TAMPA, Fla. - On the night that Art Modell's Super Bowl dream finally cametrue, he had to admit that he had once entertained serious doubts that thisRavens team could win the NFL championship.
"When we went five games without scoring a touchdown," Modell said. "Butyou know what? They stuck together and they pulled together. We came out ofthat slump, and I'm very proud of Brian Billick and his staff and the players.
There is a lot of chemistry in this organization - a lot of love for eachother. And [Vince] Lombardi told me years and years ago that in order to win,you have to love each other."
Modell clearly loves this team, and the feeling is mutual. The players andcoaches - to a man - made it their personal playoff quest to get Modell intothe Super Bowl, then engineered a resounding, 34-7 victory over the New YorkGiants last night to give him his first NFL championship since the then-Brownscaptured the 1964 title in the pre-Super Bowl era.
"We came so close time and time again, but no cigar," Modell saidafterward. "Now comes the cigar."
And everyone knows they make pretty good cigars in Tampa.
He had come close in 1986, only to watch Denver quarterback John Elwaydirect a dramatic, fourth-quarter comeback to deny the Browns in the AFC titlegame.
He came within an Earnest Byner fumble of defeating the Broncos for the AFCchampionship the following year. He probably would have been satisfied withhis first trip to the Super Bowl this year, but the Ravens rolled through theplayoffs and ran right over the Giants.
"This is a dream come true, after 40 years and a lot of playoff games,"Modell said. "We're thrilled and we're happy for the players and coaches, myfamily. ... I can't say enough. This has been a long time coming."
Modell also had to suffer through the trauma of uprooting the franchise inCleveland and moving it to Baltimore five years ago, which made him PublicEnemy No. 1 in a place where he had been a popular and influential citizen for35 years.
Perhaps last night's victory made it all worthwhile, but Modell clearlywould like to come to some kind of truce with the football fans of Cleveland.He spoke glowingly of them after the Ravens upset the Oakland Raiders to winthe AFC championship, and he wondered last night whether they were beginningto understand that he had no choice but to move the team.
"I really don't know how they feel. I can't answer for them," he said. "Iwould hope that maybe they would recognize this as something we did. I lovethat city and I love the people, but it wasn't meant to be."
After the game, Modell said, "There were tears in the locker room when Italked to the team. I'm not ashamed of that. ... I said, `You did me proud andI thank you.' The coaches, the players, the trainers and doctors. It's a greatorganization and I said, "You did me proud and I'll never forget it."