PALM BEACH - Call it his last lap.
Ravens owner Art Modell, a pioneer in the league for 43 years, was celebrated by NFL owners and administrators Monday in what is expected to be his final appearance at the league meetings as an owner.
Modell, who said he moved the Browns to Baltimore after the 1995 season so that his family would not go into bankruptcy, officially will hand over ownership to Steve Bisciotti on April 8.
"We deeply appreciate your leadership, your friendship and all the ways you contributed to the NFL," commissioner Paul Tagliabue said. "Your fingerprints are deeply embedded in the history of the league."
Modell, who has suffered two heart attacks and a stroke, said he was moved by the generosity of his colleagues.
"I would say today's league meetings would be the culmination of the final lap," Modell said. "It's been a very, very rewarding experience. I'll never lose my love for football. I love the league, despite its flaws."
Modell has been a driving force in negotiating the league's television contracts and a strong advocate of revenue sharing.
"I think my greatest contribution is my role in revenue sharing," Modell said. "I feel deeply that we should continue that. I don't get to vote, but I'll use my persuasive powers (to see that it continues)."
Modell will stick around.
"I'm going to stay around and be available to Steve Bisciotti and be available for all the help I can give him," Modell said. "I'll help in any way possible. I intend to be as active as they want me to be active. ... He's entitled to all the help I can give him. I intend to help him become a winner."
RIDING THE WAVE: The 2003 season resulted in record regular-season paid attendance, both in tickets sold and the more than 66,000 per game.
Paid attendance for all games in 2003 was 21,639,040, which is 133,902 more than the record set in 2002. The 66,328 fans per game also is a record.
Tagliabue said the league's commitment to revenue sharing, with the by-product of competitive parity, has to remain a priority.
"(Revenue sharing is) often recognized as the single biggest factor in the NFL business success over the past five decades," he said. "In all of our decisionmaking of the past decade, we have paid close attention to how revenue sharing is maintained or modified, and we must continue to do so."
For the fourth straight year, the Redskins set a regular-season paid attendance record (667,033) over eight games.
TO THE VOTE: Along with reported issues of extra challenges, unsportsmanlike conduct and extraneous objects, the league announced Monday that it would be voting on four new proposals.
If voted in Wednesday, a new rule would stipulate that once a player has signaled for a fair catch on a punt, he has given up the right to advance the ball, even if it bounces first. Also, coaches will be allowed to call timeouts from the sideline, to any official; untouched punts in the end zone are immediately dead balls and practice squads could be expanded from five to eight players.
KICKOFF WEEKEND: While the full schedule has not been announced, the Colts travel to the Patriots to open the season on Thursday night, Sept. 9. On Sunday, Sept. 12, the Cowboys are at the Vikings (4:15 p.m., Fox). The Sunday night game features the Chiefs at the Broncos (8:30, ESPN). The first ABC Monday night game is the Packers at the Panthers on Sept. 13.
BUCS' PICK: The team got a seventh-round compensatory draft pick, No.252 overall, from the league.
BITS N' PIECES: The league has opened 21 new or refurbished stadiums since 1992. ... All games will be broadcast via satellite radio beginning this season. ... The 32 teams voted unanimously to offer Tagliabue a new contract after his current deal expires in May 2005.
WHEELING AND DEALING: The Bears acquired fullback Bryan Johnson from the Redskins in exchange for a sixth-round draft pick. ... Defensive tackle Oliver Gibson agreed to a two-year deal with the Bears. ... Tight end John Jones signed a two-year contract with the Dolphins. ... Pending a physical, quarterback Rick Mirer agreed to terms with the Lions. ... Packers defensive tackle Larry Smith re-signed, and punter Nathan Chapman signed.