- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 9, 2001

WESTMINSTER, Md. — Baltimore Ravens owner Art Modell recently celebrated his 76th birthday. He has a Super Bowl title in hand, operates one of the NFL's most respected organizations, and more than a few physical and emotional battle scars left behind from several ailments and the wrath of Cleveland Browns fans because of his 1995 departure from Ohio.
So one might think Modell would finally take a step back this year, enjoy the Ravens' success, and let coach Brian Billick, general manager Ozzie Newsome and team president David Modell, Art's eldest son, run the team's day-to-day operations.
After all, most of Modell's septuagenarian and octogenarian contemporaries within NFL ownership ranks people like Ralph Wilson in Buffalo, Lamar Hunt in Kansas City, Alex Spanos in San Diego, Bud Adams in Tennessee and William Clay Ford in Detroit have lessened their roles in recent years.
And in 2004, Anne Arundel County businessman and minority team owner Steve Bisciotti is expected to exercise his option to acquire Modell's remaining 51 percent equity, sending him into retirement after a 44-year run in pro football.
But Modell is determined to go out with a bang instead of a whimper, keeping a frenetic schedule to match those of Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder, 36. Like Snyder, Modell is on the sideline for most team practices even in searing training camp heat and is personally involved in every significant decision, both football and financial.
And like Snyder a year ago, Modell is openly eyeing a trip to the Super Bowl and he's more than a bit miffed at predictions favoring Tampa Bay or St. Louis this season.
"This team is better than the one we had in Tampa [for Super Bowl XXXV], and that team was the best I ever had," said Modell, whose team has retained 18 of its starters. "I'm cautiously but extremely optimistic. I do like our chances. There's three more years [before Bisciotti takes control], and I want to run the table. My desire for a championship has not been quenched at all. If we are able to repeat this year, I'll be saying the exact same thing a year from now."
Although the region's two owners are busy and share a deep passion to win, the similarities essentially end there. Snyder's imported suits and private helicopter contrast strongly with Modell's khakis, golf cart and easygoing demeanor. And while Snyder allows coach Marty Schottenheimer to be the Redskins' public face, Modell is highly visible in and around Baltimore, even with Billick and his outsized presence.
"I'm feeling good, and after my family and my health, this team is just about the most important thing to me," he said. "There's simply no reason not to be around and involved."
Newfound glory
The Ravens' training camp at Western Maryland College is now awash in championship glory. Crowds in the thousands descend on the small Carroll County town every day. HBO and NFL Films are teaming to produce a six-part documentary on the Ravens. National and local media swarm. Jerseys and T-shirts fly off the shelves.
A week before Baltimore's Super Bowl triumph, however, it wasn't that way at all. After the Ravens beat Oakland for the AFC title, a nervous, confused Modell stepped to the podium and accepted the conference championship trophy, seemingly unaware of how such ceremonies are supposed to happen. It had been 37 years since a Modell team won anything of this magnitude.
The awkward moment capped a tumultuous five-year period that included the difficult move from Cleveland and the death threats that came with it, a highly unpopular sweetheart stadium deal with the state of Maryland, unchecked free agent spending that sent Modell nearly $200 million into debt and into technical default on some loans, three losing seasons, a legal defeat over the team's improperly obtained original logo, and the equity sale to Bisciotti. Modell also battled arthritis, a bad hip and heart problems, necessitating the golf cart to get around.
But once the Ravens throttled the New York Giants on the nation's biggest stage, everything changed for the team and definitely for Modell. Once burned in effigy, he became the lead honoree of a massive downtown Baltimore parade, complete with scenes of him dancing with Super Bowl MVP Ray Lewis. And after several difficult years and power struggles with Schottenheimer in Cleveland, Modell now is hailed as an example of responsible, involved management.
"Our relationship has been great, and it's really no surprise Art is still so involved," Billick said. "He's now got a taste of what the glory is, and once you get it, there's nothing you want more."
No rest
Modell's team is essentially unchanged from 2000, save for the arrival of quarterback Elvis Grbac and the presence of more than 60,000 season ticket holders, giving the Ravens both competitive and fiscal security. But Modell and his charges still have several major projects in the works.
Foremost among them is finding a new team headquarters to replace their current, substandard site in Owings Mills. David Modell and Bisciotti also have been intimately involved in the site searches, with Baltimore County the current front-runner to retain the team. A new facility opening by the fall of 2003 is a possibility.
The Ravens also have a decision to make concerning training camp, because their contract with Western Maryland College expires this year. A return to Westminster appears likely given the relatively short distance to Baltimore and warm reception by fans. But some discussions were held last year with Frostburg State University, former summer home of the Redskins.
Additionally, Modell is seeking other projects similar to the HBO series that will bring more national recognition for the Ravens.
"If you feel at 76 that you want to rock and fire, then rock and fire away, I say," said David Modell. "This is a good thing for the organization. He's an incredible resource for us young punks, and he should definitely be front and center as long as he wants to be."
At the league level, Modell has taken a slight step back from the leadership role that at various times gave him the titles of league president, chairman of the broadcast and labor committees and chairman of NFL Films. But Modell remains on the broadcast committee, which negotiates the multibillion contracts with the TV networks. And as one of the few owners to make football his sole business, he stands as one of the league's elder statesmen.
"People like Art are in the league because they love it and can make a contribution," said NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue. "One of the great things about our league is the cooperation among our owners at all levels of seniority. He's certainly been a part of that."

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