It was a sad day, yet one filled with laughs as Art Modell was laid to rest Tuesday.
Some of Modell’s close family members and friends – of which there were many – memorialized the former Ravens owner at the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation in Baltimore.
They told some of Modell’s favorite jokes (at least ones that were appropriate for synagogue), shared stories and recalled the legacy of one of the NFL’s most influential figures.
There was little mention of the Cleveland Browns or the Hall of Fame. The speeches centered around the father, husband, friend and owner Modell will be remembered as.
“We will all miss him dearly,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told the congregation. “But we will miss him with a smile on our face.”
NFL owners and former players who attended the funeral included Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti, Dallas Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones and New York Giants Owner John Mara, Peter Boulware, Matt Stover and Todd Heap.
Lewis punctuated the service with one of his signature speeches. He got laughter when he said he always wanted to be like Modell because of the fragrance he wore, but most of all stressed Modell’s legacy of being an innovator in the NFL.
“Modell had a vision to change the way people thought about opportunities in life,” Lewis said. “The question is, if you did nothing else in life, what did you fight for?”
David Modell painted his father as a colorful, hilarious and caring man. He cared for his family, his players and everybody he came in contact with.
For example, Modell never rode in the back seat of a car, feeling too awkward to leave the driver alone up front. When a nurse woke him up to draw blood from him on his death bed, he still said, “Thank you.”
David also cited his father’s favorite stock jokes. Are you comfortable? Modell would respond, “I make a living.” How did you sleep? Modell would respond, “Like a baby. Woke up every two hours and cried.”
David spoke about how his father loved football because it brings together people of all backgrounds, rooting together for a common cause. He tried to spread that to as many days as possible, David said.
He thanked the 5,000 fans who came to M&T Bank Stadium to pay their respects this past Saturday.
“He really loved Baltimore, and Baltimore loves Art Modell,” David said.
David and brother John both thanked the Ravens for beating the Bengals Monday night, which was poetic considering it was the game Modell fought to launch.
That was only part of Modell’s impact on the NFL. He also pushed through the AFL-NFL merger, helped establish NFL Films and negotiated the first collective bargaining agreement.
A question that lives on is whether that will be enough to get Modell into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Before the services started, Goodell said he did not want to take a position because that’s for others to decide. “There are very few people who have contributed what he contributed to the NFL,” he said.
Modell’s son, John, touched on the open issue. He called his father, “one of the league’s greatest protagonists and antagonists,” a reference to his moving of the franchise out of Cleveland.
“But that won’t be Art’s greatest legacy because my father is already enshrined in the hall that really matters; in my heart and all of your hearts and Baltimore’s heart,” John said.
“We can honor him, by each of us building our own hall – our Hall of Love – and inducting everyone we have into that hall.”