Barry Levinson: Art Modell's gift to Baltimore

There is joy in Charm City. The Baltimore Ravens are the champions of the football world. Tuesday, upon the Ravens' return from the Super Bowl in New Orleans, hundreds of thousands of fans lined the streets of Baltimore and filled the football stadium. The city was euphoric and the fan base ecstatic. For the second time in this new century, Baltimore's Ravens are the best team in football. And yet, if not for one man, none of this would have been possible. If not for one man, there would be no Ravens football team. No purple and black to root for. Just a struggling city without the cheers or the roar of a crowd.

It is ironic that Art Modell, the man who made it all possible, was denied entry into the football Hall of Fame just a day before the Super Bowl. The man who brought football back to Baltimore after a very long 12-year absence was not deemed worthy of recognition. Forget all he accomplished. We know the reason. He moved his franchise from Cleveland to Baltimore. One can certainly sympathize with the fans of Cleveland to suddenly have a team snatched from an avid fan base. One can understand the anger of a city hungry for a team that is no longer there.

But within two years, there was a new Cleveland Browns football team. The name remained the same. The colors of the team remained the same. And their football legacy remained intact. Not so in Baltimore, where the Colts name went to another city — where the Colts colors went with the name. And if you go to the NFL Hall of Fame, there is virtually no recognition that the Baltimore Colts ever existed.

For 12 long years, the city tried to get the NFL to bring an expansion team to Baltimore, with no luck. Cities like Charlotte, N.C., and Jacksonville, Fla., were deemed more worthy prospects for an NFL franchise. Can anyone with a straight face say that Jacksonville is a better place for a football team than Baltimore? The state of Florida already had two teams! It desperately needed a third? Can anyone say Charlotte has a better, more avid, more vocal fan base than Baltimore? I think any rational person would have to say no.

It was apparent that Baltimore was never going to get another team. It can't be proved — no "smoking gun" was ever found — but it seemed clear that somewhere in the dark corners of the NFL, some decision was made to keep an expansion team from coming into Baltimore.

I was at a meeting with then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer when he heard the disappointing news that for the second time Baltimore was not to get an expansion team. He said, angrily, "The NFL is never going to give Baltimore a franchise. The only way we're going to get a team is if we steal one. Just like the Colts were stolen from us."

And then it happened. Cleveland's football team came to Baltimore. It was a tough hand to play, but the NFL created a climate that was less than perfect. Art Modell understood that Cleveland would get another franchise, so he made the painful decision to move the team to Baltimore. And once again Baltimore's devotion to football was rekindled. When Art decided to divest his interest in the team, he sold it to Steve Bisciotti, a man with strong roots in the local area who maintained the integrity of the organization. And now the team has brought home its second Lombardi Trophy.

If you happened to have watched on television the hundreds of thousands of people who lined the streets of Baltimore and filled the stadium, pridefully yelling "Ravens, Ravens, Ravens!" — or, if you were one of those people yourself — can you say that Art Modell was wrong? Can anyone say that Baltimore should have remained a city without a football team to call its own? Can you honestly say that there should be no joy in Charm City?

It may have been an imperfect move, but both cities now have a football franchise. It just so happens that Baltimore's team is better.

Baltimore-born filmmaker Barry Levinson has written, directed or created more than two dozen movies and television shows, including "Diner," "Rain Man" and "Homicide: Life on the Streets."

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