Art Modell, whose remarkable 43-year NFL career made him a regular finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, died today of natural causes at Johns Hopkins Hospital at the age of 87.
Former Ravens president David Modell issued this 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.”
• Left high school at age of 15 to help financially-strapped family after the death of his father
• First full-time job was as an electrician’s helper, cleaning hulls of ships in a Brooklyn shipyard
• Joined the Air Force in 1943 (He was 18.)
• Under the G.I. Bill, he enrolled in a New York City television school following World War II
• Produced one of the first regular daytime television shows in the nation (“Market Melodies”)
• Joined the advertising business in 1954 and became a partner for the L.H. Hartman Co. in New York City
• Purchased Browns on March 21, 1961
• Won two NFL Championships: the 1964 Browns beat the Baltimore Colts, 27-0, and the 2000 Ravens won Super Bowl XXXV with a 34-7 victory over the N.Y. Giants
• Three more of Modell’s teams – 1965, 1968 and 1969 – played in NFL title games
• His 1986, 1987 and 1989 teams lost memorable AFC Championships to the Denver Broncos
• His 1967, 1971, 1972, 1980, 1982, 1985, 1988, 1994, 2001 and 2003 teams also made the playoffs
• In six other seasons – 1963, 1970, 1976, 1979, 1983 and 2002 – Art’s teams had a chance to make the playoffs on the final day of the season, but did not qualify
• In 43 years of ownership, Art produced 28 winning seasons with an overall record of 346-305-8
• Moved franchise to Baltimore, Maryland on Feb. 9, 1996
• Only elected NFL president in league history, serving in that capacity in 1967-69
• Chairman of the NFL’s Television Committee for 31 years (1962-93). During his tenure, NFL TV contracts set the standard and records for the highest in sports history
• Chairman of the Owners’ Labor Committee (1968), which successfully negotiated NFL’s first collective bargaining agreement with players
• Served on the NFL-AFL Merger Committee, breaking the impasse for realignment of the two leagues by moving the Browns to the American Football Conference
• Worked closely with Pete Rozelle to establish NFL Films and became first Chairman of Films
• In 1970, was an important negotiator with ABC to start Monday Night Football and volunteered to host the first game in Cleveland
• Conceived and staged first doubleheader in NFL history, consisting of the Browns and three other teams playing back-to-back preseason games at Cleveland Stadium. From 1962-1971, the Browns hosted annual doubleheaders each August drawing over 800,000 fans in 10 years
• Art and Tex Schramm initiated the second Thanksgiving Day Game, and agreed to play the first one
Ravens General Manager & Executive Vice President Ozzie Newsome: “Art was a giant in our industry. He was my boss – but he wouldn’t let me call him that – my mentor, and most importantly, my friend. He was the most caring, compassionate person I’ve ever known. The opportunities he gave me are historic, and I will be forever humble and grateful.”
Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh: “By a Providential twist of fate, we came to be friends of Art and Pat Modell and their wonderful family. Pat took my wife under her wing and made her feel like they had been friends forever. Art made me feel like I could accomplish anything. He was the most encouraging soul I ever came across. He uplifted everybody around him. I loved Art, and he loved my family, including my parents. He welcomed us to Baltimore with genuine warmth and grace.
“Art continued to be a big part of this great organization. He spoke to our team every year, and he interacted with the players and coaches whenever he was here. This was a strong and good man. He was a winner in every way. And his humor … He always, in every situation, made us laugh. He is in God’s company, along with Pat, and Art is telling some good ones right now!
“It is important to mention some things about Art:
“Art Modell was a visionary who broke barriers to help make the NFL what it is today and to help move our society forward in important ways. It was Art’s vision that married the NFL and TV together like nothing else in the history of sports and entertainment. He saw it first and drove it home with the networks and the league. Art negotiated the first collective bargaining agreement in NFL history. On those two accomplishments alone, the NFL moved to the forefront of sport in America. Art also started Monday Night Football. How great it is that we are playing in the Monday Night Football opener this week? We should all salute him for that. Art was a frontrunner in breaking racial and gender barriers in sports. 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.”
Former Ravens Head Coach Brian Billick: “Art Modell was all about family, and that’s how he directed the Ravens. He treated me, my family and everyone in the organization like a member of his family. Before I think of the gratitude I owe him for giving me the opportunity to be his head coach, I think of the way he treated all of us. I don’t believe there’s another NFL franchise that embraces that more than Art did. That was reflected in the people he hired. He created an atmosphere that was the best. It was a joy to come to work for him. He accomplished so much as an owner: championships, playoffs, the TV contracts, the leadership in the NFL. They are all great and deserving of the Hall of Fame. Those who worked with Art will all say the same thing. He was a Hall of Fame person.”
Former Broncos and Ravens TE Shannon Sharpe: “Mr. Modell was one of the main reasons I came to Baltimore. I remember when I met him. He flew down to see me, and we flew back up to Baltimore together, and he learned so much about me and my family, and I learned about him as a man. I remember his words so vividly: He said, ‘Ozzie, get this deal done,’ and that was the start of something beautiful.
“One of my favorite moments in the NFL was when he spoke to us in the locker room after the Super Bowl victory. He said, ‘This is the proudest day of my life; you guys make me proud.’ And then he started to break down. That touched me. You could not only see the emotion from him and from all of us in that room, you could feel it. Knowing how long he had been in the NFL and how many great players he had been around, it was such a great feeling to give him something that he wanted for so long. We all wanted it for him!
“You see how close he was with his boys and how much he loved his wife, and he brought that atmosphere to the Ravens. He always had something positive to say, always had a joke to make you smile. I still picture him on his golf cart watching every practice, no matter what the weather was like. We were all in it together. The sport you see on TV today and what the NFL means to our society is in large part due to Mr. Modell.
“He was a great man, and I just wish that everyone got a chance to see him in the light that we did as players. It is a very sad day. I will miss my friend.”
Former Ravens T Jonathan Ogden: “Art was more than a great owner; he was a great man. When I first met him, and he welcomed me to Baltimore, I knew he was special. The Ravens organization was a special place to be. He was more concerned with everyone else than he was about himself. Always wanted to know about how you and your family were doing. He is definitely one of the nicest, kindest people I have ever met. It would be very difficult to imagine what the NFL would be like today without a visionary like Art Modell. He was a ‘glass half full’ person every day of his life. I will never forget how he treated me and my family. He will always have a very special place in my heart.”
Ravens LB Ray Lewis: “When you think about Art Modell, you think about a great man, a leader, a father and a servant. Every minute of his life, he cared more about everyone around him than himself. Anytime I saw him, he would always make me smile. He always had a joke to lighten your mood or some sort of wisdom to impart to make you a better man. I genuinely loved Art as a man, and he showed me what to strive for in life. When you truly see the impact he had on everyone he touched, it humbles you. When I found out he wasn’t doing well, I knew immediately I had to see him. When I was with him yesterday, I prayed with him and shared with him things that a son would say to a father. Even though he has left us, he is going to a place that one day we all want to be. I am truly blessed to have had Art in my life. He was a humble servant, and one of the best men I have ever known.”
Former Browns/Ravens K Matt Stover: “I worked for Art for 18 years, and he is paramount to what the NFL is today. He was a visionary, and everyone who works in or is a fan of the NFL owes Art Modell a debt of gratitude and great appreciation for what he did to make this game great. As a man, he was one of the most philanthropic people I know. All of the tremendous things he stood for he passed on to his family, community and the people that he worked with, and that has made the Ravens and the NFL a better place.
“Art always empowered me to be my best, and did the same for everyone around him. I remember in Cleveland when I missed a field goal and was down on myself, and Art called me on the sideline phone. He told me, ‘Just hit the next one, kid.’ I’m not sure how many other owners would have done that. He was a special man and will be sorely missed by my family and me.”
Former Ravens DT Tony Siragusa: “Art was like a father to me and to all of his players. From the first time I met him, he always treated us players like his kids, but also treated us like men. When we won the Super Bowl, he was as big a part as anyone. We wanted to win it for him. Art was a man; you could talk to him about anything in life – not just football – and you would always come out wiser. Art is and always will be a family member to me.”
Former Ravens WR Qadry Ismail: “When you look at the situation that players can be in, it’s such a cutthroat business, and there are a lot of tough decisions that have to be made. I am proud to say that I played for Art Modell. I am proud to say that I played for the Baltimore Ravens. I am proud to say that I am a part of this organization. I am proud to wear the championship ring that is on my figure, because Art Modell has set a high standard of quality, excellence, family and commitment to doing what is right. I will be forever grateful and indebted to the man that helped me in my career, as well as the impact he has made in my life as a man.
“Art has meant so much to not only the NFL community, but also the Ravens’ community and people of Baltimore and Maryland. I am thankful that I have been a part of that legacy. I am thankful that I have been able to be in a spot where it’s not about just playing a game, but it’s also about affecting other’s lives in a positive way. Art Modell, from the way he runs his organization to the way he carries himself as a man, has impacted me so much.
“I am so thankful that Art has been able to be a part of my life, especially at a time as a player when I was just starting my family. The one story that comes to my mind is when my son had a fall and broke his leg, and it required surgery. Art – he didn’t have to – but he made a phone call to the hospital about this. I remember sitting there stressed out, not sure whether my son was going to be able to be seen by a doctor. A person from the hospital came in and said, ‘You must know someone in high places. You are getting surgery pretty quickly.’ I was like, ‘Wow, OK!’ I came later to find out that it was Art who had made the call to have my family taken care of. He didn’t have to do that. He didn’t have to go out of his way.”
Former Baltimore Colts RB Tom Matte: “He was a special guy to me. I call him a very close friend. We came into the league together in 1961. What he’s done for football can’t be measured. This man deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.”