Hours after the euphoria of the opening of the 2012 NFL season died down, the opposite emotion took over. Art Modell, the former Browns and Ravens owner and a key figure in the success of the league, died at about 4 a.m. of natural causes. He was 87.
An NFL owner for four decades, Modell was central in the negotiating process that helped to land the league its lucrative television contracts, and also bring football into more homes to further establish a growing brand. In Cleveland, though, there’s a lingering bitterness towards him after he took the town’s original and beloved Browns, and moved them to Baltimore in 1996. The Ravens then won the Super Bowl in 2001.
But while there may be hostile feelings towards Modell in Cleveland, his significant role as a league pioneer can’t be overstated. Specifically regarding those television contracts, Modell was the driving force behind the 1970 contract that put the NFL under the Monday night primetime lights on ABC.
With word spreading about his passing this morning, those around the league who knew and worked with Modell expressed their condolences. Here’s the rest of quote from Ray Lewis that was already deemed headline worthy:
“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.”
Shannon Sharpe told the story of the first time he met Modell, which was when the Ravens owner was recruiting him during a free agent visit.
“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.”
Lastly, Roger Goodell emphasized the importance of Modell’s role as chairman of the league’s broadcast committee.
“Art Modell’s leadership was an important part of the NFL’s success during the league’s explosive growth during the 1960s and beyond. As the longtime chairman of the league’s Broadcast Committee, Art was a visionary who understood the critical role that mass viewing of NFL games on broadcast television could play in growing the league.”
After the passing of Al Davis last year and with Ralph Wilson’s health fading, we’re slowly reaching the point where the league’s founding fathers are passing on.