TAMPA, Fla. - On the night that Art Modell's Super Bowl dream finally came true, he had to admit that he had once entertained serious doubts that this Ravens team could win the NFL championship.
"When we went five games without scoring a touchdown," Modell said. "But
you know what? They stuck together and they pulled together. We came out of
that slump, and I'm very proud of Brian Billick and his staff and the players.
Vince] Lombardi told me years and years ago that in order to win,
you have to love each other."
Modell clearly loves this team, and the feeling is mutual. The players and
coaches - to a man - made it their personal playoff quest to get Modell into
the Super Bowl, then engineered a resounding, 34-7 victory over the New York
Giants last night to give him his first NFL championship since the then-Browns
captured the 1964 title in the pre-Super Bowl era.
"We came so close time and time again, but no cigar," Modell said
afterward. "Now comes the cigar."
And everyone knows they make pretty good cigars in Tampa.
He had come close in 1986, only to watch Denver quarterback John Elway
direct a dramatic, fourth-quarter comeback to deny the Browns in the AFC title
He came within an Earnest Byner fumble of defeating the Broncos for the AFC
championship the following year. He probably would have been satisfied with
his first trip to the Super Bowl this year, but the Ravens rolled through the
playoffs and ran right over the Giants.
"This is a dream come true, after 40 years and a lot of playoff games,"
Modell said. "We're thrilled and we're happy for the players and coaches, my
family. ... I can't say enough. This has been a long time coming."
Modell also had to suffer through the trauma of uprooting the franchise in
Cleveland and moving it to Baltimore five years ago, which made him Public
Enemy No. 1 in a place where he had been a popular and influential citizen for
Perhaps last night's victory made it all worthwhile, but Modell clearly
would like to come to some kind of truce with the football fans of Cleveland.
He spoke glowingly of them after the Ravens upset the Oakland Raiders to win
the AFC championship, and he wondered last night whether they were beginning
to understand that he had no choice but to move the team.
"I really don't know how they feel. I can't answer for them," he said. "I
would hope that maybe they would recognize this as something we did. I love
that city and I love the people, but it wasn't meant to be."
After the game, Modell said, "There were tears in the locker room when I
talked to the team. I'm not ashamed of that. ... I said, `You did me proud and
I thank you.' The coaches, the players, the trainers and doctors. It's a great
organization and I said, "You did me proud and I'll never forget it."