Simply Steve

New Ravens majority owner Steve Bisciotti still clings to his boyhood values, friends

July 25, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Steve Bisciotti puffs on a cigar at his estate overlooking the Severn River, soaking in the memories that have grounded him on his rise to becoming the Ravens' new principal owner.

The walls on "his side of the house" - his wife's half is the nonsmoking part - are lined with the faces of former Baltimore Colts such as Johnny Unitas and Raymond Berry. The snapshots were autographed at training camps in Westminster where he and his father made annual summer trips.

Inside the garage of the white plantation-style mansion is his first car - a 1969 white convertible MGB that took three years of saving to buy. Its license plates bear his old nickname, "Shots."

"It's still my favorite car," said Bisciotti (pronounced buh-SHOT-ee). "It represents my whole upbringing."

At 44, Bisciotti has made a fortune and used it to acquire his hometown team, a feat he describes as "every man's dream." Along the way he has clung to the values and friends of the boyhood that shaped him. In many respects, he is everyman.

No one calls him Mr. Bisciotti. He's simply Steve.

And Steve prefers drinking Bud Light to Cristal. He prefers projecting the starting lineup for the University of Maryland men's basketball team to the stock market. He prefers throwing on a casual shirt, shorts and flip-flops to a tailored suit. He prefers singing along with friends to a Bruce Springsteen song at a local bar to schmoozing dignitaries at a black-tie affair.

"Steve has always been content," said Renee Bisciotti, his wife of 20 years. "I think if you're happy with yourself, all the extra bells and whistles don't make you happier. He's always stayed who he is because he's been happy with who he is."

During his quiet four-year apprenticeship under venerable owner Art Modell, Bisciotti was a person whom local sports fans knew of yet didn't know much about. The son and grandson of salesmen, he's articulate and engaging. He has made a living out of connecting with people, using his infectious personality to woo clients for his professional staffing firm and to push its employees through 12-hour workdays.

He started the business in a cinder-block basement two decades ago and went on to become the 388th-wealthiest American with a net worth of $625 million, according to the November 2003 Forbes, and the newest member of the NFL owners' fraternity. The Bisciotti era begins in earnest Friday, when the Ravens open training camp at McDaniel College.

"Without question, Steve is cut out of the old-school mode of the league," said Baltimore's John Moag, a sports deal maker who matched Bisciotti with the Ravens. "Steve may be a lot younger than some of the owners but, in a lot of respects, he is cut from the same cloth."

The fabric of Baltimore is its blue-collar history, and those close to Bisciotti say he is firmly woven in it.

While some of his friends spent summers away from college at the beach, Bisciotti sweated along Anne Arundel waterways from dawn to dusk building piers.

"Steve knows what hard work is," said Tim Cyr, who was Bisciotti's boss despite being only a few years older. "It would be hard to find anything that was more labor-intense than what we were doing."

Whether it was manhandling 16-foot pilings into place or driving in 4-inch nails with a 32-ounce hammer, Bisciotti never shied from the labor.

One time early on, he hit a nail off center and watched it hit his boss in the back.

Bisciotti, flashing a magnetic smile, recalled telling Cyr: "Hey, you can't be mad at me for trying!"

Hands-off approach

Few people have come to know Bisciotti, and fewer are able to come to "his side of the house," a sanctuary that includes a pool table, a sprawling bar and a cozy sitting area in front of the fireplace.

Known as a man who shares his business and personal life with close friends, Bisciotti even jets the group on an annual trip to the Atlantic Coast Conference men's basketball tournament. It's the same loyal circle that he has surrounded himself with since childhood.

As a minority owner with the Ravens, he brought aboard Mark Burdett, whom he has known since the two were preschoolers, as the team's senior director of corporate marketing.

Besides that, Bisciotti's only move since completing his $600 million deal for 99 percent ownership three months ago was replacing team president David Modell with Washington lawyer Dick Cass. The transition (in which Bisciotti allowed Art Modell to retain a 1 percent stake) is regarded by league observers as one of the NFL's smoothest.

In a region where hands-on sports owners are more often loathed than loved - namely the Washington Redskins' Daniel Snyder - Bisciotti said he intends on taking a backseat.

"There is a difference between being involved and being in charge," Bisciotti said. "I want to be very involved. I just don't want to be in charge. You can't hire talented people and overrule them with less talents ... like myself."

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