|FILE - This May 6, 2003 file photo shows Baltimore Ravens owner Art Modell, left, and team President David Modell, sitting together at a news conference at the newly named M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Md. One of the most influential owners in the history of the NFL, Art Modell helped mold the foundation of the league. The innovative Modell, whose reputation was forever tainted when he moved his franchise from Cleveland to Baltimore, died early Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. He was 87. David Modell said he and his brother, John, were at their father's side when he "died peacefully of natural causes." (AP Photo/ Matt Houston, File)|
Modell dies at 87; legacy depends on perspective
Modell’s Browns were among the best teams of the 1960s, led for a time by sensational running back Jim Brown. Cleveland won the NFL championship in 1964 — Modell’s only title with the Browns — and played in the title game in 1965, 1968 and 1969.
But his early years with Cleveland also were marked by controversy when he fired the team’s only coach to that point, Hall of Famer Paul Brown, after the 1962 season. Brown then went on to co-found and coach the Cincinnati Bengals.
Modell said he lost millions of dollars operating the Browns in Cleveland and cited the state of Maryland’s financial package, including construction of a $200 million stadium, as his reasons for leaving Ohio.
‘‘This has been a very, very tough road for my family and me,’’ Modell said at the time of the Browns move. ‘‘I leave my heart and part of my soul in Cleveland. But frankly, it came down to a simple proposition: I had no choice.’’
Some NFL owners have several other sources of income. Modell had his football team. Period. And although the move to Baltimore helped keep him afloat for a while, he ultimately had to broker a deal that made Steve Bisciotti a minority owner. Part of the arrangement was that Bisciotti could assume majority ownership, and that’s what happened in April 2004.
Bisciotti has since poured millions into the team, financing construction of a lavish practice facility in Owings Mills, Md. As a tribute, Bisciotti insisted that a huge oil painting of Modell be hung above the fireplace at the entrance to the complex.
Modell had an open invitation to come to camp, and although his health was failing in recent years, he occasionally dropped by to watch practice, going around the field in a golf cart.
Lewis never failed to come by and say hello, and their relationship was so tight that they spent a few emotional moments together Wednesday in the hospital.
‘‘The things that I shared in his ear, I will also keep that between me and him because it’s like a son and a father,’’ Lewis said. ‘‘I loved the man dearly.’’
Born June 23, 1925, in Brooklyn, N.Y., Modell dropped out of high school at age 15 and worked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard cleaning out the hulls of ships to help out his financially strapped family after the death of his father.
He completed high school in night class, joined the Air Force in 1943, and then enrolled in a television school after World War II. He used that education to produce one of the first regular daytime television programs before moving into the advertising business in 1954.
A group of friends led by Modell purchased the Browns in 1961 for $4 million — a figure he called ‘‘totally excessive.’’
‘‘You get few chances like this,’’ he said at the time. ‘‘To take advantage of the opportunity, you must have money and friends with more.’’
Modell’s work as a civic leader included serving on the board of directors of several companies, including the Ohio Bell Telephone Co., Higbee Co. and 20th Century-Fox Film Corp.
Modell and his wife, Patricia, continued their charity work in Baltimore, donating millions to The Seed School of Maryland, a boarding school for disadvantaged youths; Johns Hopkins Hospital; and the Kennedy Krieger Institute. The couple also gave $3.5 million to the Lyric, which was renamed the Patricia & Art Modell Performing Arts Center at The Lyric.
Patricia, his wife of 42 years, died last year.
Besides his two sons, Modell is survived by six grandchildren.