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Modell ready to own up to 40-year tenure

FootballBaltimore RavensSuper BowlNFLShannon SharpeCleveland Browns

Art Modell would prefer a grand exit to a glorified entrance.

The Ravens are planning a special pre-game introduction Sunday to honorModell's 40th year in the league, but the dean of NFL owners has anothercelebration in mind. He wants a victory over the San Diego Chargers that wouldclinch the first playoff berth in his five-year tenure here and give himanother long-awaited shot at his first Super Bowl.

On-field ceremonies don't usually fly with this old-school owner, andModell expects to make his final decision in a couple of days. The onlygame-day salute of his career was 1996, when he took part in the festivitiesleading up to the Ravens' first game here.

"I haven't made my mind up, but I wouldn't consider it under anycircumstances unless the Ravens were in the [playoff] hunt," Modell said. "Letme put it the other way: If I go out and I'm introduced as they want me to beand we don't clinch Sunday, you'll never see me out there again. Even at my80th anniversary you won't see me unless I'm a groundskeeper."

Modell has had a steadfast rule that two groups - owners and politicians -shouldn't be introduced at sporting events because they're both likely to getbooed. Members of the Ravens' organization along with Modell's family havetried to convince the venerable owner otherwise.

It would be a brief salute that would replace the introduction of theRavens' offense or defense. After being recognized for his 40th season, Modellwould be escorted by tight end Shannon Sharpe and linebacker Ray Lewis througha tunnel of players.

"It's been a long journey for him," said Kevin Byrne, the team's vicepresident of public relations. "In 40 years, you deserve one bow in front ofthe crowd."

Said David Modell, Art's youngest son and team president: "He's going aboutthis kind of kicking and screaming, but it's kind of the nature of the guy.Forty years in this business is pretty spectacular. He certainly has over thecourse of time made some pretty significant contributions. It's a milestonethat you can't overlook."

But Modell, who hasn't had a team in the playoffs since 1994, anticipatedcelebrating this milestone in style.

"Not that I'm a great prognosticator, but I felt at the beginning oftraining camp that this may be one of the better teams I've had in 40 yearsand nothing has changed my mind since then," Modell said. "This is a veryspecial team.

"This team has taken on a dimension all its own. I can't equate it with anyother team in the past. When you're playing with seven No. 1 draft choices,you've got to be pretty good."

When asked if that suggested a trip to the Super Bowl, Modell hedged aroundany monumental predictions.

"I think it's everybody's dream," Modell said. "The last man on the rosterhas that dream. We want that big enchilada and we've been waiting a long time.It's been so devastatingly close."

The 75-year-old owner can recount the memories from his three AFCChampionship games in painful detail. Each time he watched his team slip onestep away from the Super Bowl, as his Cleveland Browns lost to the DenverBroncos in 1986, 1987 and 1989 by a total of 24 points.

Another stumble this year wouldn't shatter Modell.

"If things don't work out, God forbid," he said, "I'm not going to fold mytent because next year is another year."

Still, Modell is on the clock. He sold minority interest in the team toAnne Arundel County businessman Stephen J. Bisciotti for $275 million. Thatagreement will allow Bisciotti to purchase the rest of the team's shares in2004 for an additional $325 million.

"If I can't get it done and I can't be on that stage and accept thattrophy, I don't belong in the business," Modell said. "I had enoughopportunity."

Now, all the members of his organization want is an opportunity to honorhim. For Modell, it could celebrate the start of a stretch run to remember.

"I think it could be a great day for him," Byrne said. "There are not a lotof Art Modells anymore. We want to do this for him and he's being a reluctanthero right now.

"He'll get teary-eyed because he's an emotional man. It will give him achance to reflect on not only what an effect he's had on the community, butthe league as well."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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