Mike Preston

Late Ravens owner Art Modell denied honor in Canton but legacy still strong in Baltimore | COMMENTARY

The news Wednesday that former Ravens owner Art Modell missed out on perhaps his best chance to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame was disappointing, but not stunning.

Even though several teams have moved to other cities since Modell left Cleveland for Baltimore for the start of the 1996 season, the Browns’ departure follows Modell around like a nagging headache.


Modell, who died in 2012, was one of 10 historical contributors considered by a panel of 25 media members, but only three were selected for the 2020 Hall of Fame Class.

It’s hard to argue with two of the three chosen — NFL Films founder Steve Sabol and long-time New York Giants general manager George Young. But former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, huh?


There is no need to discuss Tagliabue’s list of accomplishments because there aren’t many, but his selection was as predictable as a cheating scam involving another Boston team.

So Modell’s move to Baltimore, despite it being almost 25 years ago and Cleveland getting a team in 1999, still has to be the stain on the late owner’s record. Because before that, the Modell name was up there with Mara, Rooney and Halas when it came to NFL team ownership, and Modell was one of the league’s top statesmen.

You would think that the selection committee would have gotten over it since owners such as Lamar Hunt and Al Davis moved their teams and are in the Hall of Fame. The Chargers, Rams, Houston Oilers and Raiders have either moved or are expected to relocate since the Browns’ departure.

But what else could it be?

There were arguments that Modell had won only one title, in 1964, but then the Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2012. And let’s not forget Modell’s Browns gave the league two of its most legendary games, even though they were both Cleveland losses: “The Drive” in 1986 and “The Fumble” in 1987.

There were complaints that Modell got rid of two of the most famous coaches in Cleveland history in legendary Paul Brown in 1963 and then Bill Belichick after the 1995 season.

But Belichick was struggling as a young head coach, and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had disagreements with coach Jimmy Johnson, which led to them parting ways in 1993 after winning two Super Bowls in Dallas.

Jones is in the Hall of Fame.


And then there is my favorite: Modell reportedly forced Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown to retire at the age of 29 after a squabble about Brown missing practice time because of his movie career. Excuse me, but few people dictate terms to Big Jim. He is his own man and does whatever he wants.

Few can argue about the impact Modell has had on the NFL during his 44-year career as principal owner of the Browns and Ravens. He was an NFL president and served on the NFL Television Committee, which helped negotiate the first lucrative TV contracts.

The Browns were one of the first teams to play in a Thanksgiving Day game in 1967 and on “Monday Night Football” in 1970, the same year Cleveland was one of the first teams selected to move to the AFC for its merger with the NFL. Modell was also the first NFL owner to name an African-American as general manager when he selected Ozzie Newsome in 2002.

Cleveland fans have a right to still be mad at Modell, just like some old Baltimore fans are still angry about owner Robert Irsay pulling the Colts out for Indianapolis in 1984. But in both situations, their respective stadiums were dumps. The Browns Municipal Stadium made Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium look like the Taj Mahal.

I suspect Modell made his share of bad deals in Cleveland, but in Baltimore, he was well liked. He had a good sense of humor and a quick wit. He could wear down his front office personnel with constant phone calls, but he didn’t have any other businesses.

The NFL was his business.


He loved his players and would do anything for them, from chartering a jet to fly family members across the country to various hospitals or rehabilitating repeat drug offenders. Modell started the Inner Circle program in Cleveland, which was designed for players recovering from drug and alcohol abuse or financial crisis.

Modell came to practice just about every day he owned the Ravens. Even late in his life, when he was confined to a wheelchair, he would still attend. He loved the media and treated us as well as his own players.

When the Browns first came to Baltimore, they had no team colors, mascots or logos and couldn’t even field a full developmental squad because of a low cash flow. But in five years, the Ravens won a Super Bowl. Now they have two titles and are one of the best franchises in the league, thanks to Modell.

It’s a shame that he probably won’t get into the Hall of Fame. But over in The Castle, when you walk into the main lobby, there is a life-size oil painting of Modell in his camel-skin coat. It’s like he is still casting a shadow over this team.

He left a similar shadow over the NFL, but it won’t be recognized in the Hall of Fame. However, his legacy in Baltimore will be around for a long time.