Art Modell, the NFL owner who brought football back to Baltimore in 1996, died early Thursday morning at the age of 87.
Modell, who owned the Cleveland Browns, moved his organization to Baltimore and created the Ravens, ending a 12-year NFL drought in Charm City. He’ll be forever remembered by those in Baltimore as the father of the Ravens franchise.
“He was my friend, my mentor,” current Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said. “We will miss him so much. How lucky are all of us to have had Art in Baltimore? How fortunate I am to have had him teach me about the NFL. His generosity, his love, his humor, his intelligence, his friendship – we were all blessed by this great man. We will strive to live up to his standard.”
Modell died of natural causes while staying at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
His son David Modell released a statement:
“Sadly, I can confirm that my father died peacefully of natural causes at four this morning. My brother John Modell and I were with him when he finally rejoined the absolute love of his life, my mother Pat Modell, who passed away last October.
“’Poppy’ was a special man who was loved by his sons, his daughter-in-law Michel, and his six grandchildren. Moreover, he was adored by the entire Baltimore community for his kindness and generosity. And, he loved Baltimore. He made an important and indelible contribution to the lives of his children, grandchildren and his entire community. We will miss him.”
Modell was a visionary when it came to the NFL and television. He was the Chairman of the NFL Television Committee for 31 years, negotiating contracts that would set the standard for all other professional leagues. He was a key figure in establishing NFL Films and helped launch Monday Night Football. Modell volunteered Cleveland for the first Monday night game and helped negotiate the contract with ABC.
Modell owned the Browns from 1961-1995 before moving the organization to Baltimore. He owned the Ravens from 1996-2003. During that time span, Modell’s teams earned 28 winning seasons, 28 playoff games and two NFL championships (an NFL title in 1964 and a Super Bowl title in 2000).
Modell was the only elected NFL president in league history, serving in that role from 1967-1969. He was the chairman of the Owners’ Labor Committee, which negotiated the first collective bargaining agreement with the players in 1968.
“Art was a frontrunner in breaking racial and gender barriers in sports,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “He was ahead of his time and pioneered change for the good. And, Art was a winner. There are a multitude of playoff teams and division champions, and he won the Lombardi Trophy right here with his beloved Ravens.
“It is often said about those inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame: ‘Can you write the history of the league without him?’ The answer with Art Modell is resounding. He was a great leader, but more importantly, he was truly a good man.”