Modell doesn't look back

Don't expect Art Modell to look back over the past 43 years and get misty-eyed.

Don't expect him to exult over the highs: the Ravens' Super Bowl championship, the 31 years as chairman of the NFL's broadcast committee, the launching of Monday Night Football or his role in persuading fellow owners to share television revenue.

And don't expect him to choke up over the lows: the firing of Cleveland icon Paul Brown, the death of Ernie Davis from leukemia, the Browns' heartbreaking losses to the Denver Broncos in the 1986, 1987 and 1989 AFC championship games, the financial morass that forced him to move the Browns to Baltimore - and eventually forced him to sell the team.

No. On the eve of what could be his final game as the owner of an NFL team, Arthur B. Modell prefers to look forward.

"I don't indulge in nostalgia," he said. "I've had a very good run. I'm grateful for it.

"I have no regrets. I'm proud of my achievements, I'm proud of my contributions to the good and welfare of the league."

Ravens President David Modell said his father's "don't look back" philosophy extends to his private life. Once, on a business trip, David Modell asked to see the house where his father grew up in Brooklyn.

But Art Modell said no.

"And it's not that he just wouldn't do it - he refuses to do it," David Modell said. "He says, 'No, I don't want to do that. I don't look back; I look forward.'"

The Ravens and nearly 70,000 fans at M&T Bank Stadium will salute Modell in a ceremony during halftime of tonight's nationally televised season finale against the division rival Pittsburgh Steelers. If the Ravens win, Modell's ownership tenure will extend into the playoffs.


Steve Bisciotti, 43, bought 49 percent of the team for $275 million in 2000. He has kept an extremely low profile while Modell, 78, teaches him the inner workings of the NFL.

In a rare interview, Bisciotti, who will exercise his option to buy the remaining 51 percent of the Ravens for $325 million in April, called the apprenticeship "invaluable."

"I've got not only an owner, but I've got one of the most experienced owners in the room," he said. "I've been able to go into these NFL meetings and learn from the group and then have it explained to me in detail by Art."

Bisciotti said he admires Modell for "the promotion of league-think."

"You see the state of the other professional leagues, and his greatest accomplishment is in building this business of the NFL to the prominence that it is," he said. "And it all centered around unselfishness."

Bisciotti said that when Modell bought the Cleveland franchise, it was one of the league's best. "There was a lot to gain by not sharing." But Modell had "the foresight to realize if you could sacrifice your short-term gain, you would have long-term gains that far exceeded it," he said.

The New York Giants' owner, Wellington Mara, said Modell should be credited as an innovator. The two met at an owners meeting after Modell bought the Browns for $4 million in 1961. Modell calls Mara, 87, "one of my dear friends."

"He should be remembered certainly with respect, almost with reverence I would say, because of the contributions he made to the league through the many years," Mara said.

Defined by the move

But in Cleveland and across the country, many define Art Modell's career by Nov. 6, 1995, the day he announced he would uproot the Browns and move them to Baltimore.

On that day, on a parking lot that would become the site of his team's new stadium, Modell told a crowd of reporters and supporters, "Frankly, I did not have a choice."

Eight years later, he said the same thing.

"If I hadn't moved my team from Cleveland to Baltimore, the Cleveland Browns would have gone into bankruptcy," Modell said in a long interview last week. "And in the NFL, when you file for bankruptcy, you face automatic revocation of your license to operate the team. That shows volumes. That's how serious the problem was.

"The Browns were a hallmark franchise. They were extremely popular nationally. They were a force to be reckoned with. But I had to sustain my business, not only for my family but for everybody connected with it, who worked for me."

John A. Moag Jr., who as chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority negotiated the relocation deal, said Modell first rebuffed his overtures. Only after realizing he had no other options did Modell agree to talk, said Moag, now chairman and chief executive of Moag & Co, a Baltimore-based investment firm specializing in sports.

"Art Modell was taken for granted," said Moag.

That happened, Moag and others said, because Modell had been such a pillar of the Ohio city.

"I guess he was on every charitable committee that was ever formed in the city," said Mara, the Giants owner. "And if he wasn't, his wife was."

The fallout from the move was broader, more vehement and longer-lasting than nearly anyone expected. Public reaction to Georgia Frontiere's moving the Rams from Los Angeles to St. Louis and Bud Adams' moving the Oilers from Houston to Tennessee the same year was tame by comparison.

"The reason the fallout was so bad was that he had been such a good guy, because he had given so much to the community," Moag said. "The powers that be in Cleveland failed him and put him in a corner that he simply couldn't get out of."

Marla Ridenour, a sportswriter for the Akron Beacon Journal who began covering the Browns in 1981, sees it differently. "The reason it was so much worse than they expected was that people were blindsided," she said. "If he had given them an ultimatum, 'I need a commitment for a new stadium by X time or I'm out of here,' and then if he didn't get it, I think everybody might have been - not fine with it - but a lot more accepting."

Ridenour says further, "It's hard to say he was a good owner when they never won anything and he was always borrowing to pay the latest salary. He was a compassionate owner and a caring owner, but I don't think you could ever say he was a good owner."

Whatever the reason for the lingering enmity, everyone agrees that the scars remain.

"You live somewhere for 30-something years and you are basically forced to move to maintain your business - I think you should be scarred," said Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome, who was drafted as a tight end by Modell in 1978 and given a job in the front office when he retired.

The one big question remaining is whether Art Modell will be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He made the list of 15 finalists two classes ago, in 2002, but fell short after a writer from a Cleveland newspaper made a passionate speech against his election.

This year, Modell is again on a list of 25 semifinalists.

"When you look at who's in there, I'd say yes [he belongs in the Hall of Fame]," Ridenour said. "If only because he was such a key player in the beginning of the NFL on television. He may get a little more credit than he deserves; there was also [the late NFL Commissioner] Pete Rozelle, who was also a huge factor in that. But Art was the chairman of the broadcast committee for a long time, and this league wouldn't be where it is now without that."

David Modell said that if moving a team is reason to keep someone out of the hall, then Dan Reeves, who moved the Rams from Cleveland to Los Angeles, and Al Davis, who moved the Raiders from Oakland to L.A. and back again, should be expelled.

"But if it's not a blackball - and I don't believe that it is - then you put all of that movement stuff aside and you focus on the facts of his career other than the move," David Modell said. "And when you look at those, I don't think there's any rational person who could tell you that Art Modell does not deserve to be in the Hall of Fame."

One of the reasons Art Modell won't get misty-eyed after the sale is that some things won't change, at least on the surface.

He and his wife, Pat, will stay in Baltimore, although they're building a home near Vero Beach, Fla. He said he will be helping the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions design and raise money for a "major-league heart institute," a subject close to him after his two heart attacks and a stroke.

Steve Bisciotti said he expects Modell to remain a presence at the Ravens offices.

"I'm hoping that he wants to stay around, that he wants to come to practice every day, that he wants to sit in on personnel meetings," Bisciotti said.

"As far as the operation goes, he's got a key to the office just like me."

Modell sounds like he's going to use that key.

"I'll still be around," he said. "I'm not departing from the team. I'm just severing a day-to-day relationship. I'll be at practice, I'll be at training camp. Steve asked me to stay and help. I intend to help him as much as I can."

Said Bisciotti: "I am very fortunate to have ended up with Art Modell. I think Baltimore is very fortunate to have ended up with him."