Baltimore Ravens

Finally at the top, Modell likes the view

This year's path to training camp may be uncharted territory for Art Modell, but the resilient Ravens owner is certainly enjoying the ride.

For the first time in his four decades in the NFL, Modell will enter training camp clutching that elusive Super Bowl trophy along with a building hunger to repeat.

The Ravens will take the field at Western Maryland College in six days, and Modell has placed them on a pedestal like no other. Still, he will deliver a message of cautious optimism when he addresses the team at camp.

"I have found over a period of years that it's tougher to stay at the top than to get there," Modell said. "It will be a true test of the Baltimore Ravens. I think we can handle anybody because we have the confidence that comes from winning. Even in minicamps, you could see the spirit of the guys."

So, where does this year's team stand, even in comparison with last season's Super Bowl champions?

"On paper, this is the best team I've had in my 41 years," he said. "But according to the league's constitutional bylaws, we have to win it on grass, not paper."

After shedding tears following the Super Bowl, Modell has cheered his front office, which has seemingly made all the right moves in the off-season.

The Ravens exceeded expectations by keeping 10 starters from their nasty defense as well as defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis.

They pumped up the offense by signing free-agent quarterback Elvis Grbac and right tackle Leon Searcy while bucking normal NFL protocol. The Ravens became the first Super Bowl champion not to invite back its starting quarterback, cutting their ties with Trent Dilfer.

"Trent had his attributes, but the whole league knows that our defense led us to the Super Bowl," Modell said. "We needed to bolster our offense to help them. I couldn't ask for a better off-season."

His only complaint is the lack of respect bestowed upon the Ravens.

A growing number of the national media have championed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and St. Louis Rams as the teams to beat this season. Some league pundits have ranked the Ravens as low as fifth in the league.

"Frankly, we haven't gotten the national recognition we deserve," Modell said. "And I don't know why. But they will. We really have to win it again to get embraced nationally."

Modell, though, has easily embraced the title of defending Super Bowl champion.

Once again, he finds his team among the elite high rollers in the league after nearly a decade of despair.

His climb back to the upper echelon proved his tenacity. He had to endure losing seasons in eight of the previous 10 years as well as a much-ridiculed move of his franchise from Cleveland.

Before that, Modell's Cleveland Browns went to the playoffs six times in the 1980s, leaving him with memories of shocking defeat and agony.

John Elway usually supplied the finishing touches, leading the Denver Broncos over the Browns three times in the AFC championship game. Once, Elway drove 98 yards to a late game-tying touchdown, with the Broncos winning in overtime.

"I never had the occasion to say, `We were the almost-champion Cleveland Browns,' " he said. "But I like being the defending Super Bowl champion. I can get used to saying that in a hurry. In fact, I want to say it again. I want to say it for the next three years."

That's the timetable for Modell.

His deal with minority owner Stephen J. Bisciotti will allow the Anne Arundel County businessman to purchase the rest of the team's shares in 2004 for an additional $325 million. Modell sold 49 percent of the Ravens to Bisciotti before last season for $275 million.

"I think about it. I'm close to 80 years old and don't run the Boston Marathon anymore," said Modell, who turned 76 last month.

If the clock is ticking on Modell's ownership, he already has found peace with his first Super Bowl victory.

But Modell doesn't want to go out peacefully just yet.

"It would have been hell to leave if we didn't win it," Modell said. "I would be kicking myself until I was 110. It would have been impossible to deal with.

"Now, I want to enjoy the three years fully and then smell the roses. We have three full seasons and I'm looking forward to it. We have a chance to win it again, and I believe we can do it."