Modell family watching the final run for Lewis, while remembering their father

While Ray Lewis was lapping the field and basking in the glory of his final victory at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday, David and Michel Modell were on the Ravens' sideline connecting the final dot.

They placed a bouquet of flowers on the large black circle bearing the first name of the father of the Ravens franchise — and the father figure who helped steer Lewis through the toughest time of his life.

Art Modell, who passed away just four days before the Ravens opened the 2012 season, surely was there in spirit.

"We kept both of my parents' seats empty this season and had a little bouquet of flowers on their chairs," David Modell explained, "and so we took the bouquet that was on Poppy's chair and put it down and there's a certain aspect of closure that you continue to go through and certainly that was one of them."

Of course, David didn’t know at the time that his father would receive another big bouquet this week. It was announced on Friday that Art has been selected as one of the 15 modern-era finalists to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The inductees will be announced on Feb. 2, the day before the Super Bowl.

"Poppy's in the championship game, which is a great, great accomplishment and one which we're extremely proud of,’’ he said Friday. “We want him to get the final vote and get into the Hall so we'll just keep our fingers crossed."

That was one of the dominoes that David Modell had lined up in his fondest of dreams as he looked ahead to the Ravens’ big game in Denver on Saturday and possibility of the team his family owned taking another step toward its second Super Bowl.     

Denver is heavily favored to move on to the AFC title game, but that doesn’t mean that the Modell and his family can’t imagine what might happen if this were a perfect world. Knocking off the Broncos, who kept Art and his Cleveland Browns out of the Super Bowl three times in the late 1980s, would keep hope alive for what could be a very special family trip to New Orleans next month.

“So the Ravens go and potentially beat Denver in Denver with ART on their chest and exorcise those demons? Yeah, I might be pretty emotional about that, too,’’ David said earlier this week. “Let me think… we go forward and ‘Oh, Super Bowl, with Art Modell on their chest.’ Really, the day after what might be a big day for him, knocking on wood, because Saturday they announce Hall of Famers?

“Could you imagine if my father made it to the Hall of Fame on Saturday and the Ravens playing in the Super Bowl on Sunday with that on their chests in Ray’s final game.  My family will be in a dark room somewhere just weeping our eyes out constantly, but that would be certainly a pretty fitting send-off.”

No doubt, you could get some pretty long odds on all that coming together, but it’s a beautiful thought, and it all started to come together last Sunday.Everything about that day seemed to weave together in an emotional tapestry that celebrated Lewis' great career and his connection to the Ravens franchise, the fans and the team owner who stood behind him "100 percent" during those dark days in 2000 when he stood accused of a double homicide.

"It's one of those bittersweet moments," David said. "It's obviously sweet since he's had such a great career. Bitter, you know, that he won't continue. He has been such a part of everything we have all done as Baltimoreans in conjuction with football. It's always been touched by Ray.

"And then you get deeper into it. The relationship he had with my family, and certainly with my father. The issue that he had at the beginning of the 2000 season and how my dad behaved like a father to Ray and I think Ray recognized that, so there's a lot that went into that …a great sense of pride."

Of course, Art Modell has been close to the heart of every Ravens player this year, quite literally. The Ravens have worn a patch — a smaller version of the "ART" emblem that adorned the field all year — on their jerseys to remember the man who brought the NFL back to Baltimore.

When Lewis punctuated the final play of Sunday's victory over the Indianapolis Colts with his signature dance, he ended it with a subtle tribute that might have gone unnoticed by some, but not by the Modell family.

"He did the dance and then he stood up and then he patted his chest and he patted the Art patch on his chest," David said, "and it made me so proud to see these guys performing the way they did with that additional little banner. It would have made my father extraordinarily happy and proud."

Lewis has turned his focus toward Saturday's playoff matchup against the Denver Broncos, but he said Wednesday that Art Modell is never very far from his thoughts and was very much a part of Sunday's emotional farewell.

At least one more time, the highlights of Lewis' playing career will be on regular display during the network coverage of the second round of the playoffs, but Modell said this week that his most treasured memory will be an intensely personal moment that took place in a hospital room in early September.

"I've obviously got incredible football memories of Ray," he said, "but I think in a decade when someone asks me what's your first recollection of Ray Lewis, it's not going to be him on the field for the Super Bowl. It's not going to be the Eddie George hit. It's not going to be interception returns. It's going to be him kneeling at my father's bedside, like a son, holding my father and praying with him. That's as impactful a moment in your life as you're ever going to have. I'll never forget it."

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

 

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog, and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at noon on Fridays on WBAL (1090AM) and at wbal.com.

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