Baltimore Ravens

Modell ready to own up to 40-year tenure

Art Modell would prefer a grand exit to a glorified entrance.

The Ravens are planning a special pre-game introduction Sunday to honor Modell's 40th year in the league, but the dean of NFL owners has another celebration in mind. He wants a victory over the San Diego Chargers that would clinch the first playoff berth in his five-year tenure here and give him another long-awaited shot at his first Super Bowl.

On-field ceremonies don't usually fly with this old-school owner, and Modell expects to make his final decision in a couple of days. The only game-day salute of his career was 1996, when he took part in the festivities leading up to the Ravens' first game here.

"I haven't made my mind up, but I wouldn't consider it under any circumstances unless the Ravens were in the [playoff] hunt," Modell said. "Let me put it the other way: If I go out and I'm introduced as they want me to be and we don't clinch Sunday, you'll never see me out there again. Even at my 80th anniversary you won't see me unless I'm a groundskeeper."

Modell has had a steadfast rule that two groups - owners and politicians - shouldn't be introduced at sporting events because they're both likely to get booed. Members of the Ravens' organization along with Modell's family have tried to convince the venerable owner otherwise.

It would be a brief salute that would replace the introduction of the Ravens' offense or defense. After being recognized for his 40th season, Modell would be escorted by tight end Shannon Sharpe and linebacker Ray Lewis through a tunnel of players.

"It's been a long journey for him," said Kevin Byrne, the team's vice president of public relations. "In 40 years, you deserve one bow in front of the crowd."

Said David Modell, Art's youngest son and team president: "He's going about this kind of kicking and screaming, but it's kind of the nature of the guy. Forty years in this business is pretty spectacular. He certainly has over the course of time made some pretty significant contributions. It's a milestone that you can't overlook."

But Modell, who hasn't had a team in the playoffs since 1994, anticipated celebrating this milestone in style.

"Not that I'm a great prognosticator, but I felt at the beginning of training camp that this may be one of the better teams I've had in 40 years and nothing has changed my mind since then," Modell said. "This is a very special team.

"This team has taken on a dimension all its own. I can't equate it with any other team in the past. When you're playing with seven No. 1 draft choices, you've got to be pretty good."

When asked if that suggested a trip to the Super Bowl, Modell hedged around any monumental predictions.

"I think it's everybody's dream," Modell said. "The last man on the roster has that dream. We want that big enchilada and we've been waiting a long time. It's been so devastatingly close."

The 75-year-old owner can recount the memories from his three AFC Championship games in painful detail. Each time he watched his team slip one step away from the Super Bowl, as his Cleveland Browns lost to the Denver Broncos in 1986, 1987 and 1989 by a total of 24 points.

Another stumble this year wouldn't shatter Modell.

"If things don't work out, God forbid," he said, "I'm not going to fold my tent because next year is another year."

Still, Modell is on the clock. He sold minority interest in the team to Anne Arundel County businessman Stephen J. Bisciotti for $275 million. That agreement will allow Bisciotti to purchase the rest of the team's shares in 2004 for an additional $325 million.

"If I can't get it done and I can't be on that stage and accept that trophy, I don't belong in the business," Modell said. "I had enough opportunity."

Now, all the members of his organization want is an opportunity to honor him. For Modell, it could celebrate the start of a stretch run to remember.

"I think it could be a great day for him," Byrne said. "There are not a lot of Art Modells anymore. We want to do this for him and he's being a reluctant hero right now.

"He'll get teary-eyed because he's an emotional man. It will give him a chance to reflect on not only what an effect he's had on the community, but the league as well."