Modell’s Browns were among the best teams of the 1960s, led for a time by legendary running back Jim Brown. Cleveland won the NFL championship in 1964 — Modell’s only title with the Browns — and played in the title game in 1965, 1968 and 1969.
But his early years with Cleveland also were marked by controversy when he fired the team’s only coach to that point, Hall of Famer Paul Brown, after the 1962 season. Brown then went on to co-found and coach the Cincinnati Bengals.
Modell said he lost millions of dollars operating the Browns in Cleveland and cited the state of Maryland’s financial package, including construction of a $200 million stadium, as his reasons for leaving Ohio. The Baltimore Colts had left Maryland for Indianapolis in 1984.
“This has been a very, very tough road for my family and me,” Modell said at the time of the Browns move. “I leave my heart and part of my soul in Cleveland. But frankly, it came down to a simple proposition: I had no choice.”
The cost of the move to Baltimore left him financially strapped and with no choice but to put in motion the chain of events that enabled Bisciotti to assume majority ownership.
Bisciotti has since poured millions into the team, financing construction of a lavish practice facility in Owings Mills, Md. As a tribute, Bisciotti insisted that a huge oil painting of Modell be hung above the fireplace at the entrance to the complex.
“He was my friend, my mentor. We will miss him so much,” Bisciotti said. “… How fortunate I am to have had him teach me about the NFL.”
Modell wasn’t the kind of owner who operated his team from an office. He mingled with the players and often watched every minute of practice.
“Art talked with me every day when I played in Baltimore,” former Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe said. “He knew everything about what was going on in my life. He showed real concern. But, it wasn’t just me. He knew the practice squad players’ names. He treated them the same. He was out at practice when it was 100 degrees and when the December snows came. I loved playing for him.”
Born June 23, 1925, in Brooklyn, N.Y., Modell dropped out of high school at age 15 and worked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard cleaning out the hulls of ships to help out his financially strapped family after the death of his father.
He completed high school in night class, joined the Air Force in 1943, and then enrolled in a television school after World War II. He used that education to produce one of the first regular daytime television programs before moving into the advertising business in 1954.
“You get few chances like this,” he said at the time. “To take advantage of the opportunity, you must have money and friends with more.”
Modell’s work as a civic leader included serving on the board of directors of several companies, including the Ohio Bell Telephone Co., Higbee Co. and 20th Century-Fox Film Corp.View Entire Story
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