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Art Modell, Ravens’ original owner, falls short of Hall of Fame; Baltimore native George Young selected

Art Modell, the late Ravens owner who brought professional football back to Baltimore when he moved his team from Cleveland after the 1995 season, has again missed out on making the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Modell was one of 10 historical contributors considered by a panel of 25 media members, former players and league executives (including Hall of Fame member and former Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome). But he was not one of three selected for the 2020 Hall of Fame class.

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George Young, the longtime New York Giants general manager who grew up in Baltimore and coached at both Calvert Hall and Baltimore City College, was selected along with former NFL Films president Steve Sabol and former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

Young, who died in 2001, began his NFL career as a scout, coach and executive for the Baltimore Colts. He later built two Super Bowl champions for the Giants and won NFL Executive of the Year honors five times.

“He loved history,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday morning on NFL Network. “He loved the game, and this is something he would be so proud of.”

Young was born in Baltimore, where his father owned a tavern called the Stag Bar, and played football and baseball at Calvert Hall, from which he graduated in 1948. After a brief attempt to play pro football, he coached at his alma mater for five seasons and then built a powerhouse at City College, where he mentored luminaries such as former Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger.

New York Giants general manager George Young fields questions from the media after introducing Jim Fassel as the new head coach of the New York Giants, Wednesday, Jan. 15, 1997, at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
New York Giants general manager George Young fields questions from the media after introducing Jim Fassel as the new head coach of the New York Giants, Wednesday, Jan. 15, 1997, at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun) (BILL KOSTROUN/AP)

When Young died, Schmoke described him to The Sun as “the Buddha of high school football.”

Young joined the Colts in 1968 and worked with the team’s offensive line during the Super Bowl championship season of 1970. He later joined former Colts coach Don Shula to work for the Miami Dolphins and became general manager of the Giants in 1979.

Coach Bill Parcells and linebacker Lawrence Taylor were generally viewed as the faces of teams that won Super Bowl championships in the 1986 and 1990 seasons, but Young was the man who put all the pieces in place.

“George put that whole organization together,” said longtime NFL executive Ernie Accorsi, who met Young when they worked together for the Colts and spoke to him almost every day for the next 30 years. “He was one of the most meticulous people, intellectually, that you’d ever meet. But there was a contradiction, because you’d walk into his office, and you never saw piles of paper like that. There could have been squirrels and rabbits living in there.”

After he heard Young had been selected to the Hall of Fame, Accorsi spent the day thinking about their old Colts offices, across from the Greyhound bus station on North Howard Street. “It’s great that he’s having this moment in the sun,” he said of his friend. “But it’s sad that he’s not here to enjoy it.”

Young remained with the Giants through the 1997 season (when he won his last Executive of the Year award) and then worked for the NFL until his death, from a rare neurological disease, at age 71.

“George was a plain-talking, unvarnished football guy who connected with everybody within the [NFL],” Tagliabue said at the time. “He respected integrity, decency and directness. He had a great mind and great patience except for people with big egos or slackers who didn’t work as hard as him.”

For many years, Modell had been considered a longshot to make the Hall of Fame given the lingering bitterness toward him for relocating the Browns from Cleveland.

But his case received new life when the Hall of Fame announced plans for its expanded class of 2020. The introduction of the 25-member blue-ribbon panel meant he would no longer have to pass muster with many of the media members who’d rejected him in past years.

Modell was last a finalist in 2013, the year after he died at age 87. But his candidacy met opposition from those who blamed him for moving one of the league’s classic franchises. Others simply found it difficult to vote for an owner over a list of worthy players.

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Advocates said Modell’s 43 years as an owner and significant efforts to build the NFL into the nation’s most valuable television property should override any bad feelings over the move from Cleveland to Baltimore.

“He was certainly a force in the league, a confidante of commissioners,” said Accorsi, who worked for Modell in Cleveland. “He’s got every qualification you need.”

In Baltimore, Modell faced none of the sour feelings that festered in Cleveland and other corners of the NFL landscape. He was the man who brought the NFL back to town after a 12-season absence, the owner of the Ravens’ first Super Bowl champion and a generous philanthropist along with his wife, Pat.

“He was a class act; that’s why I wanted him,” said John Moag, who negotiated the deal to bring Modell’s franchise to Baltimore. “He cared about this city and poured money into it. … Art was a guy’s guy in a lot of ways, a heck of a guy to be around and one of the funniest I’ve ever met. I’ve never heard anyone in this town say a bad word about him. Not one. And that’s pretty tough.”

As chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, Moag was charged with bringing the NFL back to a city that had lost the Colts in 1984. He said that of the various owners he could have approached, Modell — who had not received the stadium deal he felt he needed to stay in Cleveland — was always his first choice.

“When I met with him, he was absolutely tormented that he had to leave,” Moag recalled. “It really ate at him, because not only was he leaving, but his children were leaving and never going back. … But I said to him, ‘Mr. Modell, if you come to Baltimore, I promise you we’ll embrace you, and you’ll come to love this community.’ And that turned out to be the case.”

When the Ravens defeated the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV, the victory was a milestone for both the city and Modell, whose Browns had won an NFL championship in 1964 but had never played in the Super Bowl.

“To the people in Baltimore City, to the people in Baltimore County and to the state of Maryland, this belongs to you,” he said as he gripped the gleaming Lombardi Trophy.

When Modell died in 2012, his casket was displayed on the field at M&T Bank Stadium so fans and former players could pay their respects. A large portrait of him hangs over the fireplace in the lobby of the Ravens headquarters in Owings Mills. He enjoyed visiting the facility and watching practice even after he turned over principal ownership of the franchise to Steve Bisciotti in 2004.

Cleveland, meanwhile, received a new version of the Browns in 1999.

In addition to the historical contributors, the 25-member panel selected 10 players (including former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Donnie Shell and former Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Harold Carmichael) and two coaches (Bill Cowher and Jimmy Johnson) to join the usual class of five modern-era players as part of the Hall of Fame’s “Centennial Class” celebrating the NFL’s 100th anniversary.

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