Moving the Browns
Mr. Modell claimed he was losing money, a contention the league disputed. But the team was mired in debt, brought on by its operation of the ancient Cleveland Stadium and some pricey player signings that failed to produce the desired championship. Mr. Modell's pursuit of the Super Bowl contributed to his undoing.
“I think his desire to win affected him in Cleveland, [and] his not getting to a Super Bowl affected his running the franchise because that's what he wanted to do,” said Ozzie Newsome, a Hall of Fame tight end for Mr. Modell who worked his way into the Ravens general manager's position by 2002. “He in turn invested a lot of capital into the players to win a Super Bowl.”
Meanwhile, Cleveland taxpayers had built new playing facilities for Major League Baseball's Indians and the National Basketball Association's Cavaliers. Prospects for a football stadium dimmed as those two projects ran over budget and an unrelated bond crisis gripped the county.
Mr. Modell, who had always promised not to move his team, said he had run out of patience, and cash, waiting for his turn for a new stadium. So on Oct. 27, 1995, he secretly met with Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and signed the papers to move the team. Baltimore had been desperately seeking a replacement for the Colts since that franchise had moved to Indianapolis in 1984.
“I didn't get into this business to go bankrupt. I'm in it to win, and I can't continue to make the best effort to win in Cleveland with the current stadium situation,” Mr. Modell said at the time.
The Browns' move to Baltimore was met with widespread condemnation, and, coming on the heels of a disastrous baseball players strike, was perceived as another example of rampant greed in sports. Congress convened hearings to debate it and fans set up pickets at gatherings of NFL team owners. Mr. Modell's candidacy for the Pro Football Hall of Fame failed that fall.
Cleveland went to court to block the move, but ended up settling for $12 million from Mr. Modell and the promise from the league of a new team that would play under the Browns moniker and adopt its records and heritage. The league even subsidized the construction of the city's new stadium, a loan it collected from the franchise that replaced Mr. Modell's.
That team, owned by a financier and former part-owner of the Browns under Mr. Modell, Al Lerner, took the field for the first time in 1999.
Mr. Modell renamed his team the Ravens and they played their first game in Baltimore in 1996. In 1998, the team moved into the new $223 million stadium near Camden Yards that had been promised if it would move from Ohio.
Mr. Modell and his wife, the former Patricia Breslin, moved to Baltimore County as promised.
He was unable to leave behind his financial troubles, however. In a desperate restructuring of the team's $185 million debt in 1997, Mr. Modell turned over a majority of the stock to his wife but retained the title of managing partner. The move was designed to circumvent league limits on how much a managing partner can borrow against the franchise.
The league went along reluctantly but a few years later the team lapsed into default when it failed to maintain a required ratio of profit to debt. Mr. Modell was forced to sell the team.
Mr. Bisciotti purchased 49 percent of the Ravens for $275 million in 1999. The deal gave him the option to buy the rest of the team four years later for another $325 million.
“I had my run,” Mr. Modell said at the time of the sale.
But the run wasn't quite over. Mr. Modell remained in charge of the team prior to Bisciotti's option and fulfilled his most fervent wish late in life, raising the Lombardi Trophy after the 2001 Super Bowl.
In addition to his sons and daughter-in-law, Mr. Modell is survived by six grandchildren. A funeral service is tentatively scheduled for 11 a.m. on Tuesday but a location has not been determined.
Baltimore Sun reporter Jeff Zrebiec contributed to this article.