BALTIMORE — Art Modell's fingerprints can still be found all over the NFL.
In Baltimore. In Cleveland. On Monday night football. On past labor agreements.
Along with colleagues named Rozelle, Halas, Brown and Rooney — all pillars of a fledgling league — Modell helped transform the NFL into America's pre-eminent sport.
The former Ravens owner died early Thursday, leaving behind a legacy that was unblemished save for one decision that hounded him the rest of his life: moving his team from Cleveland to Baltimore.
David Modell said he and his brother, John, were at their father's side when he "died peacefully of natural causes." He was 87.
"The game of football lost one of its all-time greats," Detroit Lions owner William Clay Ford Sr. said. "Art's contributions to the NFL during his five decades in the game are immeasurable. I believe that Art did as much as any owner to help make the NFL what it is today. Art was a pioneer, a visionary and a selfless owner who always saw the big picture and did the right thing.
"Our game would not be what it is today if it weren't for Art Modell."
Modell spent 43 years as an NFL owner, overseeing the Browns from 1961 until he moved the team to Baltimore in 1996. Hel served as league president from 1967-69, helped finalize the first collective bargaining agreement with the players in 1968 and was the point man for the NFL's lucrative contracts with television networks.
Long before his Ravens won the Vince Lombardi Trophy in 2001, Modell teamed with Lombardi, Commissioner Pete Rozelle and others to lay the foundation for the league's success.
"Art Modell was a most influential member of commissioner Rozelle's ‘Kitchen Cabinet' for many years, along with Dan Rooney and the late Tex Schramm," said Joe Browne, the longest-tenured player in the league's front office.