TAMPA, Fla. - On the night that Art Modell's Super Bowl dream finally came true, he had to admit that he had once entertained serious doubts that this Ravens team could win the NFL championship.
"When we went five games without scoring a touchdown," Modell said. "But you know what? They stuck together and they pulled together. We came out of that slump, and I'm very proud of Brian Billick and his staff and the players.
There is a lot of chemistry in this organization - a lot of love for each other. And [Vince] Lombardi told me years and years ago that in order to win, you have to love each other."
Modell clearly loves this team, and the feeling is mutual. The players and coaches - to a man - made it their personal playoff quest to get Modell into the Super Bowl, then engineered a resounding, 34-7 victory over the New York Giants last night to give him his first NFL championship since the then-Browns captured the 1964 title in the pre-Super Bowl era.
"We came so close time and time again, but no cigar," Modell said afterward. "Now comes the cigar."
And everyone knows they make pretty good cigars in Tampa.
He had come close in 1986, only to watch Denver quarterback John Elway direct a dramatic, fourth-quarter comeback to deny the Browns in the AFC title game.
He came within an Earnest Byner fumble of defeating the Broncos for the AFC championship the following year. He probably would have been satisfied with his first trip to the Super Bowl this year, but the Ravens rolled through the playoffs and ran right over the Giants.
"This is a dream come true, after 40 years and a lot of playoff games," Modell said. "We're thrilled and we're happy for the players and coaches, my family. ... I can't say enough. This has been a long time coming."
Modell also had to suffer through the trauma of uprooting the franchise in Cleveland and moving it to Baltimore five years ago, which made him Public Enemy No. 1 in a place where he had been a popular and influential citizen for 35 years.
Perhaps last night's victory made it all worthwhile, but Modell clearly would like to come to some kind of truce with the football fans of Cleveland. He spoke glowingly of them after the Ravens upset the Oakland Raiders to win the AFC championship, and he wondered last night whether they were beginning to understand that he had no choice but to move the team.
"I really don't know how they feel. I can't answer for them," he said. "I would hope that maybe they would recognize this as something we did. I love that city and I love the people, but it wasn't meant to be."
After the game, Modell said, "There were tears in the locker room when I talked to the team. I'm not ashamed of that. ... I said, `You did me proud and I thank you.' The coaches, the players, the trainers and doctors. It's a great organization and I said, "You did me proud and I'll never forget it."