Induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is the most prestigious honor granted to an individual whose life has been dedicated to the game. This week, the football world will witness the ceremony to enshrine nine new members in Canton, Ohio.
Ozzie Newsome knows what it's like to experience that sensation and everything that comes with it -- the gold jacket, the bronze bust, the speech and so much more -- having entered the Hall as a member of the Class of 1999. Newsome enjoyed a decorated 13-year playing career as a tight end with the Cleveland Browns that was defined by stellar production, durability and leadership. Yet, as impressive as his TE tenure was, Newsome's second NFL act as a vital figure in the Baltimore Ravens' front office for more than two decades deserves equal -- if not greater -- praise. Although his official title from 1996 through 2001 was vice president of player personnel, Newsome served as the team's de facto general manager during that span before actually holding the GM title from 2002 through 2012. His role expanded to GM/executive vice president in 2013, staying that way until he retired following the 2018 campaign.
With that in mind, I strongly believe Ozzie should be the first person inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame TWICE, with the second ceremony honoring his trailblazing work in Baltimore's front office. He truly deserves it -- there's no debate to be had.
Yes, people have been inducted into the Hall for the multiple roles they've had in the league, but they have always been honored for their respective bodies of work during a single enshrinement. The most notable being George Halas, a player, coach, manager and owner inducted as a member of the Class of 1963, the HOF's inaugural class. The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame has five individuals inducted twice, as both a player and coach (Bill Russell, Lenny Wilkens, John Wooden, Bill Sharman and Tommy Heinsohn), while Cal Hubbard is the only person to be enshrined in both the Pro Football HOF (1963) and National Baseball Hall of Fame (1976). Ozzie deserves the same kind of treatment as those legends.
Newsome's accomplishments as a Ravens executive are monumental. Here are just a few (I could be here all day if I went through the whole list): He was the first African American general manager in the NFL and built two Super Bowl-winning teams (XXXV and XLVII). Under his watch between 1996 and 2018, the Ravens had the fourth-most playoff wins and the second-highest playoff win percentage of any team. He acquired 38 Pro Bowlers and 17 All-Pros, including six Hall of Famers, three of whom he drafted (Jonathan Ogden, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed).
I first met Ozzie in 1992, two seasons after his playing career ended, when we both worked in the Browns' scouting department under then-head coach Bill Belichick. In 1993, Ozzie stepped into a new role as assistant to the head coach/offense/pro personnel, which is a good example of Bill's classic leadership style. Bill would say, "The more you can do, the more you can do" -- meaning you should do your specific job well, but you also can provide additional value if you contribute more to the greater good of the organization. Ozzie really took that notion to heart, doing a little bit of everything before shifting his focus to player personnel.
When owner Art Modell moved the Cleveland franchise to Baltimore in the spring of 1996, Ozzie and I went as part of a skeleton staff. Roughly a month out from the draft, we all looked to Ozzie for direction because he was our leader despite not having the general manager title. He had never run a draft before, but I watched him orchestrate one of the greatest examples of leadership I have ever seen.
We had the fourth and 26th overall picks in the 1996 NFL Draft, and like every owner, Art wanted to know the landscape of how the first round might shake out. Ozzie was explaining how we had our eye on UCLA offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden at No. 4, and Art interrupted with something along the lines of: "Oz, I trust and respect you, but I have to start making money. That's why we moved. Tackles don't sell tickets, but running backs do. Tell me about Lawrence Phillips."
Phillips was a highly touted running back out of Nebraska, but he carried some serious off-field concerns. Once we came on the clock with the fourth overall pick on draft day, Ozzie made the decision to draft Ogden. It had to be hard for Ozzie to go against what Art, who had become an important figure in Ozzie's life, seemed to want in that moment, but he handled the situation with such grace, thoughtfulness and strength. He was humble and did it with no air of defiance or disrespect. Phillips ultimately was drafted sixth overall by the Rams, but his career was derailed by off-field problems that eventually landed him in prison on a 31-year sentence. He passed away while incarcerated in 2016.
Selecting Ogden and Ray Lewis (at No. 26) in that first round was where Ozzie's legacy as an elite executive began, setting the foundation for stability and success within the franchise. Many were able to observe Ozzie's brilliance through the results of his decisions in the draft and free agency, but I had the opportunity to witness the day-to-day approach that made him so good. Ozzie had a Hall of Fame playing career and was an experienced personnel evaluator, but he always listened to other viewpoints and was constantly seeking to learn. He had a balance of humility and confidence that you rarely see, and typically when he spoke, you could hear a pin drop in the room. That's how respected Ozzie was. He combined a reservoir of knowledge with experience and the quiet confidence to make decisions without regret. He was collaborative long before that became a catchphrase.
I recently reconnected with him at the third annual Ozzie Newsome General Manager Forum back in June. To be asked to contribute to an event in his name hits in so many ways. He represents so much to so many, dating back to the early 1970s, when southern college football powerhouses -- like Alabama, for which Ozzie played from 1974 through '77 -- finally began integrating their teams for the first time. By the 1977 season, Paul "Bear" Bryant's Crimson Tide had 17 Black football players on scholarship (Ozzie included).
It's cliché, but when we talk about "standing on the shoulders of giants," Ozzie is one of them. Having watched him work from the beginning of his career as an NFL executive to his final season as the Ravens' general manager in 2018, I have nothing but the utmost admiration for what he's accomplished as a professional and for who he is at his core.
He's done everything -- everything -- the right way and deserves nothing less than becoming the first two-time Pro Football Hall of Famer.