Thousands of family and friends turned out Tuesday for the funeral of former Browns and Ravens owner Art Modell, including current and former players, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
An important figure in the development of the league, Modell also was one of the NFL’s most polarizing owners. Cleveland fans never forgave him from moving his club to Baltimore for financial reasons after the 1995 season, but Ravens fans were fond of him and Modell also was remembered as a loving family man on Tuesday.
Ray Lewis, Ray Rice, Joe Flacco, Haloti Ngata and Torrey Smith were among current Ravens players who attended the service at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. Former Ravens players Michael McCrary, Peter Boulware and Rob Burnett also went to pay their respects.
“He contributed so much to the NFL,” Goodell said. “He was obviously a close adviser to (former NFL commissioner) Pete Rozelle. He was a big part of NFL history. He played a big role in the NFL and the NFL is going to miss him.”
Lewis, Baltimore’s second pick in the 1996 draft after Modell moved the franchise, gave a eulogy filled with emotion.
“Rest in peace ‘Pop Art,'” he said.
Goodell and Modell’s sons, John Modell and David Modell, also spoke during the service. John Modell followed his speech by performing a song he wrote on the guitar for his father in 1998, when the Ravens built their facility, which is now known as M&T Bank Stadium.
“He loved the game,” John Modell said. “He loved the men who played the game. He loved football.”
Toward the end of the 90-minute service, Modell’s pallbearers, which included Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and Ravens senior vice president of public and community relations Kevin Byrne, carried his casket to a hearse sitting in front of the synagogue.
Modell’s funeral came the morning after the Ravens defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 44-13 in Baltimore. The team paid tribute to Modell by wearing commemorative T-shirts during pre-game warmups and in the locker room after the game ended.
“If Mr. Modell (didn’t) bring the team to Baltimore, it doesn’t happen for us,” Ravens safety Ed Reed said following the game. “This city here loves football, too, and Mr. Modell saw that in this city, and he made us all Ravens. We’re all grateful just to be here.”
Modell purchased the Cleveland Browns in 1961 for $4 million, an unheard of amount at the time. He won an NFL championship with the Browns in 1964 — over the Baltimore Colts — and those early Cleveland teams later appeared in the 1965, 1968 and 1969 title games. The Browns also reached the AFC championship in the 1986, 1987 and 1989 seasons but fell short to the Denver Broncos each time.
Modell was a member of the NFL’s television committee for 31 years and helped launch Monday Night Football. He served on the NFL-AFL merger committee and helped negotiate the NFL’s first collective bargaining agreement as the chairman of the owners’ labor committee.
But it was Modell’s decision in 1995 that made him a villain in the northeast Ohio. Facing a financial burden, Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore instead of selling the organization and keeping it in Cleveland.
Fans in Cleveland still bear a grudge, though the Browns kept their history and received an expansion team three years later. In 2000, the Ravens won Modell his first Super Bowl title.
Modell was never voted into the NFL Hall of Fame, which has been a debatable issue for many years.
Though Goodell commended Modell’s accomplishments as an NFL owner, he said he wouldn’t judge whether he should be in or not.
“That’s for others to make that decision,” Goodell said. “I think his contributions are extraordinary. I don’t want to take positions on that.”