Today the National Football League takes a backseat to no other major professional sport. But it wasn’t always that way.
The NFL’s ascension to the comfortable pinnacle that it now occupies in the sporting world began back in 1958. Historians would argue and with good reason, that the game often referred to as the “Greatest Game Ever Played” changed the way the viewing public embraced the NFL.
The 1958 NFL Championship Game between the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants proved to be a watershed event for the NFL. It was a captivating struggle between two talented teams and the nation took notice on black and white TV sets in living rooms throughout America.
Madison Avenue noticed as well as opportunistic ad agencies capitalized on the world’s new sporting hero, Johnny U. A love affair between the city of Baltimore and the Colts ensued.
The late Lamar Hunt who was a successful businessman and beloved owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, recognized the natural fit between the NFL and TV after the “Greatest Game”. Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell, a man with an extensive background in advertising and a visionary in his own right, also noticed the connection.
Mr. Modell would go on to pioneer sport-altering TV contracts that helped to shape the NFL we know and love today.
Baltimore for many years enjoyed a love of its own. Our city bled Colts blue until a change in ownership set in motion a sequence of events that ended the affair. What once seemed like an unbreakable bond snapped in two when Robert Irsay escaped our city in March of 1984 under the dark skies of a snowy spring night.
Our community, with its heritage partially torn to shreds and civic pride bruised and battered, was left to mourn the loss of “The Horseshoe”.
And now today we mourn the loss of a devoted husband, father, family man, community activist and philanthropist who helped restore Baltimore’s heritage. Art Modell has passed at the age of 87.
With his decision to move the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore, Mr. Modell reinvigorated a city’s self-worth, its dignity. The move allowed a community to sift through its differences and find a common ground – a galvanizing force allowing us all to bond as one on Sundays.
New friendships were born, old friendships restored and deepened while new and now treasured traditions were established.
Where would our city be if Art Modell had not accepted the invitation of The Maryland Stadium Authority? How might your life be different?
They say that a person’s life should not be valued by things or by wealth, but rather by whether you’ve made a difference in the life of a child.
Art Modell made a difference in the lives of millions.
His legacy will echo in eternity.
He will be sorely missed but never, ever forgotten.
Thank you Mr. Modell.
Thank you, thank you, thank you!