Art Modell, one of the most influential owners in the history of the NFL, "died peacefully of natural causes" today, according to his sons. He was 87. Modell was among the most important figures in the NFL as owner of the Cleveland Browns, which became the Ravens after he took the team to Baltimore in 1996—a move that hounded him for the rest of his life and is believed to be the main reason why he 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.
During his four decades as an NFL owner, Modell served as NFL president from 1967 to 1969, chaired the negotiations for the first collective bargaining agreement with players in 1968, and 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. 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. 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 Steve Bisciotti to assume majority ownership of the franchise.