OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The reminders of Ozzie Newsome’s decisions from 25 years ago are featured prominently in the Baltimore Ravens’ landscape.
Every game day, fans pass by a towering 9-foot-tall Ray Lewis statue that stands outside M&T Bank Stadium. When walking inside the lobby of the Ravens’ team facility, players, coaches and staff members see the shiny replica of Jonathan Ogden’s Hall of Fame bust.
On April 20, 1996, the Ravens took their first major step in transforming the transplanted Cleveland Browns to what would become a two-time Super Bowl champion when Newsome drafted Ogden and Lewis in the first round. It remains the first and only time that an NFL team selected Hall of Fame players with the first two picks in franchise history.
How will Newsome celebrate the silver anniversary of one of the NFL’s most memorable drafts?
“Up until you told me April 20 was the day, I didn’t know,” Newsome said earlier this month. “I just looked at my calendar, and April 20 is just a blank date.”
In talking with a dozen people linked to this draft, they all pointed out how Newsome’s understated personality and leadership became the calming influence in the midst of an unprecedented offseason storm.
Owner Art Modell fired his head coach — Bill Belichick, future winner of six Lombardi trophies — after the team had scouted players at the combine. Team officials then moved their operations from modern 5-year-old headquarters in Cleveland to a dilapidated police academy outside Baltimore just 19 days before the draft.
In the midst of this chaos, there was a scenario in which the Ravens could have selected running back Lawrence Phillips and tight end Jason Dunn with their first two picks. Phillips played three seasons in the NFL and later took his own life in January 2016 while serving time in a California prison. Dunn is currently a mentor and character-building coordinator after spending 12 seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs as a blocking tight end.
Instead, in what was described as a miracle by many, the Ravens came away with a couple of franchise-changing talents in Ogden and Lewis before they even had a logo or official colors.
This is the story of the Ravens’ 1996 draft, as told by those who lived it: