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NFL Loses Art Modell, League Innovator, Owner

Art Modell, the former NFL owner who came up with the idea of Monday Night Football, died early today of natural causes in Baltimore. He was 87,

Modell was among the most important figures in the league as owner of the Cleveland Browns, which became the Ravens after he took the team to Baltimore in 1996 in a move that made him a reviled figure in Cleveland and beloved in Baltimore.

Nevertheless, he was one of the league’s most innovative and influential owners.

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 NFL 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. “The politicians and the bureaucrats saw fit to cover their own rear ends by blaming it on me.”

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.

“I believe Art belongs in the Hall of Fame,” former New York Giants owner Wellington Mara, now deceased, said in 2002. “I don’t think I know a person who has done more for the league than Modell, especially through television.”

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