“The thing that jumps out at you is the affection that everyone had for Art and what it meant to him after 40 years in the business,” former Ravens coach Brian Billick said. “Obviously you had your feelings about what it meant to you personally, but your first thoughts really went to him. His appreciation of it was so heartfelt and so real.”
The Ravens have returned to the Super Bowl without Modell, who died in September at age 87. But his imprint will be on much of what happens this weekend in New Orleans.
On Saturday, voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame will consider a group of finalists that includes both Modell and the first player drafted by the franchise in 1996, after it moved from Cleveland to Baltimore: left tackle Jonathan Ogden. On Sunday, the second player selected by the Ravens in the opening round of that ’96 draft, linebacker Ray Lewis, will play in what he has said will be his final NFL game.
“We’re extremely excited, like the rest of Baltimore, focusing on this confluence of events of historical significance,” Modell’s son David, a former team president of the Ravens, said by telephone this week. “I mean, the owner of the team being considered for the Hall of Fame at the same time as the first draft pick he made, while the other first-round pick from that year is trying to win the Super Bowl? It’s kind of crazy.”
But Modell’s inclusion among the four to seven Hall of Fame inductees who will be chosen Saturday, is far from certain. Lingering bitterness about Modell’s decision to move his team from Cleveland to Baltimore remains. Even with a new Browns franchise in Cleveland, many in that region have refused to forgive Modell.
A social media poll conducted by Cleveland-based Hall of Fame voter Tony Grossi showed, he wrote this week, that 81.8 percent of the 3,400 respondents were against Modell’s Hall of Fame candidacy.
“Supporters of Modell have persistently charged my opposition to him is the result of ‘a personal vendetta,’” Grossi wrote Monday on the Web site of ESPN Cleveland and Cleveland radio station WKNR. “There is no vendetta. This poll shows that the people most affected by Modell’s move — generations of fans of the Browns — want me to represent their case to the Hall of Fame committee.
“Doing anything less would be irresponsible.”
One reader wrote in the comments section of that story, “If they add a traitor wing to the [H]all I would gladly vote him in.” Another wrote: “The solution is easy. Art gets in when Irsay gets in,” referring to Robert Irsay, who moved the Colts from Baltimore to Indianapolis in 1984.
Longtime NFL titan
Modell’s influence in shaping the NFL after he purchased the Cleveland Browns in 1961 for $4 million is undeniable. He was chairman of the league’s broadcast committee for 31 years and helped orchestrate the launch of “Monday Night Football.” He aided in the establishment of NFL Films. He was on the labor committee that negotiated the sport’s first collective bargaining agreement with players. He was among those who oversaw the merger of the NFL and AFL. He served as the league president in the late 1960s.