With PressBox again honoring a deserving Raven -- this time Ed Reed -- for his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I decided it was a fitting time to talk locally about the Ring of Honor, the Ravens' version of a Hall of Fame.
The news conference the Ravens held May 29 to announce the newest members of the Ring of Honor served two very important purposes. First, it allowed Haloti Ngata, one of the top 10 talents in the history of the franchise, to retire as a Raven. In conjunction with Ngata's retirement, the team announced he'd enter the Ring of Honor in 2020.
But team owner Steve Bisciotti saved the best news for last -- even though everyone knew something was up the minute former head coach Brian Billick walked to the podium along with former general manager Ozzie Newsome. Bisciotti, in one of the most feel-good pressers in team history, talked about how significant it was to him that Ngata wanted to close out his career as a Raven. At the same time, Bisciotti said Ngata would have to wait a year to be inducted into the Ring of Honor because Billick was going in this year.
And with that acknowledgement, it was done. Billick, who deserved to go into the team's Ring of Honor based on the totality of what he meant to the franchise, was in. However, with that public anointing of Billick as Ring worthy, something else was exposed.
That something is that Bisciotti must give his blessing as to who is inducted into the Ring of Honor, which makes it not just the team's Ring of Honor but his. Billick, who was fired by Bisciotti Dec. 31, 2007, felt betrayed by the club's owner for a while. It's important to note that the Ravens had acknowledged a few weeks prior to his firing that Billick, who was under contract through 2010, would return as head coach for the 2008 season.
At one time, Billick and Bisciotti were very close friends. The firing caused iciness between the two men, which was probably assuaged by the fact that Billick was paid the entirety of the $15 million he was owed by the team.
As time marched on, it was pretty much assumed that Billick would get another head coaching job, and that day just never came. Billick and his wife built their forever home in Oxford, Md., and Billick forged a solid career as an analyst for Fox and NFL Network.
And in a move that made perfect sense, the Ravens brought Billick back into the fold in a small but important way: Billick was an analyst for each of the team's four preseason games on TV and radio in 2017 and 2018. The iciness had thawed, leading to a deserving honor for the coach who won the team's first Super Bowl in January 2001. Time healed the wounds between two good men.
But I can't help from keeping the late David Modell front and center when it comes to this Ring of Honor thing. Time will never allow for a true evolution of the relationship between Bisciotti and Modell. Lung cancer robbed them of that chance. Modell, the son of former owner Art Modell, died in January 2017.
To the best of my knowledge, I have never heard there was a bad relationship between the two men. Still, before Bisciotti took over the Ravens (2004), David Modell had served as the team president. Not surprisingly, Bisciotti wanted the organization to be a reflection of him with his people running things. Enter Dick Cass, who has done a solid job in checking off all the boxes Bisciotti has wanted checked off from that position.
Without second-guessing Bisciotti, I think it is important and proper to remind the current Ravens owner about the vitally important role David played in creating a franchise that is the envy of most of the league. When Art decided to move the Browns out of Cleveland, it was David, not Art, who did the heavy lifting that came after the announcement by then-Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening that the Browns were moving to Baltimore.
And lest we have short memories, the lifting was indeed heavy, from naming the team to choosing a logo to building a relationship with John Ziemann and the Colts' Marching Band. David worked to sell personal seat licenses, secured local TV and radio deals, made hundreds of guest appearances on TV and radio stations around town and glad-handed with the thousands of fans affiliated with Ravens Roosts. Not to mention, David put an imprint on the new downtown stadium that was to be built in time for the Ravens' 1998 season.
David did all of that from 6 a.m. to the wee hours of the night five or six days per week for the first four or five years the team was in Baltimore. And he found time to pick Mr. Irrelevant. Newsome allowed him to select Cam Quayle, a tight end from Weber State, with the final pick of the 1998 NFL Draft.
"We can nickname him the vice president," David deadpanned after the pick, alluding to Dan Quayle, who was vice president under the first President Bush from 1989-1992.
David also found time to make perhaps the most relevant pick in club history: Billick, the coach who was the right man at the right time when he was hired after the 1998 season.
I think it's fair to say that David's hard work, hands-on approach and affability didn't entirely erase the moral and ethical questions surrounding Baltimore's pursuit of the Browns, but he made the return of the NFL more acceptable.
I think of David often. In a sports world too often filled with bland personalities, David was a breath of fresh air. He executed his vision of what Baltimore's second chance at an NFL franchise could look like.
I urge Bisciotti to do the right thing one day by honoring David so his widow, Michel, their daughter Aoife and son Bertram, and four children by his first marriage -- sons Arthur and David Jr., and daughters Breslin and Collier -- can look up and know how important their father was in the formation of what the Baltimore Ravens are and what they stand for.
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Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens
Issue 255: June/July 2019
Originally published June 19, 2019