Three weeks after the Baltimore Ravens became Super Bowl champions, the team's owner and head coach arrived in Annapolis like Maryland royalty, with the gleaming Super Bowl trophy as a scepter.
In a State House lounge, giddy purple-clad politicians crowded around Ravens owner Art Modell and his son, David, and pressed their fingers against the sterling obelisk.
"It's your trophy!" David Modell told them.
"This is for all of Maryland!" his father exulted.
Missing from this jubilant crowd was the other owner of the Baltimore Ravens, the obscure one from just outside Annapolis who had spent $275 million for the right to hoist the 6.7-pound Vince Lombardi Trophy over his head. Stephen J. Bisciotti, the Severna Park mogul whose massive financial investment helped to fuel the team's improbable drive to the Super Bowl, was nowhere to be seen.
By all accounts, that's just how he likes it.
While most owners of professional sports teams have happily spun their coveted positions into stardom, Bisciotti, 41, has signaled that his tenure will be different from, say, that of Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, whose every move is chronicled in sports and gossip columns.
"A lot of people buy sports teams as a way to get into the spotlight," said Michael Busch, a Maryland lawmaker and friend of Bisciotti's. "Let's face it. Most people in Maryland know the last three football club owners more than they do the last three governors. But Stephen is different. He doesn't seem to want that."
Bisciotti doesn't give interviews. He doesn't like attention. He doesn't even sit in the owner's box.
The first Sunday after Bisciotti bought a 49 percent stake in the team and the right to buy it outright in 2004, he didn't go see the Ravens play the New Orleans Saints in Baltimore.
It wasn't for lack of a ticket. His wildly successful employment services company, Allegis Corp., based in Hanover, owned 12 prime season seats at PSI Net Stadium. But as a new team owner, Bisciotti knew that he would be besieged by media. So he watched the game on television in the privacy of his living room in Severna Park, where he and his wife, Renee, own a massive, white plantation-style mansion with stunning views of the Severn River.
"I really have no interest in the notoriety" of being a team owner, Bisciotti told a Baltimore Sun reporter that day, Dec. 19, 1999, in one of only two formal interviews he has granted since buying the team. "I would love to be the least-known NFL owner in the country."
Just a Regular Guy
Stephen Bisciotti is surely among Anne Arundel County's wealthiest residents and, by virtue of his pledge to spend $600 million in buying the Ravens, also among the most fascinating. But in the nearly two years since he partnered with Art Modell, he has remained a mysterious figure, a man who generously shares his high-flying life with a loyal circle of longtime friends and virtually no one else.
More than anything, those who know Bisciotti know this: He cherishes privacy. In almost word-for-word refusals, his brother, Michael, and more than a dozen of his friends and neighbors turned down interviews because Bisciotti "likes to keep a low profile."
To help buffer him from the media, Bisciotti has hired Baltimore sports agent Ron Shapiro, who phoned almost immediately when The Post began contacting Bisciotti's friends. Despite his client's hefty investment in the Ravens and his status as heir to one of just 32 NFL franchises, Shapiro said Bisciotti is "just a regular guy and should be treated that way."
"Steve is a private person with a private life," he said. "He's trying to protect that privacy by not favoring anyone with interviews. Once that door opens, everybody comes through. There will come a time when he will cooperate. At the present time, he does not view himself as an owner or as a public person."
As much as Bisciotti has attempted to maintain the life of a "regular guy," he has made concessions to his fabulous wealth. Most regular guys don't own a Ferrari or a $1.9 million house or enjoy the many other perks he has assembled from the successful career he launched in 1983, a year after he graduated from Salisbury State College.
He and his cousin, Jim Davis, started Aerotek that year in a basement office in Annapolis, with two desks from Goodwill and a carpet stuck together with duct tape, according to company literature. The firm offered aerospace and technology companies access to skilled temporary employees.
The company, now under the umbrella of another privately held concern, Allegis Corp., which Bisciotti and Davis also head, took in $3.7 billion in revenue last year, making it one of the largest privately held companies in the nation.
Bisciotti owns about 40 percent of Allegis, so his personal wealth can be assumed to be in the hundreds of millions, though no one at his company or associated with him personally will offer an estimate.
With so much to burn, it seemed only natural, friends said, for him to pursue a lifelong dream to own a professional sports franchise. His first effort to do that came three years ago, when he talked briefly with Cal Ripken about investing in the Baltimore BayRunners, a short-lived minor league basketball team.
Then Shapiro took him to New York, where he met with Fred Wilpon, a Shapiro friend and very low-key, 50-percent stakeholder in the New York Mets. The two talked intensively about the pitfalls and joys of owning a professional sports club, and Bisciotti grilled Wilpon about a skill that the Mets co-owner has honed to perfection: avoiding the spotlight.
Wilpon has managed this even as his crosstown counterpart, New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, became a recurring character on the sitcom "Seinfeld."
One friend of Bisciotti's who was familiar with that meeting said it was a "great source of inspiration" and served as the foundation for the unusual offer that Bisciotti would make to Modell.
The deal Bisciotti eventually brokered with the Ravens called for him to remain in the background as minority owner, giving him time to learn how to run a football team and, in 2004, a chance to exercise his option to become sole owner. Art Modell said Bisciotti's offer was the only one of 18 proposals that left the longtime owner in control of the team.
On March 27, 2000, when National Football League owners approved the sale, Bisciotti made a brief appearance before television cameras in a West Palm Beach hotel.
Casually dressed in white slacks, a blue blazer, alligator shoes and no socks, the deeply tanned businessman stepped up to the microphone, flashed a fluorescent-white smile and announced that his first job with the Ravens would be "water boy."
Lifelong Friendships Stephen Joseph Bisciotti was born in 1960 in Philadelphia, the youngest of three children in a middle-class family. When he was 11 months old, his father took a new job as a sales executive, moved the family to Severna Park and bought two Baltimore Colts season tickets.
Stephen and his brother developed a strong attachment to Baltimore sports teams, and athletics remained a major part of his boyhood. Before his father died of leukemia when Stephen was 8, the family went on excursions to Colts training camp in Westminster and occasionally to Memorial Stadium for a regular-season NFL game.
His older brother graduated from the private Severn School, and Bisciotti started there, too. But he spent his last two years at Severna Park High School, where he turned girls' heads with his tousled good looks. "Sexy Steve Bisciotti!" gushed the caption beneath a candid snapshot in the 1978 Severna Park High yearbook.
Back then, Bisciotti had a reputation as a partyer. "He wasn't a bookworm," acknowledged his friend Nick Manus. He also wasn't much of jock, although he spent one year as a wide receiver on the Severna Park football team under popular coach Andy Borland, with whom he remains close.
Bisciotti left high school with a tightknit group of friends, some of whom went to work for his company or occupy trusted positions in the Ravens' front office. Manus, for instance, lobbies for Bisciotti's company in Annapolis. Mark Burdett serves as the Ravens' senior director of broadcasting and corporate partnership.
Gary Williams, the coach of the University of Maryland basketball team, was invited into Bisciotti's circle after the two met at a fundraiser. Williams was immediately struck by how close Bisciotti's Severna Park crowd remains more than two decades after graduating from high school. Relaxed, wealthy and confident, they hang out at local bars, shoot pool and play golf together.
"There's an extreme loyalty," Williams said. "Those guys are always together."
Last fall, a pack of them crashed a gathering of the Ravens Roost, a fan club that meets every Sunday at the Crabcake Factory in Annapolis. Members were thrilled by Bisciotti's appearance.
"He wanted to get in and mix with the fans," said Ted Siomporas, 55, a Crofton resident who runs the club. "He struck me as a really warm, decent guy."
Bisciotti and his friends lingered long after the event had ended, Siomporas said, chatting with fans over bottles of light beer at the bar.
In January, when the Ravens won the AFC championship and headed to the Super Bowl, Bisciotti decided to share the experience with everyone close to him. Together, they piled onto a chartered jet at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and flew, at Bisciotti's expense, to the game in Tampa, partying at a tent he set up just outside the stadium.
"It was unbelievable," Manus said. "There you are on a plane with 170 people that you grew up with, knowing that one of your friends is part-owner of the team. He had the person that cuts his hair. He had his high school football coach [Borland], he had along friends of his two boys. I mean, who does that?"
Maintaining Privacy Whether Bisciotti can maintain "regular guy" status if he becomes sole owner of the Ravens is perhaps the biggest question facing him and his family.
"Good luck," said Daniel Snyder, feasted on by the media since he bought the Washington Redskins in 1999.
"I expected some degree of notoriety," Snyder said. "I did not anticipate a local radio station broadcasting their morning show live at 5 a.m. from the front door of my home."
It's unusual for the owner of a professional football club not to expect, or even seek, a degree of public attention, according to Dean Bonham, a sports consultant based in Denver.
"It's certainly more unusual today than it was 20 years ago," Bonham said. "Today, we are seeing a new breed of professional-franchise owner. Most of them are very charismatic, very visible guys who are also very outspoken."
Bisciotti's friends say they worry about whether the executive, whose home telephone number is listed in the phone book, will be able to keep the privacy he cherishes.
But still, those close to him do their best.
When a neighbor answered the door at her home recently, she began speaking freely about Bisciotti, Renee and their two sons. She even offered to call another neighbor who is close to the Bisciottis and could offer more details about them.
But when she reached the neighbor, her faced dropped.
"No, of course," she said into the phone. "I won't tell the reporter a thing."
Staff writer Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.