Works of Art Ravens' Modell says, "Nevermore"

January 12, 2004

With Art Modell you never know if the tale is going to be about
TV or TDs, leases or legends. "Did I tell you the one about Red
Grange and George Halas visiting the White House?" he said last
Friday, the day before his fractious 43-year career as an NFL
owner came to an end with Baltimore's 20-17 loss to Tennessee
(page 66). "As they're walking into the Oval Office, they hear,
'Mr. President, Red Grange and George Halas of the Chicago
Bears.' And President Coolidge says, 'Whoopie! I love animal
acts!'"

Modell, 78, achieved fame as the millionaire socialist who
rallied the league around revenue sharing, but he also gained
infamy as a curmudgeon who ripped the Browns from Cleveland
(moving them to Baltimore in 1996) after a spat with the city
over a stadium deal. Modell--who in '99 agreed to sell the Ravens
to Maryland entrepreneur Stephen Bisciotti for $600 million with
the proviso that Modell stay on through this season--bought the
Browns for $3.9 million in '61, the year commissioner Pete
Rozelle brought the twin gospels of revenue sharing and TV to the
NFL. At the time teams cut their own TV deals, and as the only
owner with his own network to air his games Modell had the NFL's
most lucrative setup. Yet he agreed to throw his TV revenue into
a pool, to be distributed evenly. He and Rozelle then got owners
in New York, Chicago and L.A. to share TV revenue. "It cost me a
lot of money," Modell said, "but Pete and I felt it was important
to put every franchise on a level playing field."

But Modell, a Brooklyn native who made his riches as a TV and
advertising mogul, had trouble running his own franchise. By the
mid-'90s he was so cash-strapped, he had to borrow from a bank to
sign receiver Andre Rison to a $17 million contract. Not long
afterward Modell took a sweetheart deal from Baltimore, and he
hasn't been able to show his face in Cleveland since. "I guess
what bothers me is being singled out," says Modell. "Something
like 10 owners in the Hall of Fame moved their franchises."

In the end, battered by his experience in Cleveland, where he
didn't win a title after 1964, Modell knew enough to know what
he didn't know. In Baltimore he empowered power personnel czar
Ozzie Newsome and later coach Brian Billick, who built the
Ravens into Super Bowl champs in 2001. The fan in Cleveland
will never forgive him. But the fan in Baltimore is eternally
grateful. --Peter King

COLOR PHOTO: AMY SANCETTA/AP (MODELL) SPLIT VOTE The owner was embraced--and jeered. COLOR PHOTO: GENE J. PUSKAR/AP (FANS) [See caption above]

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