By BRUCE LOWITT
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 29, 2001
TAMPA -- Art Modell can be forgiven if he waxes philosophic. Four decades is a long time. What the Cleveland Browns could not give him the Baltimore Ravens did, a Vince Lombardi Trophy, a Super Bowl championship.
"This is a dream come true," he said after the Ravens' victory Sunday night. "We're thrilled and happy for the players, the coaches, my family. I can't say enough. It's been a long time coming. ...
"There's a lot of chemistry in this organization, a lot of love for each other. Lombardi told me that years and years ago, that in order to win you've got to love each other. I've been watching football now for 40 years as an owner and 25 years before that as a spectator."
The victory was Modell's first NFL championship since 1964, before the Super Bowl was born, and Baltimore's first since the Colts called their city home.
"I'd be surprised if (any of he Ravens) don't think of Art even before they think of what this means for themselves," coach Brian Billick said, "just because of what he and the Modell family have meant to them and the way thev've been treated with class from the top down. And that's a genuine emotion."
As Modell received the sterling silver trophy from commissioner Paul Tagliabue at midfield after the game, Modell held it aloft and said: "To the people in Baltimore city, to the people in Baltimore County, and to the state of Maryland, this is for you."
Modell is 75. He admitted he wondered if the fates were conspiring to deprive him of this prize. It seemed for so many years that he would never experience this moment.
"We came so close time and again, but no cigar," he said. "Now comes the cigar."
First it was Baltimore depriving the Browns of an NFL championship in 1968. Then it was the Vikings knocking off Cleveland in 1969, the last season before the AFL-NFL merger.
Moving, with Baltimore and Pittsburgh in a restructured NFL to what became the AFC, would lead to yet more pain for Modell and the Browns. And again, it could be laid at Baltimore's doorstep.
When the Colts drafted John Elway in 1983, he said he would never sign with them. Almost immediately they traded him to Denver. He beat the Browns in the 1986, '87 and '89 AFC Championship games.
By then Baltimore had lost the Colts. Owner Robert Irsay had moved the team to Indianapolis after the 1983 season.
Modell's Browns played in "the Mistake by the Lake," cavernous Cleveland Municipal Stadium. He wanted a new stadium. Up went Jacobs Field for the baseball's Indians, Gund Arena for the NBA's Cavaliers, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Nothing for the Browns.
He talked about moving the Browns if he didn't get a new stadium. The city fathers didn't listen. Baltimore's did. Come here, they said, and we'll build you one. After the 1995 season, Modell accepted the offer.
He was vilified in Cleveland. Sunday, he said he couldn't imagine how the fans there could feel about seeing their former team win a Super Bowl.
"I really can't answer for them," he said."I would hope they would recognize this as something we did. I love that city. I love the people. But it wasn't meant to be."
Even after the league replaced the old Browns with an expansion franchise that retained the old team's name, colors and history, Modell was persona non grata in his old town.
As far as the NFL is concerned, the Ravens are 5 years old. None of what the team did in Cleveland counts.
What it has done in Baltimore, and now for Baltimore, might not match the Johnny Unitas-led overtime victory against the Giants in 1958, but it's up there with Super Bowl V, when Jim O'Brien's last-minute field goal beat the Cowboys, and way ahead of the 1964 championship when the Browns beat the Colts.
"We beat Baltimore in a major upset, but nothing compares to the euphoria of today," he said. "There were tears in the locker room. I'm not ashamed of that. ... I told the players, "You did me proud and I thank you. I'll never forget it.' "
So, like Georgia Frontiere, whose Rams won a Super Bowl for St. Louis after she moved them from Los Angeles, and Al Davis, whose Raiders won a Super Bowl for Los Angeles (after winning two for Oakland), the Ravens of Modell's adopted city have given him the Super Bowl the Browns couldn't.
Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe, never at a loss for words, said he thought Sunday night's victory "finally solidifies him as a top-notch owner. ... Here is a guy that has been in the league 40 years. His teams have been in the playoffs probably half or more and he is still not in the Hall of Fame. I think now he gets to go in the Hall of Fame. At least I hope so next year."
Another Super Bowl, of course.
"I told Brian, "Don't get carried away. We've got to prepare for our draft starting Wednesday." Modell smiled. "That's a joke."
But, yes, he said, this season is over and next one will come along soon. "It always starts over. The teams that were not in today's game are also preparing. We've got things to do."