One of the most polarizing figures in NFL history — a team owner who was a driving force in football’s rise to prominence on television but who alienated his team’s fans when he moved the team out of town — has died. Art Modell, former owner of the Cleveland Browns and a key mover in the creation of “Monday Night Football,” was 87.
The Associated Press reports that Modell died early today at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore after being admitted Wednesday. The cause of death was not known.
“Modell was among the most important figures in the NFL as owner of the Cleveland Browns, which became the Ravens after he took the team to Baltimore in 1996 in a move that tarnished his reputation as one of the league’s most innovative and influential owners,” the story reports. “The Ravens won their lone Super Bowl in January 2001, less than a year after Modell sold a minority interest of the team to Steve Bisciotti. In April 2004. Bisciotti completed purchase of the franchise but left Modell a 1 percent share.”
Modell was one of the prime movers behind the NFL’s 1970 deal with ABC that put football games on television on Monday nights — creating the powerful “Monday Night Football” franchise.
“During his four decades as an NFL owner, Modell helped negotiate the league’s lucrative contracts with television networks, served as president of the NFL from 1967 to 1969, and chaired the negotiations for the first collective bargaining agreement with the players in 1968,” the report notes.
Modell became a hated figure in Ohio after he moved the Browns from Cleveland to Baltimore. He commented on the fallout from the move in 1999, saying: “I have a great legacy, tarnished somewhat by the move. The politicians and the bureaucrats saw fit to cover their own rear ends by blaming it on me.”
The report notes: “The move was also believed to be the main reason why Modell never made it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was one of 15 finalists in 2001 and a semifinalist seven times between 2004 and 2011.”
“Modell’s Browns were among the best teams of the 1960s, led during his first few years as owner by legendary running back Jim Brown,” the story adds. The team won the NFL title in 1964 and appeared in the championship game in 1965, 1968 and 1969.
The piece adds: “Modell said he lost millions of dollars operating the Browns in Cleveland and cited the state of Maryland’s financial package, including construction of a $200 million stadium, as his reasons for going to Baltimore. The Ravens replaced the Baltimore Colts, who moved to Indianapolis in 1984.”