In Cleveland and Baltimore, Ozzie Newsome always set the standard

BALTIMORE -- Ozzie Newsome will watch Sunday's game between Baltimore and Cleveland to see if the last Ravens team he'll assemble can clinch the AFC North title and make a championship run.

Newsome also will see his two football worlds collide.

With the Browns, Newsome used his hands to redefine the tight end position, changing the role from a pure blocker to an integral pass-catcher. With the Ravens, Newsome has shown a keen eye in building two Super Bowl teams, setting the standard for star players who become front-office executives.

"Ozzie is pretty special in that regard," said Bill Polian, a Hall of Fame general manager. "I would make the argument that if he wasn’t in the Hall of Fame as a player, he would be in as a general manager. That's maybe the rarest of occurrences."

Ten months after it was announced Newsome, 62, would be stepping down as the only general manager in Ravens history, Sunday marks his final regular-season game in the capacity.

There were no plans to honor Newsome on game day outside of putting him on the cover of the stadium program. The reason the Ravens are keeping this as low-key as Newsome himself is the belief it will be a seamless transition to assistant GM Eric DeCosta, Newsome's longtime confidant. It's also technically not a goodbye because Newsome will remain with the organization in a yet-to-be named position.

Still, the franchise's first change at general manager represents the end of an indelible era in Baltimore.

"Ozzie, in my view, is the most important person at the Ravens," Ravens president Dick Cass said. "He has created two Super Bowl-winning teams 12 years apart and only one player [Ray Lewis] was on both teams. He's a rare human being."

Here's a look at how Newsome has been at the top of his profession, whether it's as a trend-setting tight end or a championship-winning executive:

Ozzie the player

The Browns hired a new coach in 1978, and Sam Rutigliano wanted to open up the offense behind quarterback Brian Sipe. To do that Rutigliano needed a pass-catching tight end to open up the middle of the field.

Rutigliano watched Alabama play as an assistant coach under Hank Stram in New Orleans. At that time, Newsome was a split end in a wishbone offense that ran the ball most of the time.

"When I came to Cleveland, I sent one of my coaches in the spring to Alabama and told him to introduce himself to Ozzie's coach," Rutigliano said. "What I wanted to find out was if Ozzie Newsome had a big butt. If he did, I thought he would make a great tight end in the NFL."

The reason: To block in the NFL, a tight end needed a base, and receivers lacked that base.

The Browns used the No. 23 overall pick on Newsome.

"I was skeptical because I thought we needed more horsepower outside," said Sipe, the Browns' quarterback from 1974 to 1983. "He surprised me how he could handle that position."

Newsome was always able to catch the ball, but he had to learn to block. One of his teammates taught him an early lesson, when the Browns faced Los Angeles Rams defensive end Fred Dryer.

"Well, I told Ozzie to cut Dryer on a play and I'd hit him high," offensive tackle Doug Dieken said. "It worked, and naturally Dryer wasn't happy. He had Ozzie on the ground and started swinging at him. I jumped in and dragged him away and told Fred, 'Leave our rookie alone.' After that, Ozzie became a shield blocker. He was good at it, but he mainly got in people's way."

Newsome helped change the tight end position. He could run fast enough to beat linebackers, and he had the hands of a receiver.

Newsome's hands became legendary. If he got his hands on a pass, he secured it.

Highlight films from that era are filled with Newsome making one-handed catches, and hanging on after taking big hits.

"We had a really healthy competition with the wide receivers and the tight ends in terms of just really being accountable in catching the ball," said Dave Logan, a Browns receiver from 1976 to '83. "We had a bunch of really competitive guys. So we'd fine each other. If you touched the ball and didn't catch it, it was a fine. Didn't matter what else was at work. I think it was $50, which back then was like $500 now, right? It just was a group of guys and he was sort of the leader of it in taking pride that if the ball was thrown to you, you were going to find a way to catch it."

Newsome retired with 662 receptions, 7,980 yards and 47 touchdowns. He led the Browns in receptions and receiving yards in 1981-85, and caught a pass in 150 consecutive games. When he retired in 1990, Newsome was the NFL's all-time leader in receptions by a tight end.

"Ozzie was as good as there was," Logan said. "He was better than he was given credit for in the run game. This was a guy who played wide receiver in college. He's a good friend of mine. My hope is that he's not going to retire and stay retired. That he'll retire and get the bug and come back."

Ozzie the GM

When telling the story of Newsome as a general manager, many begin with his first draft, when he selected Hall of Fame players (Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis) with his first two picks.

Newsome recounts a different story from that 1996 draft. Before the Ravens were on the clock, Newsome traded up in the second round to get in position to select tight end Jason Dunn with the No. 55 overall pick. But the Philadelphia Eagles selected him one spot before Baltimore, and Newsome settled on cornerback DeRon Jenkins, who never lived up to expectations.

"A lesson was learned," Newsome has often said.

Humility has been the foundation of Newsome's success. During his 23 years as the top decision-maker, his 24 first-round picks -- from Ogden to Ray Lewis to Jamal Lewis to Ed Reed to Terrell Suggs to Haloti Ngata to Joe Flacco -- have earned 61 combined Pro Bowl invitations and have been named Super Bowl MVP, NFL Defensive Player of the Year, NFL Offensive Player of the Year and NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

His ability to make the right choice on difficult decisions and find hidden gems in the draft have led to a popular mantra among the team's fan base: "In Ozzie we trust." For Newsome, he trusts the opinions of the scouts and coaches around him.

Newsome will be in draft meetings in April and he'll remember when someone repeats himself from six months ago.

"A lot of people -- a Hall of Fame player and probably Hall of Fame executive -- they would want to talk all the time. And he listens all the time," DeCosta said. "I think that's what makes him different from most people."

Newsome has been the one constant in this franchise. The Ravens have had two owners, three head coaches and countless star players. For 23 years of existence, the Ravens have had only one architect.

"A lot of people -- a Hall of Fame player and probably Hall of Fame executive -- they would want to talk all the time. And he listens all the time. I think that's what makes him different from most people." Eric DeCosta, Ravens assistant GM

In 2000, Newsome constructed his first Super Bowl team around a historically dominant defense. In 2012, he delivered another Lombardi Trophy with a team that relied on its offense.

"Ozzie is synonymous with the Ravens," said Ogden, who chose Newsome to introduce him at his Hall of Fame induction. "You can’t mention the Baltimore Ravens without Ozzie Newsome coming up relatively quick in the conversation."

Although there has been criticism over Newsome's recent drafts, his final one has helped put Baltimore in position to win its first division title in six years. Four rookies -- quarterback Lamar Jackson, running back Gus Edwards, tight end Mark Andrews and right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. -- have been driving forces on offense.

"What he has done for this organization speaks for itself," Brown said. "With us knowing we're his last draft class, it's special."

From Cleveland to Baltimore, Newsome has been at the top of his game and has earned that status. He never missed a game as a player. He rarely misses a practice as the general manager.

Even when his Pro Bowl playing days were over, Newsome started at the bottom and worked his way up. In 1991, Newsome was the Browns' offensive quality control coach and ran the scout team for defensive coordinator Nick Saban.

Nearly three decades later, Newsome will step down as one of the few people in the NFL revered as a player and top decision-maker.

"He did the hard work. He did what was necessary," said Matt Stover, the longtime kicker for the Browns and Ravens. "When you have the respect of an entire organization like he did, that means he must have conducted himself with the utmost integrity and professionalism."