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In Cleveland, Modell isn’t remembered as fondly. After 24 years as owner of the Browns, Modell took the team to Baltimore in 1996 and renamed them the Ravens. Many Cleveland fans remain bitter over the loss of their team and say it would be wrong to honor Modell with a spot in the Hall of Fame.
“I don’t care how much money he gave to either community or how well Baltimore is doing,” said one disgruntled Jewish Clevelander who asked that his name not be published for fear of bad football karma. “Art Modell stole our pride in Cleveland, and stealing in football should not be praised.”
David Modell told JTA that many Cleveland fans wrote to him and his brother, John, to offer condolences after their father passed away. It seemed they forgave Modell, who sold the Ravens in 2004, for abandoning Cleveland and now remember him mainly as a football legend.
Although Modell’s two sons are Catholic, children from the first marriage of his wife Patricia Breslin, David Modell said his father made sure to teach them the basic Jewish traditions of the religion he loved.
“My father wasn’t the type of man who wore his spirituality on his sleeve, but he was a quietly religious and very spiritual Jew,” David said. “We knew that he carried around a piece of paper with God’s name in his pocket every day of his life. Every year he would light memorial candles for his parents death. He always attended temple on High Holidays. And Chanukah candles were so important to him that my brother in California and I Skyped together this year to light candles and recite the prayers.”
Modell had a special relationship with football players as well as fans, specifically with Ray Lewis, the Ravens’ All-Pro linebacker who is retiring at the end of this season. Modell watched his team practice every day and had a father-son relationship with Lewis.
Unlike his former boss, Lewis did wear his spirituality on his sleeve – or at least on his chest. Following a 24-9 playoff victory over the Colts earlier this month, Lewis removed his game jersey to reveal a T-shirt that read “Psalm 91,” which concludes with the line, “With long life I will satisfy him, and show him my salvation.”
Heller and his friends responded by getting together for a communal reading of the psalm and to pray on the Ravens’ behalf.
“We’ve loved the Ravens since Art Modell first brought them to Baltimore in 1996,” Heller said. “We all looked up to him as kids. And this Super Bowl is going to be ours.”