony Jones, who would go on to start two Super Bowls.

It was Newsome’s moment. One that his whole life had prepared him for, and set the stage for greatness.

* * *

The story of Ozzie Newsome, better known in the state of Alabama and in the NFL as the Wizard of Oz, is difficult to tell neatly or traditionally. Newsome is a transcendent figure in football lore, who after rising above segregation in the South played for the great Bear Bryant at Alabama, achieved personal success as an NFL player but endured heartbreaking team failures, and then rose to become one of the most powerful and successful figures in personnel.

And you can’t tell Newsome’s story with his help. He declined an interview request for this story, just as he does most all other reporters who want to focus on him. What follows are the stories, anecdotes and quotes culled from interviews with 19 people who have known Newsome well over the course of his life.

All of them are pieces to the puzzle. Put them together and they serve as a portrait of the man who has helped lead the Ravens to two Super Bowl titles, five straight playoff appearances and nine in the past 13 years.

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22 comments
SnarlyYow
SnarlyYow

It's official, TheMMQB.com has overtaken The Atlantic for stupendous reporting and story-making. Fantaatic piece.

Rush1kc
Rush1kc

Good article and remember in journalism it's always past tense, said not says.Also we say more than and less not than, not over and under.

GrangerHodgson
GrangerHodgson

Great story.  Sports is such a people thing.  What makes it go is the people in it, doing it and the people behind the scenes, who have to put that team on the field.  But overall its a people thing.  Thanks.

brad_stonegate
brad_stonegate

Awesome article about one of the best pure football legends ever to grace the game at every level. Minor point though - the team was actually in the AFC Championship game only one year after the 5-11 season.

AlexGalliani
AlexGalliani

This was a masterfully composed piece on a truly exceptional person. Thank you!

awall
awall

Outstanding!

LisaH
LisaH

Best article I've read on the new sight.  

rskins09
rskins09

Just goes to show you that all good teams start  at the top, in all pro sports ...Best article I've read yet in the new MMQG  ....

rskins09
rskins09

Great article ...You did your homework ..  Ozzie - what a class act ..Should be in the HOF as a GM ..

choircan
choircan

I have been a fan of Ozzie Newsome the player and Ozzie Newsome the GM.  Up until now, I have not realized how special he is as a MAN.  

Thank You

JohnnyG728
JohnnyG728

Great, great job Greg. Really shows what a man Ozzie is, in the true sense of the word.

ianlinross
ianlinross

Great, great piece. I see why Peter King nabbed you Greg. But there's a book here man. Michael Holley had his Patriot Way and War Room. The Ravens and Ozzie deserve one their own. 

iconicguy1
iconicguy1

Terrific read Bedard.  There are some people that just ooze character and humility all at the same time.  It appears Mr. Newsome is one of them......The Ravens are lucky to have such a solid, standup guy.

CaCaCaCleveland
CaCaCaCleveland

The first time I met Ozzie was at Lakeland Community College in Willoughby, Ohio when the Browns players were playing the media in a basketball game for charity. My job was to guard the locker room and Ozzie had asked me for some information. I got the answer and went into the locker room to tell Ozzie and he was sitting on the bench talking to the nervous looking younger players. They seemed to be hanging on every word he said. Ozzie oozed a quiet calm and seemed to take his role as mentor very seriously.

The next night I went to a party and several Browns players were there. They were up and working the room the way pro athletes do but not Ozzie. He was sitting quietly by himself and when I was near him he stood up and introduced himself, extending his HUGE, SOFT hand. He indicated that her remembered me from the basketball game and struck up a conversation with my clearly uncomfortable wife who was not a football fan. Truly a class guy.

Of all the things that Cleveland lost when the Browns moved, Ozzie was the most important asset.

rb6p
rb6p

Great stuff.  I've read several write ups on Ozzie Newsome over the years, but this is the best.  Also, the best article I've read on MMQB so far.

ProfessorGriff
ProfessorGriff

Wish my team had an Ozzie Newsome running things.  Class act.  

PSUOrioles
PSUOrioles

Very well written on one of the Best, Ozzie Newsome!  This article also shows what kind of man Art Modell was and it's a shame he wasn't alive to see himself inducted in the HOF...  

fasteddie210121
fasteddie210121

Like a good book I didn't want to put down, great writing.  I hope this, not jabs on twitter is the history of sports journalism.  Great stuff, thank you MMQB

ATG67
ATG67

Mean Machine were the team in the Longest Yard. 

theseus
theseus

I wish I could work for a guy like Newsome. I love that he sticks to his decisions. Great story. The NFL needs more Ozzie...

jatalu
jatalu

This site has quickly topped my list of daily must reads.  Incredibly well done.

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