Art Modell has been, once again, unjustly denied from the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It was Modell's best chance to get in, and it will sadly be difficult for him to get over the hump now.
Modell was a finalist to be part of the special 15-member centennial class, which is in honor of the NFL's 100th season. It consists of 10 seniors who played more than 25 years ago, two coaches and three contributors.
The three contributors who got in over Modell are former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, former New York Giants General Manager George Young and NFL Films President and founder Steve Sabol.
Tagliabue was the commissioner from 1989-2006, during which the NFL expanded from 20 teams to 32, 20 new stadiums broke ground and the league's popularity expanded around the globe. He helped secure the largest contracts in entertainment history, totaling $25 billion.
A Baltimore native, Young was the Giants' general manager from 1979-1997, during which he won two Super Bowls and five NFL Executive of the Year awards. Sabol was a preeminent American sports filmmaker who showed the beauty and struggle of the game in a new way via NFL Films.
Modell, who passed away in 2012 at the age of 87, has been denied for far too long by those who have harbored personal anger after the move of the Cleveland Browns franchise to Baltimore.
Dan Reeves moved his NFL team from Cleveland to Los Angeles. Lamar Hunt moved his AFL team from Dallas to Kansas City. Al Davis moved his team from Oakland to Los Angeles and back to Oakland. All three owners are in the Hall of Fame.
What Hall of Fame voters have overlooked is the totality of Modell's great impact, both on the NFL game at-large and on those who he employed.
Ravens Executive Vice President Ozzie Newsome was part of the blue-ribbon panel that voted on the centennial class, and went to bat for Modell to be admitted into the Hall. Modell made Newsome the first African-American general manager in NFL history.
"Art was a giant in our industry," Newsome said when Modell passed away. "He was my boss – but he wouldn't let me call him that – my mentor, and most importantly, my friend. He was the most caring, compassionate person I've ever known. The opportunities he gave me are historic, and I will be forever humble and grateful."
Modell was particularly influential in advancing the NFL's popularity on TV – the way millions of fans primarily consume the game.
He was the chairman of the NFL Television Committee for 31 years (1962-1993), and the contracts he negotiated set the standard for other professional sports leagues. The NFL is the behemoth of TV ratings, and that relationship has given the league immense strength.
Modell was an important part, along with Pete Rozelle and Roone Arledge, of establishing "Monday Night Football," and hosted its first game. He also got the Thanksgiving Day game off the ground.
"I believe very strongly that Art Modell is one of the most important figures in the history of the modern NFL," said former NBC-TV President Dick Ebersol. "He and Pete Rozelle developed the magic formula that married the potential of television to the game. Those funds from this marriage propelled the game into what it is today."
"Modell was truly ahead of his time," added former ESPN President John Skipper. "His influence on the game will continue to be felt by generations of fans."
Modell also helped establish NFL Films and became its first chairman. Ed Sabol, the founder of NFL Films, was already elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and now his son, Steve, is in too.
An important part of Modell's vision with the TV rights was establishing revenue sharing throughout the league. That way teams even in smaller media markets, such as Baltimore, could compete.
Modell also served on the committee to merge the NFL and AFC, then agreed to move to the AFC. His teams won two NFL championships, including Super Bowl XXXV with the Ravens. They played in three more title games and four more AFC championship games.
Modell was beloved by his players and those who worked for him for many reasons. He was funny. Modell had a story for every occasion and could make anyone laugh. He was casual, and only wanted to be called by his first name. He looked out for his players and for the community.
He was the chairman of the Owners' Labor Committee, which successfully negotiated the first collective bargaining agreement and recognized the players' right to have a union.
Modell was in the same meetings with some of the NFL's leading historical figures – Lamar Hunt, Tex Schramm, Wellington Mara and Art Rooney, to name a few.
"Art Modell was one of the greatest owners in the history of the NFL," said current New York Giants President and CEO John Mara. "He contributed in so many ways to the success of this league, and he deserves a place in Canton."