Modell tribute tops NFL meetings agenda

PALM BEACH, Fla. - The start of this year's owners meetings was a mixture of smiles, tears and goodbyes for Art Modell.

In his final league-wide event, the Ravens' outgoing owner was saluted at two meetings - the opening session before all league executives and another in front of only owners - and received standing ovations both times.

"I wouldn't be human if I didn't say I was touched emotionally," said Modell, 78, who will sell the remaining 51 percent of the team to Steve Bisciotti on April 8. "It's the end of an era. The curtain has come down. I'm pleased with the record and I'm pleased with the friends I made."

In his State of the League address, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue told approximately 300 owners, coaches and executives about Modell's contributions in establishing football as a television force and referred to him as "one of life's unforgettable characters."

During Tagliabue's speech, the NFL showed a five-minute video of Modell's 43-year run as owner, flashing images of him standing in the snow with Jim Brown and holding a kick for Lou Groza in practice.

Soon after, he was honored before an owners-only meeting where Wellington Mara (Giants), Dan Rooney (Steelers), Lamar Hunt (Chiefs) and Bill Bidwill (Cardinals) all shared their memories.

The owners then presented Modell with a proclamation that summarized his achievements from 28 winning seasons (including a Super Bowl championship) to his integral role in the NFL-AFL merger. It also recognized him "as the NFL quipster-emeritus and chairman of the one-liners subcommittee."

A day of dedication left Modell teary-eyed and with a grin.

"You can't equal the recognition I got this morning," Modell said. "How many times have you seen a standing ovation from fellow owners who are my competitors?"

Those ceremonies wouldn't have occurred if not for Bisciotti.

He could have officially taken over as owner after the season in January but chose to hold off so Modell could attend this week's meetings for the last time as majority owner. That allowed one more time in the spotlight for the man who will be remembered for bringing football back to Baltimore by moving the Cleveland Browns in 1995.

"He absolutely deserved it," Bisciotti said. "His humor is his greatest asset and you could tell that there is genuine affection for him. It's a very unique situation where an owner is saying goodbye and walking away because it doesn't happen very often."

David Modell, Art's son and outgoing team president, flew from Baltimore just for the presentations and returned home immediately afterward.

"I think he was definitely moved by both of the experiences," David Modell said. "I think it was nice he had the opportunity to take the final bow."

But this may not be the Modells' final bow in sports.

They have hired Ravens chief financial officer Luis Perez to help them with their next investment. Art Modell sold the Ravens to Bisciotti for a total of $600 million.

The Modells have purchased some office space in the Inner Harbor and will work out of M&T Bank Stadium until that is ready.

"I want to see what we can develop where he and I can be associated," Art Modell said. "I have great admiration for David Modell. We can put my experience and his talents together and make some music. I have no idea what it would be."

Do their plans include a return to sports?

"That would be our preference because that's what we've done for so many years," Art Modell said.

In the meantime, Art Modell will have an office next to Bisciotti in the team's new practice complex, which is scheduled to be completed in October. David Modell will serve as a consultant to the team for two years.

Art Modell, who has built a house in Vero Beach, Fla., will keep a home in Baltimore, where he will remain for the entire football season. Not much will change in his everyday life after the sale because he still plans to call general manager Ozzie Newsome every day at 8 a.m. for updates on the team and will continue to attend practices daily.

Said Modell: "Part of the deal is for me to line the field for game days."

NOTE: The Ravens received three compensatory picks in the April 24-25 draft as a result of losing four free agents (Jeff Blake, Sam Gash, Brandon Stokley and James Trapp) while signing just one (Frank Sanders) last year. They gained one extra pick in the sixth round (199th overall) and two in the seventh round (244th and 246th).