NEW ORLEANS — Steve Bisciotti is the anti-Dan Snyder. (Though like Snyder he is a self-made millionaire.)
Bisciotti runs his football team nothing like Jerry Jones. (But they both know how to have a good time.)
Bisciotti didn’t inherit his place in the NFL like so many of the others. (Though like the old guard, he can also appreciate a good cigar, a glass of wine and time on his yacht.)
Sure there are similarities here and there, but the Baltimore Ravens owner isn’t really like the rest. He’s blue jeans and a sports coat, his hair slicked back and skin sun-baked, a native of Severna Park who grew up rooting for the Orioles and Colts.
Bisciotti, 52, wants little to do with them. He’d wanted to own a pro football team but had little interest in all the baggage that comes with it.
“My goal is to not let it change my life,” he said.
Bisciotti is back at the Super Bowl, the giant championship ring on his right hand a reminder of exactly what’s on the line Sunday. Bisciotti was a minority owner when the Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2001 and says he felt more “like a fly on the wall.” While he had no problem watching the late Art Modell hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy then, the Ravens have been solely Bisciotti’s team since 2004 and this trip to football’s biggest stage, he said, feels different.
“I would be lying if I didn’t say that I feel like the first one is half mine,” he said.
Even if he spends a good chunk of his time living in Florida or cruising on his boat or strolling around a golf course, Bisciotti’s fingerprints are all over this Ravens team. As John Harbaugh, the only coach Bisciotti has ever hired, said, “He’s the guy that establishes the vision for the organization.”
Ozzie Newsome isn’t the first amateur sports philosopher to suggest you can learn a lot about a man on the golf course. The Ravens’ general manager said his close relationship with Bisciotti was largely forged on golf courses all over the country.
“He wants to get 18 holes in every day,” Newsome said.
With that in mind, here’s a few revealing things others have picked up on the links:
Baseball great Cal Ripken Jr: “You can see the screw turn a little tighter in his head when the match gets a little close or he feels he’s not playing well enough. . . . He has an intensity about him that he’s well aware of.”
Former Maryland men’s basketball coach Gary Williams: “He’s competitive. He’s not crazy like me. But he’s very competitive. He wants to win. That’s what I found out over the years. Different people show it in different ways. Nobody has an edge on who wants to win the most; there are a lot of people who go after it. Steve is like that, but he’s like that in the quiet way. He’s not over the top, but he’s grinding his way through every round of golf.”
Perhaps the most telling anecdote comes from Robert Ades, a Washington attorney. Several years ago, Williams brought Bisciotti along for a round of golf with Ades.
“He looked like a golf pro: tall, thin, relaxed, great tan,” Ades recalled. “I said, ‘What do you do?’ He said, ‘I’m gonna start working for the Ravens.’ ‘Oh, great,’ I told him, and we had an enjoyable round. A couple months later we learned that he wasn’t going to be working for the Ravens. He was buying the Ravens, but he never even mentioned that.”
If there are 32 owners in the NFL, there are 32 ways to run an NFL team. Bisciotti’s style has helped make the Ravens one of the most stable and successful organizations in the league. Not only are the Ravens the lone team to win a playoff game each of the past five seasons, they’re the only team to make the playoffs each of the past five seasons.
“He lets us do our job,” Newsome said, by way of explanation.
During the football season, Bisciotti spends much of his time in Jupiter, Fla. He’ll often fly to Baltimore late in the week — he and his wife, Renee, live in Millersville, not far from Annapolis — watch the game from his suite and head back to Florida Monday morning. At league meetings, he’ll often send team President Dick Cass in his place. And he routinely declines interview requests to discuss the league, his team or himself. Still, his employees said he’s not only engaged in all facets of the team’s operations, but his voice and style are critical to the culture surrounding the team.
“We run our organization as though it were a partnership,” said Cass, Bisciotti’s first and most important hire after taking over ownership. “We collaborate and we’re collegial and we discuss things. That’s how he wants it. He doesn’t really believe in hierarchy, per se. He believes in what I call horizontal communication.”
Bisciotti also is up-front and doesn’t mince words. No one has to guess what he thinks.
For example, a couple years back, he felt he owed it to his mother to say: “Mom, you’re wearing too much perfume,” because he didn’t think she was aware. He calls it “being care-frontational.”
Whether it’s preparing for the draft or making key hires, Bisciotti prefers to sit in the room and listen to everyone else speak before opening his mouth. When he does talk, he’s often asking questions, and making sure all lines of communication are open.
“He says it’s his bubble in the straw mentality. One small bubble can block everything,” explains Eric DeCosta, the team’s assistant general manager. “He wants more of an open forum where everybody can speak their mind.”
It’s similar to how he ran Allegis Group, a private staffing company he built with his cousin after graduating from Salisbury State, which eventually grew into a multi-billion dollar outfit.
Calm, confident and thoughtful is his style and a variety of business leaders turn to him for advice. Ripken, for example, consulted with Bisciotti on how he could grow Ripken Baseball, talks that were about more than finances.
“There’s this philosophical side to him,” the baseball Hall of Famer said.
And Williams would often call up Bisciotti, an unabashed and passionate Maryland basketball fan, to talk about the Terps.
“I always felt he was kind of coming at things from the same way that I was coming from,” Williams said. “We would have the same point of view. So because of that, you listen if he tells you you’re wrong.”
As for the Ravens, Bisciotti likes for his staff to reach their own conclusions, but his questions and counsel usually help them find the way.
“Hands-on, hands-off, meddler, non-meddler — those are the kinds of things that they try to put you in one of two categories,” Bisciotti said. “I think it’s a lot of both. . . . I want my questions answered before they make their decision but I would hope that when I do get involved in the important decisions, that my participation actually lends itself to helping them make a better decision.”
Watching a game can be a nerve-wracking experience for Bisciotti, a heavy metal assault on the senses. The television cameras never notice this, though, because the Ravens owner will never show it.
“I internalize,” he said.
But when it does become too much, he’ll leave his seat, walk behind the closed doors and walls that shield him from the field — and the cameras — and vent. “Steve is a high-energy guy,” said Jim Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts. “Very smart but very intense. He’s got a temper but he’s able to keep it in control.”
He’ll inevitably return to his seat and find comfort from the same group of friends he’s had since childhood — still never entirely sure why his charmed life can be so frustrating some Sundays.
“There are times after games that I ask myself: What in the world are you doing this for?” he said.
The winning always reminds him.
On Sunday the Ravens will try to become the 12th team to win multiple Super Bowls. Bisciotti already has one championship ring, but this one would mean so much more.
“We’re either going to be setting the reset button and saying it’s been one year, two years since our second Super Bowl, or it’s been 13, 14, 15 years since our only Super Bowl,” he said. “So I want that for Baltimore, I want it for Ozzie, I want it for John Harbaugh. Everybody gets to press the reset button and say, ‘Yeah, now we’re the defending world champs.’ You start the clock ticking again.”
Staff writer Barry Svrluga contributed to this report.
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