It was Bisciotti's deference to Modell during those years that convinced Moag of the new owner's exceptional quality.

"You had this young guy, who had just plunked down hundreds of millions of dollars, who was literally willing to sit and listen as an elder taught him the game," says Moag, who has worked on transfers of power in many franchises. "That just doesn't happen. It speaks to the manners he learned from his family."

As Bisciotti and his wife oversaw the design of the team's lavish new practice facility in Owings Mills, he insisted that the key feature of the central lobby be an oil portrait he had commissioned of Modell.

No meddling

Where many new owners might have made sweeping changes, Bisciotti hardly tweaked his staff when he took control in 2004. He brought in Cass, who had advised him during his negotiations with the Modells, but left Newsome's football operation untouched. Those first moves foreshadowed the kind of unmeddling owner Bisciotti would prove to be.

"He told everybody, 'Do your job. You're doing a good job,'" Cass recalls. "We have to explain ourselves, but he respects us and the decisions we make."

For a town that often complains about its baseball owner's heavy-handed management, the approach was welcome.

"It's palpable how much Steve enjoys the team," Moag says. "But what never changed was that discipline. He has never succumbed to the trap that gets so many other owners, of thinking he knows more than his GM."

Bisciotti's absolute confidence in his ability to read people allows him to delegate with a light touch, friends say. It guided him through his toughest period as owner, when he fired coach Brian Billick after the 2007 season and installed Harbaugh, who had never even been in charge of an NFL offense or defense.

The owner was somber in announcing Billick's removal. Bisciotti said at the time that he had more to prove than the coach, who had brought Baltimore a Super Bowl win. But he gleamed with confidence at Harbaugh's introduction a few weeks later.

"Do I like a guy who has to earn his resume?" he said at the time. "Absolutely. I've made a living on guys with thin resumes for 25 years, and it's worked out well for me."

With at least one playoff win in each of his four seasons, Harbaugh has made Bisciotti look smart. "The guy is the best I've ever been around," the coach says when asked about his owner. "And the quality of the organization reflects that."

Bisciotti always has a say on major business decisions and often tries to assert the fan's point of view, Cass says. For example, he didn't like seeing adult autograph seekers push aside kids during training camp, so he insisted on a new policy that would place younger fans front and center.

When the 2011 season seemed in peril because of a labor dispute, Bisciotti said he was "embarrassed" to be part of a public fight over money between millionaires and billionaires.

When his football people advocated moving training camp from Westminster to the team's private facility in Owings Mills, Bisciotti resisted, remembering his childhood joy at attending Colts camp.

"He ultimately accepted the decision," Cass says. "But he didn't like it."

Bisciotti has never reached for a dime of the Ravens' earnings, the team president adds. "He never tells us to maximize profits," Cass says. "He wants to win a championship, so we plow every dollar back into the team."

If you want to know Bisciotti's heart, Shapiro says, watch him in the owner's box at M&T Bank Stadium. On the walls, you'll see the photos he and his siblings collected at Colts training camp as children. In the seats, you might see his mother, rooting vociferously for the Ravens, or a pack of grinning buddies he's been friends with for 35 years. At the center, you'll find Bisciotti, puffing on a cigar and commenting on the game like the team's No. 1 fan.

"You can see how he built his love of the game," Shapiro says. "And the box is full of people who have touched his life since he was a kid, just plain people who have affected him. With Steve, none of it is a show."

childs.walker@baltsun.com