"I think that's a big part of who he is," said Kevin Byrne, the Ravens' vice president of public relations and a confidant of Modell for more than 20 years. "He appreciates the common person. He appreciates hard work. And he's highly, highly competitive, yet he has this incredible compassion for being one tough guy."

By the age of 18, he began two years of service in the Air Force and then enrolled in television school under the G.I. Bill. He produced Market Melodies, one of the first regular television shows in the nation, but he found his calling in the NFL.

One of his fondest memories is walking onto the field at Yankee Stadium for the first time as an owner. He looked up at the seat - Section 16, Box 44a - where he avidly watched Giants games.

At that moment, he realized being an owner doesn't stop you from being a fan.

"Everything was a dream," Modell said.

A bond with players

Saying loyalty and Modell in the same breath would draw growls from Cleveland's Dawg Pound. But there's no disputing that this hands-on owner operates with a personal touch.

When former Browns Don Fleming and Ernie Davis died, Modell pitched in to cover funeral costs. When another Brown, Eddie Johnson, suffered with cancer, Modell quietly sent a $15,000 check to help handle medical bills.

And when Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis was charged with murder, it was Modell who flew down to Atlanta to be a character witness at his bail hearing.

"The whole football team is like a family," said Modell's wife, Pat.

Art Modell is there for more than the bad times. He has taken several players under his wing and allowed them to move off the field and into the organization.

The Ravens' general manager (Ozzie Newsome), assistant pro personnel director (Vince Newsome), director of player development (Earnest Byner) and special teams assistant (Bennie Thompson) all played for Modell.

"I look at Art as a type of father because of the commitment that he's made to me and the support that he's given me throughout my career," Byner said.

The starting point for all Modell's relationships is on the practice field.

After a player signs, he usually receives his first handshake from the owner.

Unlike many of his peers, Modell is a fixture at practice. Despite suffering a heart attack and a stroke in the past 15 months, it's nearly automatic that he'll be sitting in his golf cart on the sideline whether it's 100 degrees or snowing.

"Art talked with me every day," tight end Shannon Sharpe said during his time with the Ravens. "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."

No regrets about move

The dramatic losses by the Browns in the AFC championship games - from John Elway's drive to Byner's fumble - stung Modell. However, the most painful chapter of his life remains his move from Cleveland, which cuts deeper than any defeat.

An unbearable stadium situation prompted Modell to uproot the beloved Browns to Baltimore in 1996 and rename his franchise the Ravens. Although he left the Browns' colors and tradition, the once well-respected member of the Cleveland community became a villain in his adopted hometown of 35 years.