- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 27, 2003

Tomorrow night could be the end of an era in the NFL. It could be the last time a team owned by Art Modell plays a game in the league if the Baltimore Ravens lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

If that happens, the sound roaring across the land will be the collective approval from the city of Cleveland, where the only regret will be that its football fans won’t get to witness the finale in person in the stadium Modell built.

A victory by the Ravens, though, gives them the AFC North, and with a great defense led by Ray Lewis and a great running back in Jamal Lewis, they could deliver the perfect ending to his 43-year tenure as an NFL owner with a run through the playoffs. Though they are not as strong as they were in 2000, the Ravens have the tools for another Super Bowl run.

If that happens, the sound splashing across the land will be thousands of football fans in Cleveland jumping into Lake Erie, unable to live with the fact that the man they love to hate will have won not one but two Super Bowls.

Art Modell has done right by Ravens fans. He built a model franchise that won a Super Bowl and is placing it in what appears to be the good hands of owner Steve Bisciotti, who has shown none of the symptoms of Dan Snyder disease.

There is a large segment of the Maryland population that still believes the stadium taxpayers provided and the sweetheart lease deal were too high a price for the results. Those people are not the ones who gather in Ravens Roosts and other fan clubs around the Baltimore region, united in nearly nothing anymore, save for their passion for the Ravens.

The pencil-neck geeks who determine the economic benefits of pro sports teams never seem to get that. It doesn’t come up on their spreadsheets or computers, and they seem oblivious to it in their grocery stores and restaurants and the other places people congregate in their otherwise isolated lives these days. They are colorblind when it comes to seeing the depth to which the color purple runs in the Baltimore metropolitan area.

How could the geeks not have paid attention to the passion of Cleveland fans when Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore in 1996? As misguided as it is, Modell is the most hated man in the history of Cleveland even though the Browns were resurrected three years later with a brand-new football stadium of their own. Because of Modell’s bold action, there are teams now in two cities where the residents find a connection through their passion for football: in Baltimore, where the Colts’ departure to Indianapolis in 1984 left a hole in its civic soul, and in Cleveland.

That’s probably not the case if Modell didn’t leave Cleveland.

Maybe he shouldn’t win any kind of medal of honor, but it shouldn’t keep him out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, either.

Modell was one of the league’s pioneers. He helped bring the league into the TV age as chairman of the NFL’s television committee, making the deals that changed football from a game to a national passion. He was one of the most influential owners of his time. For that, when voters decide on the members of the next class for Canton, Art Modell should be among them.

It is appropriate he will be facing the Rooney family tomorrow night, part of the league’s disappearing old guard.

“I’ve attended league meetings in recent months where the word football was never mentioned,” Modell told the San Francisco Chronicle. “When I came into the league, I came in because I had a passion for pro football. The game has changed.”

Yes, it has. It is a league of Dan Snyders now, and Art Modell doesn’t fit in anymore. Tomorrow night he will be honored by the Ravens when he is inducted into their Ring of Fame at M&T; Bank Stadium. Maybe next summer he will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That is where he belongs now.

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