It's been a tough 12 months for Art Modell.
When he announced a year ago today that he was moving the Cleveland Browns
to Baltimore, team owner Modell transformed himself from an elder statesman of
pro football to its Benedict Arnold.
Longtime friends shunned him. Community leaders who once courted him
vilified him. He was bashed from Capitol Hill to the World Wide Web. His
nomination to the Hall of Fame failed, and his legacy as an NFL builder was
Then, when he got to Baltimore, a rebellious Maryland General Assembly
threatened to revoke the deal, leaving him and his franchise homeless.
Oh, and he almost died.
In April, he contracted a blood infection, possibly from a cut. The
infection sent his blood pressure plunging, his temperature up to 105 degrees,
and pushed his kidneys to the brink of failure.
Doctors administered five antibiotics intravenously and Modell, 70,
In a wide-ranging interview in his Owings Mills office, with its panoramic
view of the team's practice fields and the colorful fall foliage beyond,
Modell reflected on his first year as a Marylander.
"It's been a year that will never be forgotten. A memorable year in more
ways than one," Modell said.
A Brooklyn, N.Y., native, Modell was a young Madison Avenue ad man in
1961, when word came to him that the Browns were for sale. He assembled an
investment group that paid $3.9 million for the team, and he moved to
He soon became a member of former commissioner Pete Rozelle's inner
sanctum, at the center of every policy decision made during the league's boom
Although he has long maintained a summer home in Florida, Modell was a
dominant figure in Cleveland affairs for more than three decades. He hasn't
been back since he took the podium at Camden Yards last Nov. 6 and made the
announcement that would break the hearts of the legions of loyal Browns fans.
Overall, he said, it's been the most traumatic year of his life. But also
the most rewarding.
His reception in Baltimore has been warm, he said. The response of the
fans -- who've sold out every Ravens game -- has been
heartening. Even the team, which has turned in a lackluster performance on the
field, has shown promise, he said.
"We lost some friends in Cleveland, although I'm beginning to realize they
might not have been our friends," Modell said.
One relationship that suffered is his long-standing friendship with
Cleveland billionaire Al Lerner. The two became close in the 1970s, when they
jointly invested in some radio stations. Lerner -- who started out in business
in Baltimore and ran Maryland National Bank before selling it to NationsBank
-- bought into the Browns in the 1980s, helping Modell through a financial
But the man who used to fly Modell to every away game and was a fixture in
the Cleveland Stadium owners box has not made it to a Ravens game. And the two
have talked about Lerner's cashing in his 9 percent share of the team to
spearhead a drive for an expansion franchise in Cleveland, Modell said.
The NFL agreed, in a settlement of lawsuits sparked by the Browns
relocation, to put another team in Cleveland by expansion or relocation by
1999 and name it the Browns.
"I think there is a good chance he will divest," Modell said. If so,
Modell said, he may seek local investors for that share of the Ravens. But
he's not sure he favors expansion for Cleveland, with so many existing teams
needing better stadiums.