- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 26, 2004

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The similarities between Steve Bisciotti, new majority owner of the Baltimore Ravens, and Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder are immediate and striking.

Both are self-made businessmen, quickly rising from unassuming middle-class backgrounds and less-than-stellar academic credentials to vast fortune and success. They are two of the three youngest owners in the league, with Bisciotti 44 and Snyder turning 40 in November. Each owner’s predecessor was part of a legendary NFL family. Both Snyder and Bisciotti embrace a love of aggressive marketing, and each owns a team among the best in American sports in terms of corporate sponsorship.

But the differences, particularly to those familiar with Snyder’s tumultuous five-year run as the Redskins’ top boss, are even more jarring. Whereas Snyder favors high-end business suits, courts political and media luminaries, immediately immersed himself into the football operations and fired more than 100 front-office employees at Redskin Park within his first year, Bisciotti remains about as much an Everyman as an NFL team owner can be.

Bisciotti often dresses as if he is heading to or just coming from the golf course, something he still does with enough regularity to maintain a 10 handicap. Only one prominent employee within the Ravens’ organization, David Modell, team president and son of outgoing owner Art, did not keep his job under the new owner, but he remains a consultant to the club. Several others, including vice president of business operations Dennis Mannion and vice president of public relations Kevin Byrne, received promotions. And not only does Bisciotti not make on-field personnel decisions, he considers himself wholly unqualified to do so.

His first six weeks as majority owner have been perhaps the quietest and least eventful of any NFL team owner in recent years.

“I don’t really have a designated job right now. My job is to learn,” Bisciotti said during an extended interview last week. “Quite frankly, I’m the least experienced person in the building.”

Bisciotti’s on-the-job training continues at NFL owners’ meetings this week in Jacksonville, Fla., his first such session since formally taking full control of the Ravens in early April. But after a quiet four-year apprenticeship at the hands of Art Modell, part of the terms of his $600million purchase of the club, expectations are high that the Severna Park, Md., native soon will make his mark upon the Ravens and the football world at large.

“He’s an incredibly grounded individual,” said Michael Busch, speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates and a friend of Bisciotti’s for more than 35 years. “There’s simply no pretense about him, particularly for someone with his kind of economic success and stature as an owner in the National Football League. There’s nobody instructed to call him Mr. Bisciotti. He’s just Steve to everybody.”

For the past several years, Bisciotti has been at once a man sports fans knew about and really didn’t know at all. His deal to purchase the Ravens, 49 percent in 1999 and nearly all of the rest this spring, obviously made news and kept Bisciotti busy as he quickly took the lead role in developing the team’s new training facility, set to open this fall. He is also a prominent fixture at University of Maryland football and basketball games, to the point where he is golf buddies with Gary Williams.

“He’d probably buy the Maryland basketball team if he could,” Busch said.

But Bisciotti has been painted as something of a media recluse. While a minority Ravens owner, he almost never granted interviews, partially out of respect to Modell and his swansong after a distinguished four-decade career in pro football. Since assuming full control of the team, Bisciotti still doses out his public visibility carefully and turns down most requests to appear at black-tie dinners in the charity and society circles.

The mysteries continue with the technical staffing company he founded, Aerotek Inc. The company is widely considered a leader in its field, generating more than $2.6billion in revenue in 2002. The success also has enabled Bisciotti to become part of Forbes’ list of the 400 richest Americans with an estimated net worth of $625million. But for its size and impact, Aerotek, now known as the Allegis Group, remains an unknown entity to most Marylanders.

“People think all that, but I’m very sociable. I’m out and about. I’m anything but a recluse,” said Bisciotti, who routinely plays host to dozens of old neighborhood friends and associates at his suite at M&T; Bank Stadium. “I’m not uncomfortable doing interviews. It’s not that I can’t do it. It’s just not something I particularly like doing. Being visible is just not something I’m after. Having said that, I must confess it is interesting seeing [coach] Brian [Billick] and [general manager] Ozzie [Newsome] live like they do in such a public world.”

Bisciotti attended Severna Park High, dabbling in football but not particularly standing out in anything. A degree from Salisbury State University arrived in 1982 but without any significant academic plaudits. It was not until after college that his talents in dealing with people began to manifest themselves fully.

“Even when I first met him, he had a great personality, a real knack for getting along with people,” said Nick Manis, Annapolis lobbyist and friend of Bisciotti’s since junior high school. “He really learned to use that. Just because he didn’t pull down high grades [2.05 GPA at Salisbury] doesn’t mean he’s not a good student. He’s very intelligent, and it came out a bit differently.”

As Bisciotti prepared to assume full control of the Ravens this spring, several fires were immediately waiting for him. Petulant wide receiver Terrell Owens tried and ultimately succeeded in voiding a trade from San Francisco to Baltimore, landing in Philadelphia as a free agent. Star Ravens running back Jamal Lewis also was indicted on federal drug charges in Atlanta.

Bisciotti insists the team has moved on from the Owens situation, signing receiver Kevin Johnson as a primary target for young quarterback Kyle Boller. The Ravens, meanwhile, stand firmly behind Lewis as he awaits trial.

“I’m very comfortable believing he’s going to remain a productive player for us,” Bisciotti said. “I really believe he is mentally strong enough to deal with this.”

As for Snyder, Bisciotti professes a cordial relationship with his regional rival. The sentiment comes despite some rumors to the contrary after Bisciotti purchased the minority stake in the Ravens, as well as Bisciotti showing far more reverence for established league traditions and policy than Snyder. The teams, each with open playoff aspirations, will meet Oct.10 in a nationally televised clash from FedEx Field.

“My relationship with Dan is really kind of indicative of what makes this league work,” Bisciotti said. “I can disagree with Dan on one issue and then find myself in total agreement with him an hour later. We compete, make no mistake about it. We compete for sponsors, we compete for the transient population that comes every year into our region. We don’t communicate regularly, but we do socialize once in a while. I think there is a mutual respect there.”

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