This year's path to training camp may be uncharted territory for ArtModell, but the resilient Ravens owner is certainly enjoying the ride.
For the first time in his four decades in the NFL, Modell will entertraining camp clutching that elusive Super Bowl trophy along with a buildinghunger to repeat.
The Ravens will take the field at Western Maryland College in six days, andModell has placed them on a pedestal like no other. Still, he will deliver amessage of cautious optimism when he addresses the team at camp.
"I have found over a period of years that it's tougher to stay at the topthan to get there," Modell said. "It will be a true test of the BaltimoreRavens. I think we can handle anybody because we have the confidence thatcomes from winning. Even in minicamps, you could see the spirit of the guys."
So, where does this year's team stand, even in comparison with lastseason's Super Bowl champions?
"On paper, this is the best team I've had in my 41 years," he said. "Butaccording to the league's constitutional bylaws, we have to win it on grass,not paper."
After shedding tears following the Super Bowl, Modell has cheered his frontoffice, which has seemingly made all the right moves in the off-season.
The Ravens exceeded expectations by keeping 10 starters from their nastydefense as well as defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis.
They pumped up the offense by signing free-agent quarterback Elvis Grbacand right tackle Leon Searcy while bucking normal NFL protocol. The Ravensbecame the first Super Bowl champion not to invite back its startingquarterback, cutting their ties with Trent Dilfer.
"Trent had his attributes, but the whole league knows that our defense ledus to the Super Bowl," Modell said. "We needed to bolster our offense to helpthem. I couldn't ask for a better off-season."
His only complaint is the lack of respect bestowed upon the Ravens.
A growing number of the national media have championed the Tampa BayBuccaneers and St. Louis Rams as the teams to beat this season. Some leaguepundits have ranked the Ravens as low as fifth in the league.
"Frankly, we haven't gotten the national recognition we deserve," Modellsaid. "And I don't know why. But they will. We really have to win it again toget embraced nationally."
Modell, though, has easily embraced the title of defending Super Bowlchampion.
Once again, he finds his team among the elite high rollers in the leagueafter nearly a decade of despair.
His climb back to the upper echelon proved his tenacity. He had to endurelosing seasons in eight of the previous 10 years as well as a much-ridiculedmove of his franchise from Cleveland.
Before that, Modell's Cleveland Browns went to the playoffs six times inthe 1980s, leaving him with memories of shocking defeat and agony.
John Elway usually supplied the finishing touches, leading the DenverBroncos over the Browns three times in the AFC championship game. Once, Elwaydrove 98 yards to a late game-tying touchdown, with the Broncos winning inovertime.
"I never had the occasion to say, `We were the almost-champion ClevelandBrowns,' " he said. "But I like being the defending Super Bowl champion. I canget used to saying that in a hurry. In fact, I want to say it again. I want tosay it for the next three years."
That's the timetable for Modell.
His deal with minority owner Stephen J. Bisciotti will allow the AnneArundel County businessman to purchase the rest of the team's shares in 2004for an additional $325 million. Modell sold 49 percent of the Ravens toBisciotti before last season for $275 million.
"I think about it. I'm close to 80 years old and don't run the BostonMarathon anymore," said Modell, who turned 76 last month.
If the clock is ticking on Modell's ownership, he already has found peacewith his first Super Bowl victory.
But Modell doesn't want to go out peacefully just yet.
"It would have been hell to leave if we didn't win it," Modell said. "Iwould be kicking myself until I was 110. It would have been impossible to dealwith.
"Now, I want to enjoy the three years fully and then smell the roses. Wehave three full seasons and I'm looking forward to it. We have a chance to winit again, and I believe we can do it."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun