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Back on October 24, 2007 John Gehrig and Bruce Laird the hosts of Ravens Rap, a weekly Ravens radio program aired in Ocean City, Maryland, invited me to join them at The Greene Turtle to welcome Ravensâ€™ owner Steve Bisciotti. In this the first of two parts taken from the show, Bisciotti discusses amongst other topics, how he could have become owner of another NFL franchise and why Art Modell is deserving of a bust in Canton, Ohio.
Bruce Laird: What was it like when you got the opportunity to become a minority owner of the Baltimore Ravens?
Steve Bisciotti: It was great. I had a couple of aborted moves for ownership. Bank of America came to me one time and said that the Florida Marlins were for sale. And I thought about that and that for awhile and thought that as I got older I would be spending a lot of time in Florida and that they were in the National League. They wouldnâ€™t compete with the Orioles and I knew Angelos wasnâ€™t going anywhere so I actually looked at the deal.
The economics werenâ€™t great. We spent a couple of weeks looking over it, doing our due diligence and walked away from the deal. Much later they called me, Bank of America, and told me that the Minnesota Vikings were for sale. They had a bad lease which meant you could get the team for a song which Red McCombs did. He got it for 220 ($ million) and sold it for 600. I think he was in the league four or five years. So I looked at the Minnesota Vikings for just a short period of time but it just didnâ€™t work out.
John Gehrig: At least they were purple.
SB: My wife, I told her that I was looking at the team and she said, â€œDo you really think Iâ€™m going to go to Minnesota with you for you to watch football?â€
Tony Lombardi: I recall an interview you did with The Sun and you were asked why you bought the Ravens and you said, â€œBecause the University of Maryland wasnâ€™t for sale.â€
SB: (laughs) I still canâ€™t figure that out. They should put it up for sale to the highest bidder. But that was itâ€¦I walked away from the Vikings deal and you know I didnâ€™t think that when Modell came that there would be an opportunity there or with Angelos.
JG: We would not be upset if you got Angelos out!
SB: (applause from crowd) Iâ€™m tapped. Iâ€™ve got no more cash. Iâ€™m trying to suck Kevin Plank into that one â€“ the other guy these days making some money up in Baltimore
BL: That would be a good combinationâ€¦you and Kevin would be pretty strong.
SB: I told him that he needs to buy the Orioles and he told me, â€œAs long as we do a trade after the sale.â€
BL: Steve, are you more of a fan first or does the owner in you come out more?
SB: Over time the ownership invades. You come in as a fan, you canâ€™t stop being a fan. You canâ€™t get frustrated. I told somebody once that itâ€™s the difference between fans that screamâ€¦and I understand it. You love a guy whoâ€™s doing well and of course when heâ€™s doing poorly heâ€™s going to get the wrath. But when you are around these guys forever, you draft them, you get to know them, youâ€™re at work everyday and you see themâ€¦you see how they handle themselves and the effort that they put into the community, thereâ€™s no one that works harder than our players. They are in every school, every hospital.
So you develop a relationship with these guys and itâ€™s more like father/son. You canâ€™t treat their failures as a fan does when you are an owner because they become part of you. You still pull for them as a fan but you feel for them as people because the average fan doesnâ€™t get to know them.
JG: Steven, the closest Iâ€™m going to get to owning anything like a team â€“ I own ten fantasy football teams. Iâ€™m like a dynasty in fantasy football. But what does it feel like [as an owner] on game day. Do you feel like a player? Do you get the butterflies? Are you bent over the toilet? Whatâ€™s going on?
BS: I donâ€™t sleep well on Saturday nights. My eyes pop open at 6:30 in the morning. I go to early morning mass for the first time in my life. I never knew they even had 7 oâ€™clock mass.
Home games I stick to a schedule. I usually leave my house at 11. Iâ€™m only 25 minutes to the stadium and I get there at around 11:30. I walk out on to the field; usually go and talk to the coach; meet the visiting owner if heâ€™s on the field; talk to some of our ex players that are on the other team. Once in a while I will go into the locker room pre-game. I have people, friends that are in town and sometimes I will bring them into the locker room. And then I get up into my suite about a half hour, 15 minutes before game time and unlike Maryland basketball I donâ€™t say a word. I sit there and watch and internalize so Iâ€™ve got a little stress issue to work through. I donâ€™t know what an ulcer is but I might have one.
I have a big suite obviously and I bring in all my family and friends. Iâ€™ve learned to put reserved signs in the seats next to me and in front of me and the people know who they are reserved for. Gary Williams is always there with me. Ron Shapiro is always there with me. My wife sits on the left of me and she deflects a lot. Iâ€™ve got 16 games and 3 hours [per] to concentrate and I donâ€™t want to talk â€“ I donâ€™t need some gal coming up next to me to tell me that her son Johnny got accepted to some high school in the middle of third and one. Iâ€™m getting ready for Billickâ€™s pass on third and one.
JG: Now that youâ€™ve brought it up, when you are speaking with Brian, do you need a dictionary â€“ does he use four syllable words?
SB: Not as much as he used to but I understand the words. I went to Salisbury for Godâ€™s sake. Iâ€™m a highly educated man!
JG: I noticed the Super Bowl ring. Tell us what itâ€™s like to win the Super Bowl.
SB: It was my first year so I really didnâ€™t have anything to compare it to. So it was a little different that way. It was an incredible run. The next year we got knocked out of the playoffs and the next year we were 7-9 and my wife said, â€œThis isnâ€™t as fun as I thought it was going to be.â€ It was an incredible way to start your football career.
BL: Last night an icon in our business, Art Modell, a salute to Art Modell and thereâ€™s a big push to help get Art into the Hall of Fame. Not a guy more deserving.
SB: Itâ€™s crazy. Players are players and stats are stats but when you have an icon who was virtually in every aspect of the NFL. When the merger came two teams needed to switch conferences. Now you can imagine how many teams were interested in moving over to the bitter rivals that they were merging with. When it came to an impasse and it looked like the thing wasnâ€™t going to get done, the Rooneys and the Modells stepped up and switched over to the AFC. It was a selfless act which started a forty year run of selfless acts.
Heâ€™s done everything. He started Monday Night Football. He was the president of the broadcast committee. The money that we make today is because of Art. [He is] the first guy to ever to hire an African-American general manager/vice president. Itâ€™s a shame. Itâ€™s a shame that itâ€™s controlled by sports writers and not other owners. I donâ€™t know that sports writers are qualified to vote on non-playing representatives of the NFL.
BL: I totally agree with you and I donâ€™t understand how it got that way.
SB: The sports writers donâ€™t hold grudges against players so usually the ones that deserve to get in, get in and the ones that donâ€™t, donâ€™t. If guys like Lawrence Taylor can be the way that he was and get in, and they say itâ€™s not about what kind of character you have itâ€™s about what kind of stats you put up and they let Lawrence Taylor in, then I understand that. But you donâ€™t turn around and let those same people decide, they love the power that they have and holding him out of the Hall of Fame â€“ itâ€™s a crime.
Questions from the audienceâ€¦
No. 1: How are you doing coping with Brian Billickâ€™s coaching and play calling and how do you stand with him?
SB: I stand in support of him and I donâ€™t know that anybody has ever been in a job that is as scrutinized as much as quarterback or a head coach. Brian, this is what he signed up for. This is not going on in just Baltimore. This is going on in 32 NFL cities and itâ€™s just something that you have to deal with. He needs to be pretty strong to handle that and I need to support him.
The play calling at the end [of the Bills game], you know itâ€™s easy for us to say weâ€™d like to see him run it but if Kyle connects with Demetrius on that slant pattern on second and one, I didnâ€™t see from a wide-angled lens if anyone could have stopped him and Iâ€™ve seen the play over and over again. Heâ€™s probably in the end zone. What you donâ€™t see is that when they succeed thereâ€™s no question about the play calling because the execution is usually better and I think that that is the difference.