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Modell: Just Art, for Art’s sake

At 6 p.m. Monday, on the south side of M&T Bank Stadium, something will be missing.

About an hour before the start of every Ravens home game, a black sedan would pull up close to the luxury box entrance. The driver would hop out, pull a wheelchair from the trunk, and then help Art Modell out of the back seat of the car.

And purple-clad fans of all ages would gather around to cheer for the man who brought the NFL back to Baltimore.

“Thanks, Art.”

“God bless you, Mr. Modell.”

“We love you, Art.”

Some would ask to take a picture with Modell. Some wanted to shake his hand. Some just wanted to thank him.

He accommodated everyone. Every week.

Even though he only owned 1 percent of the team at the time of his death at age 87 on Thursday, Modell was still treated by the fans of Baltimore as their football savior.

A long time ago in a different life, I had the good fortune to deal with Modell when I covered the business of sports for The Baltimore Sun.

Like nearly everyone, I found Modell to be charming, accessible and exceedingly honest.

In 2005, when I was working on a story about what could possibly stop the National Football League’s growth, I asked Modell if he thought there was anything that could take the league down.

I was surprised at how blunt he was.

“Greed,” he said, “is the one element that could destroy the NFL.”

But Modell didn’t stop there.

He called out Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder for pushing to share less of their locally generated revenues. He said that if they were successful, “it would be the end of the party.”

Then he added, “Going it alone is death.”

Granted, by that time, Modell’s stake in the Ravens was essentially symbolic, but it was stunning to me that he would single out two fellow owners by name.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised.

In addition to his early work on national TV contracts, Modell’s most important contribution to the NFL might have been his insistence on revenue sharing. He convinced owners like Wellington Mara of the New York Giants that it would be in Mara’s best interest to have competitive teams in Green Bay, Wis., and St. Louis.

“[Modell] should be remembered certainly with respect, almost with reverence I would say, because of the contributions he made to the league through the many years,” Mara told me in December 2003 for a story about Modell’s last game as majority owner of the Ravens.

When Modell bought the Cleveland Browns in 1961, the franchise was one of the league’s best. He had a lot to gain by not sharing revenue.

Steve Bisciotti, who was about to exercise his option to buy out Modell, said in a rare interview at the time that he admired Modell for “the promotion of league-think.”

“You see the state of the other professional leagues, and his greatest accomplishment is in building this business of the NFL to the prominence that it is,” Bisciotti said. “And it all centered around unselfishness.”

Modell had “the foresight to realize if you could sacrifice your short-term gain, you would have long-term gains that far exceeded it,” Bisciotti told me.

Modell’s funeral will be Tuesday at 11 a.m. at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation in Baltimore. Interment is private, and in lieu of flowers, the Modell family is asking that contributions be made to the SEED School, 200 Font Hill Ave., Baltimore, 21223.

The Ravens will honor Modell with a moment of silence before Monday night’s nationally televised game against the Cincinnati Bengals. They should really hold it at 6 p.m., in front of the luxury box entrance on the south side of the stadium.

 

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