“It’s a son talking to a father, that’s the way I looked at it. It’s hard talking about someone who loved you that much. It’s not as easy as you think it is. Everything I said in his ear came from my heart and I loved him dearly,”
— Ray Lewis (September 2012)
THE PAINTING HANGS OVER THE majestic fireplace at The Castle in Owings Mills and exudes the warmth of the man himself. Arthur Bertrand Modell. Founder. Baltimore Ravens.
Like several others in this purple tale of civic sports personalities who are more worthy of a book than a chapter, one could write tomes outlining the full color and complexity of the life and times of Arthur B. Modell. After nearly a lifetime of working the football business on the banks of Lake Erie beginning in March 1961 in his adopted homeland of Cleveland, the native New Yorker brought his beloved Browns franchise to Baltimore in November 1995 amidst national scorn. He was forever reviled in Ohio and beloved in Maryland. The economic reasons for the move are well documented. And Modell was clear that there were no other motives except for self-preservation, abandoning a decrepit stadium un-affectionately known as “The Mistake On The Lake” that was built in 1930. Coming to the shores of the Chesapeake Bay in an attempt to finally win a Super Bowl and create equity and a trust fund for his family in the only business he owned or cared about during his life was his only motivation.
Or as he once famously said regarding Baltimore, “I didn’t come here for the crab cakes!”
Five years later, on a team with four Hall of Famers, the Ravens won Super Bowl XXXV and forever changed the Baltimore sports landscape. The Ravens went from being a carpet-bagged sports franchise to a civic institution.
The unique part of the Ravens, being such a young franchise, is the amazing institutional memory that exists within a relatively new building and a teenage organization that has become the model for the NFL. Modell understood football’s value to a local community. He understood the allure of sports, and he recognized the partnership that a franchise needed to have with all elements of the fan base – men and women, children, and adults, rich and poor, black and white, blue collar and white collar, Jew, Gentile and non-believers. Art believed that a sports team could galvanize all parts of a community in a way that no other entity could muster.
And who would know more than Modell? He truly was one of a handful of pioneers who helped build the National Football League from a third-rate sport on the fringe of society in the early 1960s into the centerpiece of the American sports landscape during his 42 years of ownership.
Modell will be remembered for owning a football team in Cleveland and moving it to Baltimore, but he lived a very full life before he even arrived in Ohio as a well-heeled New York ad man who gave up his East Coast life and moved to the friendly heart of the Midwest. There, he sold football and lived football like his contemporaries Pete Rozelle, Al Davis, Lamar Hunt, and the other forefathers of modern football