Modell won't be a part of Hall's Class of 2004

OWINGS MILLS – Art Modell won two world titles. The venerable Baltimore Ravens owner often describes his four decades in the NFL as a love affair. Modell was instrumental in the merger of the AFL and NFL, negotiating the initial collective bargaining agreement, instituting revenue sharing and the launch of Monday Night Football. However, Modell learned Wednesday morning that he won't be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2004.

Voters narrowed a list of 25 semifinalists down to 15 finalists that includes running back Barry Sanders and quarterback John Elway, a longtime nemesis of Modell's Cleveland Browns.

"Our perspective is biased, but I can't imagine Art not being in the Hall of Fame," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "I know he will be in there one day. For my liking, the sooner the better."

Modell's 43 years of ownership will officially end this spring when control of the franchise is transferred to Maryland businessman Steve Bisciotti. Modell bought the original Cleveland Browns for $4.625 million in 1961 and is selling the team for a total of $600 million.

Modell, 78, was informed of the news by Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and vice president of public relations Kevin Byrne.

"I think we're more disappointed than he is," Byrne said. "Art's reaction was very matter-of-fact. Basically, it was, ‘Guys, it is what it is. We've got work to do. Let's get going on getting our team better.'

"He didn't have much to say, but we know how badly he feels about it."

The decision to move the original Cleveland Browns to Maryland, amidst an untenable stadium situation and disputes with local politicians, has had a lasting impact on Modell's candidacy.

"In Cleveland, unfortunately his legacy will be someone who took something away that they loved so much," said New York Giants owner Wellington Mara, one of Modell's closest friends "The trouble is they directed their wrath at the victim rather than the spoiler who drove him out of town."

The finalists are determined by a bloc of 39 voters, one from each NFL city and two from New York, along with at-large voters such as Sports Illustrated's Peter King, USA Today's Jarrett Bell and Washington Post columnist Michael Wilbon. The Hall voters include Cleveland Plain Dealer sportswriter Tony Grossi.

When Modell was a finalist in January of 2002, Grossi made an impassioned argument against Modell's candidacy, emphasizing the move from Cleveland throughout his harangue.

Modell wasn't inducted.

"The voter who presented Art was Tony Grossi," Byrne said. "His presentation obviously has had some impact. Art hasn't made the final 15 since then. "I think he's going to be in the Hall of Fame. I'm disappointed that it's not this time."

Modell noted this summer that Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, who moved his team twice, and late Los Angeles Rams owner Dan Reeves, who moved his team from Cleveland, are in the Hall of Fame. Plus, Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt moved the original Texans from Dallas.

"No question, the move from Cleveland hurt my possibilities," Modell said in an interview with The Times last summer. "My record speaks for itself, but obviously the move hurt some people and has hurt me."

Modell was the first chairman of NFL Films and instituted TV doubleheaders. He also broke the impasse for realignment by shifting the Browns into the American Football Conference.

"He's a historical figure in this league, such a leader, gave his life to this sport," said Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi, who worked for Modell in Cleveland. "He left such an amazing legacy."

Modell was the lone elected president in NFL history. He chaired discussions for the collective bargaining agreement on a committee that included legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi. Modell also went before Congress with the late commissioner Pete Rozelle to lobby for an antitrust exemption.

"Art has accomplished a tremendous amount for the league," NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said this summer. "I believe in the near future his entire record should be recognized as entitling him to be in the Hall of Fame."

Modell hasn't been back to Ohio since moving the team. The Ravens majority owner said this summer that he won't return until he feels welcome with an invitation to Canton, site of the Hall of Fame. A Hall of Fame tight end for Modell's Browns, Newsome was inducted in 1999.

"I was disappointed when I found out about Art not getting in," Newsome said. "When you don't make it, each year you don't get in is more disappointing. It mounts."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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