It is a somber day for die-hard Baltimore Ravens‘ football fans, as the man who brought football back to their city, Art Modell, has passed away at the age of 87.
Modell famously (or infamously depending on who you talk to) moved the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore in 1996, leaving behind the Browns team name, color and records. The Baltimore Ravens were birthed as an expansion franchise and played their first game in 1996 after Modell escaped potential legal problems in Cleveland for moving the team.
Modell was the Browns principal owner from 1961-1995, and he was a catalyst for many of the changes that took place throughout the NFL during his ownership tenure. Modell was the longtime chariman of the league’s Broadcast Committee which was at the forefront of bringing the NFL into households across the country by working out the NFL’s first television contract, and he also helped birth Monday Night Football. Modell negotiated the first collective bargaining agreement in NFL history, which was also a watershed moment for the burgeoning league, as the NFL was just a shell of the all-powerful force that it is today.
During his 35 years as the Browns’ owner, the Browns qualified for the playoffs 17 times, culminating with the NFL championship in 1964. However, towards the end of his time in Cleveland, Modell wanted a new stadium or at the least major renovations to the Browns’ Municipal Stadium. Many people saw this stadium issue as the moment when Modell first had notions to relocate the team. They city of Cleveland ended up passing a referendum to make renovations to Municipal Stadium, but the writing was on the wall and Modell made plans to move the team despite what happened with the referendum.
There was obviously much backlash and anti-Modell sentiment in Cleveland as the city had felt betrayed. Despite being re-awarded with the second coming of the Browns in 1999, Modell is still seen as a villain who stole the city’s beloved Browns and left the new edition of the Browns in shambles. Since the Browns returned to the NFL as an expansion team in 1999, they have only made the playoffs once and have become largely irrelevant in the landscape of the NFL. Modell allegedly never returned to Cleveland for any games, as his new team in Baltimore became division foes with the second coming of the Browns. He feared for his safety since there was so much hostility towards him, thus he never went back to Cleveland for any reason.
Of course those in Baltimore view Modell the exact opposite way. The man brought the city a new franchise after the fans had been left out in the cold, as the then Baltimore Colts were shadily moved to Indianapolis under the veil of darkness on a snowy winter night after the 1983 season.
It only took Modell and the Ravens four years to reach the top of the mountain, as the Ravens and their stingy defense dismantled the New York Giants 34-7 in Super Bowl XXXV to claim the championship for the 2000 season. After the Super Bowl victory, Modell turned control of the team over to his son, David, as the championship put a nice bow on the illustrious career of Modell.
The only thing that eluded Modell was a spot in Canton in the Football Hall of Fame. However, now that he has passed many people are just now realizing what a driving factor Modell was for the growth of the NFL in numerous aspects, and a posthumous election into the Hall of Fame seems all but a certainty. To this day many people feel that the only reason he hasn’t already been elected is due to the way he spurned Cleveland, which left him as a polarizing character to many.
Despite the way Modell handled the exodus from Cleveland, his contributions are too many and too important to overlook. What he did for the league is historic and it should only be a matter of time before he has a bust in Canton.