Ravens' Modell not among finalists for Hall of Fame

Moving franchise in '95 seen as stumbling block

January 15, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Art Modell's final bow as an NFL owner will not come at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The outgoing Ravens owner was not among the 15 finalists announced yesterday for this year's induction class. According to a handful of voters, the emotions of Modell's franchise move in 1995 still outweighed the sentiment of a distinguished career coming to close.

"I'm not going to characterize my feelings," said Modell, 78, who will officially sell the Ravens to Steve Bisciotti in April. "It's not fair to the other worthy finalists."

General manager Ozzie Newsome and vice president of public relations Kevin Byrne, both of whom have worked for Modell for more than 20 years, broke the news to him over a speaker phone.

Though Modell likely will return as a nominee for the Hall next year, many believed his final season as owner marked his best chance at enshrinement.

"He put a good game face on," Byrne said.

In a cruel twist of fate, Modell was once again passed by John Elway.

Elway, the Denver Broncos quarterback who seemed annually to spoil Modell's Super Bowl aspirations with the Cleveland Browns in the 1980s, joined running back Barry Sanders to headline this year's list.

Three to six finalists will be selected for induction by a 39-member media panel when voting is conducted Jan. 31, the day before the Super Bowl in Houston.

Yesterday's field was reached after electors voted on 11 from a list of 25 finalists, which included Modell. The top 11 vote-getters joined four automatic qualifiers.

Since Modell did not make the cut, he must have finished 12th or lower on the voting. A Hall of Fame spokesman said the breakdown is never released.

It's the second straight year that Modell failed to advance into the round of 15.

"I wasn't totally surprised because he didn't make it last year either and it's pretty much the same panel," said Jarrett Bell, a reporter for USA Today and a Hall of Fame voter. "I just don't know if enough time has passed where people are going to not hold the Cleveland-to-Baltimore move against him. Without question, that's the thing that's weighing on a lot of people's minds."

Modell's complaint is that owners Al Davis, Lamar Hunt and Dan Reeves all moved their teams and all are in the Hall. Davis even relocated his team twice.

Among Modell's major accomplishments in the league were working as chairman of the league's television committee for 31 years, lobbying other owners in the 1960s to share television revenues and his willingness to move the Browns to the AFC when the AFL-NFL merger took place.

Ira Miller, a voter with the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote a month ago: "You can't write the history of pro football without Elway and Sanders, and you can't write it without Modell, either."

Other voters aren't as convinced.

"I thought there were more deserving nominees on the ballot, like [Bills owner] Ralph Wilson," said Sam Kouvaris, a Jacksonville sportscaster. "I'm not dead set against Modell getting into the Hall, especially when you look into his influence on the history of the league. His recent dealings are certainly a black mark that have to be weighed against the positive things he's done in the past."

Modell was among the 15 finalists in 2002 but failed to make the top 10 after an impassioned speech by Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter Tony Grossi, who talked at length about the controversial move. Grossi declined to comment yesterday.

While Modell's name has always stirred a heated debate with voters, some said that will eventually subside.

"I'm of the opinion that someday he'll get in," Bell said. "The timing is tough to predict. It's an emotional thing with the move. I think maybe time will be an ally for him."

Missing out on the Hall caps a month that has been equally dramatic and traumatic for Modell, from his induction into the Ravens Ring of Honor to the Ravens' last-minute playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans.

When asked about his chances of eventually making the Hall, Modell said, "I don't know. I'm not going to prejudge it. It's not my call. If it happens, it happens."

Hall finalists

Bob Brown, OT: 1964-68 Eagles; 1969-1970 Rams; 1971-73 Raiders.

Harry Carson, LB: 1976-88 Giants.

Richard Dent, DE: 1983-93, 1995 Bears; 1994 49ers; 1996 Colts; 1997 Eagles.

Carl Eller, DE: 1964-78 Vikings; 1979 Seahawks.

John Elway, QB: 1983-98 Broncos.

Cliff Harris, S: 1970-79 Cowboys.

Bob Hayes, WR: 1965-74 Cowboys, 1975 49ers.

Lester Hayes, CB: 1977-86 Raiders.

Bob Kuechenberg, G: 1970-84 Dolphins.

Jim Marshall, DE: 1960 Browns; 1961-79 Vikings.

Art Monk, WR: 1980-93 Redskins; 1994 Jets; 1995 Eagles.

Barry Sanders, RB: 1989-98 Lions.

Rayfield Wright, OT: 1967-79 Cowboys.

George Young, scout, coach, general manager, administrator: 1968-73 Colts; 1974-78 Dolphins; 1979-97 Giants; 1998-2001 NFL.

Gary Zimmerman, OT: 1986-92 Vikings; 1993-97 Broncos.

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