Before leaving for next week's NFL owners meetings, Steve Bisciotti said he is prepared to take the biggest handoff in Ravens history.
Bisciotti, who owns 49 percent of the team, has informed majority owner Art Modell that he will buy the remaining 51 percent and assume control of the Ravens after the 2003 season.
The Anne Arundel County businessman bought a minority interest for $275 million in 1999, which included the right to buy the rest of the team anytime between 2004 and 2006. In his annual lunch with Modell earlier this month, Bisciotti reiterated his intention to purchase the rest of the team's shares in January for $325 million and become sole owner.
"I'm 90 percent certain that it will be done," Bisciotti said. "As I sit here, my goal is to exercise the option."
This means the 2003 season will be Modell's last after more than four decades of ownership.
Modell entered the league in 1961, when he paid $3.93 million for the franchise, then known as the Cleveland Browns. He was vilified nationwide after moving the Browns to Baltimore in 1996, but soon returned to the top of the football world when the Ravens won Super Bowl XXXV in January 2001.
Now, after the Ravens' surprising success last season, the 77-year-old owner said he is upbeat about his chances for a memorable exit.
"I do want to go out on top as a winner," Modell said. "But my emotions are pretty clear. I've had a good run. God has been good to me, pulling me through two heart attacks and two hip operations. I have enjoyed the years enormously in Cleveland and especially in Baltimore."
Bisciotti intends to keep Modell around as a consultant and has gone out of his way to pay him the utmost respect. In the team's new training headquarters, Modell will have an office just feet away from Bisciotti's.
"Art is a great resource for me," Bisciotti said. "I want to keep Art involved. I think it would be insensitive of me - and shortsighted of me - to believe that I didn't need his advice and direction over these next few years. I'm looking forward to his involvement."
Although he always wanted to hand over the team to his two sons, Modell said he has no regrets in his dealings with Bisciotti. Four years ago, Modell sought an investor to help pay off the debt acquired in moving the team from Cleveland.
"He's a very fine individual," Modell said. "I think he's a quick study. I think he has a passion for the game. I think he'll be a good, solid owner in the NFL."
In preparation for the changeover, Bisciotti has raised his behind-the-scenes presence. He estimated that his time spent with the Ravens has increased from 30 percent last year to 60 percent this year.
Bisciotti has played an active role in the team's negotiations for new radio and medical contracts and has overseen the Ravens' soon-to-be-built, 97,000-square-foot practice facility in Owings Mills.
This approach likely will be typical of Bisciotti, 42, who would become the league's second-youngest owner. Unlike the NFL's youngest owner - the Washington Redskins' Daniel Snyder - Bisciotti doesn't foresee himself being hands-on in day-to-day personnel matters.
"I don't know if anyone will notice a difference between now and the day when I technically take over," Bisciotti said. "It will be a fairly smooth transition. As far as the football decisions, Ozzie [Newsome, general manager] will still have the final say."
Attempts to create a seamless transition began last year, when Newsome and coach Brian Billick were signed to extensions. By locking up Newsome and Billick through Bisciotti's first couple of seasons as owner, the franchise keeps continuity in the front office.
"What Steve and Art have been able to do is probably going to be seen as the best way to acquire a franchise," Newsome said. "Steve has had three years to watch and understand the business. When and if he takes over, he will not be jumping into the water for the very first time. He comes in with a sense of what direction he wants the franchise to go. From that standpoint, it's not going to be a lot of change."
Bisciotti, though, has experienced drastic change to become an NFL owner.
A year after graduating from Salisbury State in 1982, Bisciotti started his company, Allegis (formerly Aerotek), in a basement office in Annapolis, with two old desks and a carpet stuck together with duct tape. Allegis, based in Hanover, has grown into one of the nation's leading technical staffing firms.
But Bisciotti, who grew up as a Colts fan, never thought about becoming a professional sports owner until 1993.
"I can honestly say when Peter Angelos bought the Orioles - and I loved the Orioles growing up as much as I loved the Colts - that's when I was exposed to a local guy buying a team and I was envious of him," said Bisciotti, who is a graduate of Severna Park High. "When you're 35 years old, you're not thinking about being a professional ballplayer anymore."
Now, he is less than a year removed from taking control of one of the most lucrative franchises in the NFL. According to a magazine last year, the Ravens were valued at $607 million, fifth highest in the league.
To Bisciotti, acquiring the Ravens has been worth the wait.
"I'm looking forward to it," he said. "It's been the absolute optimal way to enter the NFL. To sit back and learn for these past three years, I'm just ready."