Thursday, September 6, 2012

NFL: Former Ravens owner Art Modell dies at age 87

Art Modell, previous owner of of the Baltimore Ravens comes onto the field for halftime celebrations of the ten year Super Bowl anniversary team during the game against the Buffalo Bills at M&T Bank Stadium on October 24, 2010 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Bills lead the Ravens at the half 24-20.
(October 23, 2010 – Source: Larry French/Getty Images North America)
(PhatzRadio / AP) — It was 2003, and Art Modell was joking about his health: “Ten hospitalizations, two heart attacks, a stroke, internal bleeding … and every one of those she was at my side he said, turning to his wife.

With Modell, there was almost always a punchline.

“You know what?” he told her, “I think you’re bad luck, babe.”
PHOTOS: Remembering Art Modell

Modell — the man loved for bringing his NFL team to Baltimore, but hated for yanking it out of Cleveland — lived another nine years, much of it in infamy, before passing early Thursday morning. One of the most influential owners in the league, and also one of the most quotable, he was 87.

David Modell said he and his brother, John, were bedside when their father passed “peacefully of natural causes.”

Ironically, peace had been difficult for Modell to find.

During his four decades as an NFL owner, he was one of the league’s shakers. But he will be forever remembered – and vilified — as a mover, too.

Despite negotiating lucrative television contracts that kept the league thriving on its way to its current $9 billion in annual revenue, Modell will be known as the man who stole Cleveland’s beloved football franchise and left fans without a team for three years until the NFL awarded city an expansion franchise, resurrecting the Browns.

Most fans do not know that Modell served as league president from 1967 to 1969, nor do they realize that he chaired the first collective bargaining negotiations with players in 1968. He also was one of the driving forces for Monday night football.

But, faced with bankruptcy, he moved the Browns out of Cleveland in 1996, settled his team in Baltimore, and called them the Ravens – as Cleveland fans screamed.

Wednesday, when his death was announced, fans bombarded Twitter with comments – some positive, many negative (and a few vicious) from those still holding a grudge.

The Ravens won their lone Super Bowl in January 2001, less than a year after Modell sold a minority interest of the team to Steve Bisciotti. In April 2004, Bisciotti completed purchase of the franchise, but left Modell a 1 percent share.

At one time one of Cleveland’s biggest civic leaders, Modell became a pariah in Ohio after he moved the team.

“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.”

The move was also believed to be the main reason why Modell never made it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was one of 15 finalists in 2001 and a semifinalist seven times between 2004 and 2011.

“I believe Art belongs in the Hall of Fame,” former New York Giants owner Wellington Mara, now deceased, said in 2002. “I don’t think I know a person who has done more for the league than Modell, especially through television.”

After the passing, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell posted on Twitter: “Art Modell’s leadership was an important part of the NFL’s success during the league’s explosive growth during the 1960s and beyond …

Art was a visionary who understood the critical role that mass viewing of NFL games on broadcast television could play in growing the NFL.”

Goodell also appreciated Modell’s sharp wit.

“Art’s skills as an owner and league contributor were matched only by his great sense of humor,” he tweeted. “Any conversation with Art included laughs.”

Wednesday, within minutes of Modell’s death, the reactions streamed in from around the league.
“Art was a giant in our industry,” said Ravens general manager and executive vice president Ozzie Newsome. “He was my boss – but he wouldn’t let me call him that – my mentor, and most importantly, my friend. He was the most caring, compassionate person I’ve ever known. The opportunities he gave me are historic, and I will be forever humble and grateful.”

Modell’s Browns were among the best teams of the 1960s, led during his first few years as owner by legendary running back Jim Brown. Cleveland won the NFL championship in 1964 — Modell’s only title with the Browns — and played in the title game in 1965, 1968 and 1969.

Modell said he lost millions of dollars operating the Browns in Cleveland and cited the state of Maryland’s financial package, including construction of a $200 million stadium, as his reasons for going to Baltimore. The Ravens replaced the Baltimore Colts, who moved to Indianapolis in 1984.

“This has been a very, very tough road for my family and me,” Modell said at the time of the move. “I leave my heart and part of my soul in Cleveland. But frankly, it came down to a simple proposition: I had no choice.”

Ironically, the cost of the move to Baltimore left him financially strapped and left him no choice but to put in motion the chain of events that enabled Bisciotti to assume majority ownership of the franchise.
Bisciotti has since poured millions into the team, financing construction of a lavish practice facility in Owings Mills, Md. As a tribute to Modell, Bisciotti insisted that a huge oil painting of Modell be hung above the fireplace at the entrance to the complex.

Modell wasn’t the kind of owner who operated his team from an office. He mingled with the players and often watched every minute of practice.

“Art talked with me every day when I played in Baltimore,” former Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe said.
“He knew everything about what was going on in my life. He showed real concern. But, it wasn’t just me.
He knew the practice squad players’ names. He treated them the same. He was out at practice when it was 100 degrees and when the December snows came. I loved playing for him.”

Born June 23, 1925, in Brooklyn, N.Y., Arthur B. Modell dropped out of high school at age 15 and worked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard cleaning out the hulls of ships to help out his financially strapped family after the death of his father.

He completed high school in night class, joined the Air Force in 1943, and then enrolled in a television school after World War II. He used that education to produce one of the first regular daytime television programs before moving into the advertising business in 1954.

He started in TV production in New York in the 1940s. Later, he was a partner in an advertising firm when he got a tip that the Browns were for sale. He loved football, and with some partners he swung the deal in 1961 for the “earthshaking” price of about $4 million.

“I went into hock and borrowed my money,” he said. “I told people, ‘Nobody has as many toasters and irons and ironing boards in the garage as I do from opening up accounts and borrowing money.’

“You get few chances like this,” he said. “To take advantage of the opportunity, you must have money and friends with more.”

He also had TV experience when other owners didn’t. In 1962 he became chairman of the Television Committee. That year the NFL signed its first single-network TV deal ($4.65 million league-wide, annually, with CBS).

Aside from his work with the Browns, Modell became a leader in the Cleveland community. He served on the board of directors of a number of large companies, including the Ohio Bell Telephone Co., the Higbee Co. and the 20th Century-Fox Film Corp.

Modell and his wife, Patricia, continued their charitable ways in Baltimore, donating millions of dollars to The Seed School of Maryland, a boarding school in Maryland for disadvantaged youths; Johns Hopkins Hospital; and the Kennedy Krieger Institute. The couple also gave $3.5 million to the Lyric, which was renamed the Patricia & Art Modell Performing Arts Center at The Lyric.

His wife of 42 years passed away in 2011. When they met, she was starring as nurse Meg Baldwin on the TV soap opera General Hospital. Modell asked her what time her show was on and promised to watch it.
“This magnificent woman comes on the (TV) set, beautiful mink coat, diamonds and earrings,” Modell said. “So that night at dinner, I said, ‘You looked fantastic in that mink coat.’ She said, ‘What are you talking about? I wear a white uniform. I’m a nurse.’ ”

Said Modell: “I had the wrong channel.”

Modell was beloved in Baltimore, and hoped one day the people of Cleveland would remember him for what he accomplished in the city. Long after the move, Modell pointed out that Cleveland ultimately got the new stadium he coveted, and that the expansion version of the Browns could draw on the history he helped create.

“I think that part of my legacy is I left the colors, the name and the records in Cleveland,” Modell said. “The fans in Cleveland were loyal and supportive. They lived and died with me every Sunday for 35 years.”
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