Bisciotti took the reins before the 2004 season and kept Modell's football brain trust, led by Newsome, in place.

"I've had a chance to watch him grow," Newsome says. "I talk to a lot of the other GMs in our business, and they always say that Steve had it done the right way. He was able to come in to be a minority owner to learn and watch and then become an owner. Some of these other guys aren't having the opportunity, so therefore they make a lot of mistakes."

Bisciotti took his biggest on-paper risk after the 2007 season, when he fired coach Brian Billick and replaced him with Harbaugh, a largely anonymous special teams coordinator from the Philadelphia Eagles. Bisciotti said he fell back on his hiring instincts from Aerotek, trusting his sense of what the career assistant could become.

In five seasons, Harbaugh has never failed to steer the Ravens to at least one playoff win. He did his best work this year, holding the team together through waves of injuries and a dispiriting late-season losing streak.

Shapiro, who often sits with Bisciotti during games, says it wasn't easy to watch the owner quietly agonize his way through losses. But he says Bisciotti never stopped looking for the bright side and that he could not be prouder of Harbaugh's performance.

"He takes gigantic pride in it," Shapiro says. "I remember talking with him after he first met John. And Steve had been down because [Cowboys coach] Jason Garrett was spinning away from him. But he said about John, 'I just walked in and talked to this guy, and wow!' "

So close

With Harbaugh in place and Newsome continuing to stock the roster with talent, Bisciotti's Ravens came within a game of the Super Bowl in 2009 and again last year. But as injuries struck down star after star and a once-promising playoff position slipped away, few believed this year's team could repeat that success.

Some have wondered if Bisciotti, fed up with the losing streak, was behind Harbaugh's decision to fire beleaguered offensive coordinator Cam Cameron late in the season.

But Harbaugh has said the call was his, and Newsome reiterated that last week. "No, no, no, no, no," he said when asked if the firing was taken out of Harbaugh's hands. "That wouldn't be fair to John. John has to stand before his coaching staff and his players, and if at any one point do they ever think that he's overly influenced by Steve or I, then he loses his staff and his players."

The season took on even greater urgency for Bisciotti when Lewis announced his impending retirement before the playoffs. The owner makes no secret of his affection for the linebacker, who has been with the franchise since its first game. And the feeling is mutual. Lewis often alludes to the depth of his friendship with Bisciotti.

Bisciotti became unusually quiet as he watched the Ravens seize a commanding advantage in their home playoff opener against the Indianapolis Colts. "It was because of his feelings and his connection with Ray," Shapiro says. "He was really feeling the emotion of watching Ray play in Baltimore for the last time."

A bad case of flu kept Bisciotti from traveling to the next game in Denver. But as he watched his team trade huge plays with the favored Broncos in a playoff classic, Bisciotti texted Harbaugh to say that win or lose, he had never been prouder. Harbaugh shared the message with his players after they won in a second overtime.

The coach did not have to serve as a proxy in Foxborough.

"I think the words 'I love you,' came out of his mouth to a lot of different people," Harbaugh says in describing Bisciotti post-game. "That's kind of who he is, the type of leader he is. He's the kind of guy that he wants you to know that he cares about you. He's proud of us. Like any boss … They put their arm around you and tell you good job — that means a lot."

Steve Bisciotti

Age: 52 (April 10, 1960)

Years with Ravens: 13

High school: Severna Park

College: Salisbury State (1982)

Family: Wife, Renée (Foote); two sons, Jason and Jack.

Source: Baltimore Ravens