The former owner of the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens, has passed away after being hospitalized on Wednesday, according to a report from The Baltimore Sun. He was 87 years old.
After he was taken to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, WKYC Channel 3 in Cleveland reported that his condition was "worsening" and his vital organs were "failing." His wife, Patricia, passed away in 2011. They were married for 42 years.
The innovative Modell, whose reputation was forever tainted when he moved his franchise from Cleveland to Baltimore, died early Thursday. He was 87.
The team said Modell died of natural causes at Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he had been admitted Wednesday.
Modell was among the most important figures in the NFL as owner of the Cleveland Browns, who became the Ravens after he took the team to Baltimore in 1996 – a move that hounded him the rest of his life.
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.
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. His most famous—or infamous—moment came in 1995. After 50 years in Cleveland, Modell announced that he was moving the franchise to Baltimore. After the team finished 5-11, they were shipped to Maryland.
As soon as the move was announced, Modell immediately became Public Enemy No. 1 in Cleveland.
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. 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.
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.
Modell wasn't the kind of owner who operated his team from an office. He mingled with the players and often watched every minute of practice.