After eight years of owning Ravens, Bisciotti ready for a Super Bowl

Owner widely praised for his loyalty, lack of meddling and willingness to spend on a winner

January 21, 2012|By Childs Walker, The Baltimore Sun

It was well past midnight, and Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti was ready to sign off after his team's second straight exhilarating victory over arch rival Pittsburgh Steelers. But Bisciotti had one last thought to share with friend and adviser Ron Shapiro.

"I want to bring the Lombardi Trophy to Baltimore so much!" he texted.

The missive provides a glimpse of the exuberance the publicly reserved billionaire draws from his most famous property. It also channels the hopes of a city and the urgency felt by this year's Ravens, who will play the New England Patriots on Sunday afternoon for a trip to the Super Bowl.

After five playoff appearances in six years, few could dispute the sound health of Bisciotti's organization. But there is a sense that this particular version of the Ravens — the one with Ray Lewis patrolling the middle and Ed Reed hawking errant passes — might be staring at its last, best chance for a championship.

Shapiro says he wouldn't use the word urgency to describe Bisciotti's mentality about this season. "But I do think there's a sense of timeliness," says the longtime attorney and sports agent, who often sits with the Ravens owner during games.

"When things get put together in a way that you have legendary older players with potentially great younger players, it's not often that you get the pieces to coalesce at the right moment," he says. "So there is a sense that this is the most timely point he has faced."

Bisciotti, 51, had a minority stake in the team when the Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2001. But the Millersville resident was a behind-the-scenes figure, learning the ropes from his venerable senior partner, Art Modell.

Since Bisciotti took full ownership before the 2004 season, the closest the Ravens have gotten was a 2009 trip to the conference title game. But coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco were rookies then, so that was more a happy surprise.

This year feels different.

"There's an increased sense of urgency in that, yeah, we're closer," says Harbaugh, when asked about his owner's outlook.

"We all feel an urgency because the realistic expectations for this group are greater," says Dick Cass, the former Washington attorney picked by Bisciotti to run his team's business operations. "The disappointment would be greater this year, though it's not because he thinks any window is closing."

Bisciotti has often spoken of the quest for championships with a philosophical reserve. You try to run a smart, disciplined organization and put yourself in the playoff mix every year, he has said. But once the chase narrows to a few really good teams, you never quite know how the ball is going to bounce.

That outlook is unlikely to change, friends say, even if the Ravens come up short this year and Lewis, an iconic player who has become close to the owner, retires without a second ring. Bisciotti wants to win badly, they say, but he's not going to become a different person if 2012 isn't the year.

"You go for it every year," says former Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams, a close friend of Bisciotti's. "It would be great if a guy like Ray Lewis got to win another one, but at the same time, Steve is going to be the owner for a long time."

'It's not about him'

Bisciotti — Maryland's fifth-wealthiest resident with a net worth of $1.3 billion, according to Forbes magazine — often looks like a rich guy enjoying the spoils of his many victories. He wears his hair slicked back, fancies fine cigars and has been known to show up at January events with a summer tan and no socks underneath his expensive loafers.

But any outer glitz belies a businessman of intense discipline, one more apt to surround himself with old friends than celebrities and one completely uninterested in making public statements about himself. Friends don't tell wild stories about him; they praise his loyalty, restraint and unfailing good manners.

A team spokesman denied requests to speak with Bisciotti last week, and the owner has rarely consented to interviews about himself, though he talks about the state of the franchise a few times a year.

"It's not about him; it's about the team and the sport," says Baltimore investment banker John Moag, a former Maryland Stadium Authority chairman who helped facilitate Bisciotti's investment in the Ravens. "I don't think Steve sees how talking about himself has anything to do with that."

But friends go out of their way to talk about him. Shapiro called from a cruise ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Williams, who has mostly shunned the spotlight since his retirement last year, quickly replied to a phone message about Bisciotti.

"When you're coaching, you tend to get negative once in a while," Williams says. "He was a sounding board for me when things weren't going so well. Steve has the ability to lift people up."

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