Today was a sad day for Baltimore Ravens fans when former owner Art Modell passed away. He died in Baltimore of natural causes at the age of 87.
While revered in Baltimore, he is hated in Cleveland for moving the Browns to Charm City in 1996. He left the team name and colors in Cleveland and the Baltimore Ravens were born.
He had a hands on approach to team ownership. Modell attended practices, got to know players and stayed involved in the daily operation of the team.
Off the field he was a pioneer in the National Football league, some of his career highlights include the creation of Monday Night Football and he hosted the first game in Cleveland, conceived and staged the first double-header in NFL history and worked with Pete Rozelle to establish NFL Films. He also hired Ozzie Newsome, the first African American general manager.
Sadly his legacy was tarnished by moving the Browns to Baltimore.
“I have a great legacy, tarnished somewhat by the move,” he said in 1999. “The politicians and the bureaucrats saw fit to cover their own rear ends by blaming it on me.”
This “stain” is likely why he hasn’t been voted into the Football Hall of Fame. In 2001 he was one of 15 finalists and a semifinalist seven times between 2004 and 2011.
Modell lost a lot of money moving the team to Baltimore and after being financially strapped, he sold his majority share to Ravens’ minority owner Steve Bisciotti in 2004. Bisciotti left Modell a 1% share of the team.
Bisciotti spent millions on the team including building a training facility in Owings Mills, Maryland where he honored Modell with a huge oil painting of him above the fireplace at the entrance to the complex.
Bisciotti said of Modell:
“He was my friend, my mentor. We will miss him so much,” Bisciotti said. “… How fortunate I am to have had him teach me about the NFL.”
It was a long 13 years of not having a football team in Baltimore, then current NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue declined to give Baltimore a team during the 1995 expansion. Just when we thought we’d never have football again, Art Modell came along and gave us the greatest gift of all, the Ravens.
The city will be eternally grateful for this gift and we are even more grateful that he built a competitive team in five short years, one that took home the Vince Lombardi trophy in 2001.
I was sad to hear about his death, but thankful to him for giving me my beloved Ravens. Without him, I wouldn’t be writing and obsessing about them every week.
God bless you Mr. Modell, a first class act all the way, may you rest in peace…