Ray Lewis stood outside the church, coat collar tucked up on a raw, rainy Tuesday, and put former Ravens president David Modell’s legacy in perspective.
“We’ve lost the foundation [of the franchise],” Lewis said, his voice trembling. “Without David, there is no me, no Ravens, no structure, man. He was the father of this team, the one that people never knew about. He changed my life, and those of others, but he was always under the radar.”
Modell, the team’s president from its inception in 1996 until 2004, was remembered at a funeral mass before nearly 300 people at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Most Reverend William E. Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore, presided over the service, attended by Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, general manager Ozzie Newsome, coach John Harbaugh and a number of former players, including Rob Burnett, Tony Siragusa, Matt Stover and Kyle Richardson. Also there were former Colts Stan White and Hall of Famer Lenny Moore.
Modell, 55, died Jan. 13 after a two-year battle with lung cancer. The son of former Ravens owner Art Modell, he served as team president for eight years and oversaw the move of the franchise from Cleveland. He stepped down in 2004, when his father sold the club to Bisciotti.
David Modell’s brother, John, told churchgoers that in 1996, when their father took ill, “the pressure of founding this new franchise fell solely on the shoulders of David. He planted the flag in Baltimore … and had barely six months to put a fully formed NFL team on the field. Yet the Ravens won their first game, and their first [Super Bowl] championship within five years.”
David Modell’s son, Arthur E. Modell, remembered his father’s quirky sense of humor and how, during football season, he would cut out the heads of opposing NFL coaches’ bodies from team media guides, paste them on the lids of Dixie cups and place them in the family’s freezer.
“David was the funny, lighthearted one,” Harbaugh said. “Even though he’d retired when I got here [in 2008], he was supportive of me and my family — and a big part of the spirit of the Ravens.”
Moore, 83, called Modell “a great friend — not just to guys on the team but to [old Colt players] who were around. Every time you went out [to the Ravens’ facility], he’d say, ‘Hey man, how you doin’?’ You could talk to him.”
Ernie Accorsi recalled how Modell broke into football in 1984 with the Cleveland Browns the same year that Accorsi became Browns GM.
“Dave’s father asked me to take him under my wing, but you saw early on that he had a very bright executive mind,” said Accorsi, once the Colts general manager in Baltimore. “Like him, I smoked cigars, and after a win Dave would give me one of his — which were $10 better.”
In his funeral homily, Archbishop Lori laced his talk with football images.
“David’s illness was a crucible in which … he was prepared for that which lies beyond the playing fields of this world,” he said. “And we are here today, as his teammates and his cheerleaders, as we pray him over the goal line into the heavenly kingdom. This is not an easy contest for us to be involved in, but with the Lord’s help, David might just have caught a Hail Mary pass in the end zone.”
Sitting alone, in the back of the Basilica, was a middle-aged man wearing blue jeans and a Ravens jacket.
“I feel funny, not being dressed up like everyone else, but I just heard about the service this morning and I took off from work,” said Pete Madera, a whiskey manufacturer from Arbutus. A Ravens season-ticket holder, he said he “just wanted to pay my respects to Mr. Modell. I’ll never forget him running around the field at PSINet Stadium with the Super Bowl trophy, when the Ravens got back from Tampa (in 2001). I must have touched it three times.”
Said Madera, “The fabric of our team is woven into this city, and [Modell] helped weave it.”