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.
One day before the Super Bowl, the NFL will announce its newest Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees. 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 black 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 the 49ers. The 37-year-old linebacker, snagged with the 26th overall pick in the draft, is considered to be one of the best players 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 in the NFL, is inducted into the Hall of Fame and then becomes one of the shrewdest front-office men in the game. Using exceptional draft picks and selective free agents, Newsome has made the Ravens perennial contenders.
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. He drafted Ray. He drafted Jonathan Ogden. He's drafted every player. He's made every free-agent signing that's come through here. There is no us without Ozzie."
Newsome never won a championship with the Cleveland Browns, but his playing career laid the groundwork for a job that would earn him acclaim and provide him with a deep feeling of satisfaction.
After he retired 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.
He has since made the Ravens one of the NFL's most consistent winners the only team to reach the playoffs in each of the past five seasons, three times advancing to the AFC title game during that span.
He was asked 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," Newsome replied. "I don't know if I'll have to pinch myself to see if I'm still dreaming."