By Mark Viviano

BALTIMORE (AP/WJZ) — Former Ravens owner and the man who brought the NFL back to Baltimore, Art Modell, died  of natural causes at age 87. Modell’s contributions to not only football here in Maryland but the league in general are extraordinary.

The team said Modell died early Thursday at Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he had been admitted Wednesday.

His son, former Ravens president David Modell, released this statement:

“Sadly, I can confirm that my father died peacefully of natural causes at four this morning. My brother, John Modell, and I were with him when he finally rejoined the absolute love of his life, my mother Pat Modell, who passed away last October.

“‘Poppy’ was a special man who was loved by his sons, his daughter-in-law Michel, and his six grandchildren. Moreover, he was adored by the entire Baltimore community for his kindness and generosity. And, he loved Baltimore. He made an important and indelible contribution to the lives of his children, grandchildren and his entire community. We will miss him.”

Link: Fans React To Art Modell’s Death

Sports Director Mark Viviano takes a look at his remarkable accomplishments.

Modell’s impact on Baltimore and the NFL are everlasting, and there is a feeling of loss on his passing that hit the Ravens particularly hard.

Flags are at half staff on a dreary day at the Ravens facility. Just weeks before his death, Art Modell remained determined to attend practices. Despite failing health, his Ravens football family kept him vibrant.

“No more encouraging person than Art Modell and I’m just grateful for having had the opportunity to know him,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh. “And he is in God’s hands.”

“The impact that he had not only in my life, he had a major impact in their life too,” Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens general manager, said. “I just want to end by saying he was a great, great man.”

“Just the way him and his wife treated me, you know, I will be forever grateful for the time that I was able to spend with those guys. Art is a great guy,” Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said.

“You obviously cherish the great times that you had, you know, with somebody that is a legend around here and had the courage enough to bring this organization to Baltimore,” running back Ray Rice said. “You know, it takes a man of courage to do the things that he did in his life. He will be remembered for the great things he’s done.”

Link: View Slideshow

A great, great man who dedicated half of his life to football. Buying the Cleveland Browns in 1961, he emerged as a visionary figure helping to build the NFL into an entertainment giant and multi-billion dollar industry.

Modell suffered great criticism when he moved his team from Cleveland to Baltimore in 1995. But he stood strong in his resolve to win a Super Bowl, reaching his goal when the Ravens won it in 2001.

“To the people in Baltimore City, to the people in Baltimore County, and the state of Maryland– this belongs to you,” Modell said of the Vince Lombardi Trophy after the victory.

“Respected by his players and beloved by his family and Baltimore football fans, Art brought the game and spirit of football back to Baltimore,” Gov. Martin O’Malley said in a statement. “He helped reinvigorate Baltimoreans’ sense of pride in their team and their city. As we prepare for another exciting season of Ravens football and Purple Fridays, let us all take a moment to remember Art and his family in our thoughts and prayers.”

Related Story: Ravens & Modell Family To Host Public Tribute To Art Modell On Saturday

Modell’s was a life of football and he got out of the business when he completed the sale of the Ravens to Steve Bisciotti in 2004, bringing to an end a 43-year ownership career of an innovator, entertainer and a humanitarian. Still, Modell was left with a 1 percent share of the team’s ownership.

“He was my friend, my mentor,” Bisciotti said in a statement. “We will miss him so much. How lucky are all of us to have had Art in Baltimore? How fortunate I am to have had him teach me about the NFL. His generosity, his love, his humor, his intelligence, his friendship – we were all blessed by this great man. We will strive to live up to his standard.”

Link: Ravens Officials React

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 the collective bargaining agreement with the players in 1968.

He also was the driving force behind the 1970 contract between the NFL and ABC to televise games on Monday night.

At one time one of Cleveland’s biggest civic leaders, Modell became a pariah in Ohio after he moved the team.

“I have a great legacy, tarnished somewhat by the move,” he said in 1999. “The politicians and the bureaucrats saw fit to cover their own rear ends by blaming it on me.”

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.

“I believe Art belongs in the Hall of Fame,” former New York Giants owner Wellington Mara, now deceased, said in 2002. “I don’t think I know a person who has done more for the league than Modell, especially through television.”

Link: NFL & TV Leaders React

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. Cleveland won the NFL championship in 1964 — Modell’s only title with the Browns — and played in the title game in 1965, 1968 and 1969.

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.

“This has been a very, very tough road for my family and me,” Modell said at the time of the move. “I leave my heart and part of my soul in Cleveland. But frankly, it came down to a simple proposition: I had no choice.”

Ironically, the cost of the move to Baltimore left him financially strapped and  left him no choice but to put in motion the chain of events that enabled Bisciotti to assume majority ownership of the franchise.

Bisciotti has since poured millions into the team, financing construction of a lavish practice facility in Owings Mills, Md. As a tribute to Modell, Bisciotti insisted that a huge oil painting of Modell be hung above the fireplace at the entrance to the complex.

“When you think about Art Modell, you think about a great man, a leader, a father and a servant,” said Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. “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.”

Link: NFL Players Share Their Memories

Born June 23, 1925, in Brooklyn, N.Y., Modell dropped out of high school at age 15 and worked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard cleaning out the hulls of ships to help out his financially strapped family after the death of his father.

He completed high school in night class, joined the Air Force in 1943, and then enrolled in a television school after World War II. He used that education to produce one of the first regular daytime television programs before moving into the advertising business in 1954.

A group of friends led by Modell purchased the Browns in 1961 for $4 million — a figure he called “totally excessive.”

“You get few chances like this,” he said at the time. “To take advantage of the opportunity, you must have money and friends with more.”

Aside from his work with the Browns, Modell became a leader in the Cleveland community. He served on the board of directors of a number of large companies, including the Ohio Bell Telephone Co., the Higbee Co. and the 20th Century-Fox Film Corp.

Modell and his wife, Patricia, continued their charitable ways in Baltimore, donating millions of dollars to The Seed School of Maryland, a boarding school in Maryland for disadvantaged youths; Johns Hopkins Hospital; and the Kennedy Krieger Institute. The couple also gave $3.5 million to the Lyric, which was renamed the Patricia & Art Modell Performing Arts Center at The Lyric.

“Mr. Modell, a great entrepreneur and sportsman of the first order, together with his wife, Patricia, forever changed the cultural landscape of Baltimore and the region with their extraordinary generosity and the subsequent renaming of our facility in 2010,”  said in a statement released by The Lyric. “We are honored to be a part of a venue that carries their name. We are grateful for Art’s wisdom, carrying, inspiration and spectacular business acumen. At the Modell Lyric, he is a true Hall of Famer whom we will always treasure and cherish.”

Link: Modell’s Career Highlights

“Art Modell, and his late wife, Pat, were champions of many causes and initiatives that promoted the common good here in Baltimore and the surrounding region, especially those that lifted up our children.  It was their passion for improving the lives of children that inspired Art and Pat’s support of our Catholic schools and Catholic Charities,” said Baltimore Archbishop William Lori in a statement. “On behalf of the Catholic faithful of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, I offer heartfelt prayers to Art and Pat’s sons David and John Modell and the entire Modell family, and to all in Ravens Nation who will mourn his passing and celebrate his life and his joy-filled legacy.”

Art Modell hoped one day the people of Cleveland would remember him for what he accomplished there. Long after the move, Modell pointed out that Cleveland ultimately got the new stadium he coveted, and that the expansion version of the Browns could draw on the history he helped create.

“I think that part of my legacy is I left the colors, the name and the records in Cleveland,” Modell said. “The fans in Cleveland were loyal and supportive. They lived and died with me every Sunday for 35 years.”

“Great run. Great run. I have no qualms,” Modell said of his career.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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