Tagliabue still backs Modell for Hall

Commissioner's support was no help this year to outgoing Ravens owner

January 31, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

HOUSTON - In his wide-ranging annual Super Bowl news conference yesterday, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue reiterated his support for outgoing Ravens owner Art Modell to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Modell, 78, who will officially sell the Ravens to Steve Bisciotti in April, was not among the 15 finalists announced for this year's induction class. According to a handful of voters, the emotions of Modell's franchise move before the 1996 season still overshadowed his contributions to the league.

"I've already said I think Art should be in the Hall of Fame, and that's for a lot of reasons," Tagliabue said. "For what he's done in sports television is No. 1 on the list. There's no one in television who's been involved for such a long period with such an intense concentration in sports.

"Obviously, the Browns move was a negative. I understand that passions that go with it, and I would hope at some point that the people would look at the total record in balance and elect Art Modell into the Hall of Fame."

Tagliabue also voiced his support for the Ravens' new majority owner.

"He starts off with a super organization headed by [general manager] Ozzie Newsome and [coach] Brian Billick," Tagliabue said. "Anyone who saw the Ravens play this year, including the playoffs, could see some really talented athletes and are clearly on the edge of coming back again to be a Super Bowl contender. From that standpoint, Steve is blessed.

"And Steve's challenge is going to be to keep that organization in place and understand what his own role is going to be. Spending quite a bit of time with him, including the last 10 days, I think he's going to be a terrific owner. I know he's highly regarded by Baltimore and the state of Maryland."

On another topic, Tagliabue had a powerful message for players when they get to the end zone: Stash that cell phone and don't even think about anything more elaborate to celebrate a touchdown.

The commissioner warned players that harsher discipline for over-the-top demonstrations is on the way. He said unsportsmanlike conduct will draw stronger penalties and fines, even leaving open the possibility of suspensions.

Coaches and team owners have urged him "to take that stuff out of the game," Tagliabue said.

On the subject of Maurice Clarett, Tagliabue ruled out a settlement of the Ohio State player's federal lawsuit challenging the league's draft rules. A college player must be out of high school three years before he can be eligible for the draft. Clarett played just his freshman year for the Buckeyes and was suspended from the team last season.

The league wants the case thrown out.

"There are no discussions of a settlement," Tagliabue said. "Our system is working. It is easy to identify players who were helped by staying in school and were developing their skills."

Tagliabue clarified the ruling on players who tested positive for the steroid THG during the season, but were not disciplined. The league began testing on Oct. 6 after the previously undetected designer steroid was discovered after a tip from a track coach to one of the drug-testing labs.

He said it would have been unfair to the 32 teams to issue suspensions for tests done before Oct. 6.

"The league and players association did not agree on non-suspensions, I made that decision," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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