Former Baltimore Ravens owner Art Modell, who bought the Cleveland Browns in 1961 and moved them to Maryland in 1996, died today, according to the team. He was 87.
"My brother John Modell and I were with him when he finally rejoined the absolute love of his life, my mother Pat Modell," David Modell said in a statement released by the team.
'Poppy' was a special man who was loved by his sons, his daughter-in-law Michel, and his six grandchildren," Modell said. ""Moreover, he was adored by the entire Baltimore community for his kindness and generosity."
Cleveland television station WKYC reported Modell was hospitalized Wednesday, and his vital organs were failing.
His wife Patricia died in 2011. The two were married 42 years.
Modell was NFL president from 1967-69, and led negotiations for the first collective bargaining agreement between the players and the league in 1968. He bought the Browns for $4 million, and relocated it 35 years later, renaming it the Ravens.
After the move, Modell acknowledged his diminished standing in Cleveland, where the Browns won an NFL title in 1964 and reached the championship game in 1965, '68 and '69.
''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.''
Modell never made it to the Hall of Fame, but was a finalist in 2001 and a semifinalist seven more times.
''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.''
He was instrumental in the 1970 launch of ABC's Monday Night Football as chair of the NFL's television committee for more than 30 years.
Modell, who dropped out of school at 15, earned his fortune in the advertizing business, becoming a partner at L.H. Hartman Co. in New York after a brief Air Force career and a foray into daytime television production.
In later years, he was an avid watcher of Ravens practice from the seat of a golf cart in recent years, because he had difficulty walking. He sold his majority interest to Steve Bisciotti in 2004 but kept a 1% stake.
In 2002, he made Ozzie Newsome the first African American general manager in NFL history.
"Art wanted to know everything we were doing, and he directed us every day," said Newsome. "He was demanding, but he made me laugh and smile at the same time. The tougher the situation, the better his humor."
Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe, a member of the Ravens Super Bowl-winning team in 2001, said he spoke with Modell every day he played in Baltimore.
"He knew everything about what was going on in my life," Sharpe said. "He showed real concern. But, it wasn't just me. He knew the practice squad players' names. He treated them the same. He was out at practice when it was 100 degrees and when the December snows came. I loved playing for him."
By Robert Klemko, USA TODAY