Two NFL players this week announced their retirements, and both are going to be sure-things for the Hall of Fame. The most attention went to the Giants' Michael Strahan, after all, they are coming off a Super Bowl win, and it is New York. Strahan is a lively personality, who
wasn't hurt in the eyes of the often-vicious New York press by either his early feud with coach Tom Coughlin, his Brett Favre-ish retirement dance before last season, or an acrimonious divorce, mostly because he remained such an open and good interview. He was very accomodating to us at Five both in Atlanta, when we did the Giants live, and in London.
I remain dismissive of Strahan's single-season sack record: the NFL were wrong to award the record-breaking sack to him not because Favre deliberately lay down for him but because Favre wasn't running a pass play: there were no receivers to throw to, and thus it was a run, not a pass. But I have never been dismissive of Strahan's skills. Always an explosive pass-rusher, he built himself up into a fine run defender too, and maintained that ability even as he deliberately lost weight to maintain his quickness.
What is most interesting is that, unlike most premium pass-rushers who play the right side, to attack the (right-handed) quarterback's blind side, Strahan always played the left, which is generally considered the spot for a run-stopper (most teams run more to their right). But when you think about it, putting your best rusher on the left gives you two advantages--first, he's rushing against the other team's second-best tackle, usually a guy considered stronger as a run blocker, and second, you're rushing in the QB's face...you can cause panic, watch his eyes, read passing lanes, and knock down balls. Yes, you lose the possible turnovers when you hit the passer from hism blind side, but I've always thought the advantages outweigh that.
Anyway, Strahan goes out on top with a Super Bowl win, and that's always a good thing.
Jonathan Ogden goes out after an awful season by the Ravens, in which he played hurt when he played at all, but that should not overshadow exactly how dominant a left tackle he was.
If QB is the most important position, the guy who rushes the QB is probably the second-most important, and the guy who blocks the rusher is probably third, which is why good left tackles get the big bucks, why the Dolphins decided to build their new team around Jake Long, and why so many tackles went in this year's draft's first-round. The logic was the same as when Ozzie Newsome decided to build the Ravens around Ogden, whom he took with the fourth pick of the 1996 draft.
Ogden wasn't the favourite of every scout, because he didn't fit the template of his sort of player. He was highly intelligent, from an affluent family, and skipped spring football to throw the shot for the track team. Plus, at 6-9, he was taller than the conventional upside for a tackle: extreme height makes it harder to generate leverage. It also helps explain why Ogden's toe injuries were so crippling. But Ogden made up for that with amazingly quick feet, tremendous hands, and smarts which allowed him to cut off most rushers before they'd finished their moves. Anyone who read John Feinstein's excellent study of a Ravens' season knows how much his teammates respected Ogden, and to me he's the second coming of Baltimore's great Jim Parker, whose legacy sadly rests with the Colts in Indianapolis, at least according to the NFL. It would be nice if Ogden and Strahan went into the Hall together, and maybe did a little one-on-one, just for fun.