A Super Bowl for the old guard

TAMPA, Florida, AP

Wellington Mara and Art Modell are the perfect Super Bowl odd couple. One is all about football, the other likes a little of everything. The owners of the New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens have a combined 115 seasons in the National Football League and are close friends who have known each other since the early ‘60s. Just don’t look for many similarities between two of the league’s most venerable figures. “Art is a man about town. He does and watches all kinds of things,” said Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi, who served in the same capacity for Modell in Cleveland a decade ago. “Wellington is all football. He likes to watch the offensive line.” The 75 year-old Modell always has a one-liner to lighten the tension or deflect a question he doesn’t want to answer. Mara, 84, speaks softly but the humor is there, just more unexpected and often more sarcastic. “We were the worst team ever to get home-field advantage in the playoffs, the worst team ever to reach the championship game,” Mara said after his team beat Minnesota 41-0 in the National Football Conference title game. “Now we’ll be the worst team to win the Super Bowl.” Mara started as a ball boy at 9 when his father bought the team in 1925.

During the nearly 40 years since Modell bought the then-Cleveland Browns, the owners have been tight off the field, dominant figures in the back rooms. “Wellington Mara and Art Modell already rank among the legendary owners in sports,” NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said.

“Their personal friendship reflects the unique structure that has been the foundation of the NFL’s success. They are tremendous competitors on the field but work closely together off the field for the overall good of the league.” Mara’s biggest contribution was agreeing to — even encouraging — revenue sharing in the early ‘60s, putting Green Bay and other smaller cities on equal financial footing with his team in the nation’s biggest market. Modell’s impact, lessened somewhat by the anger he engendered by moving the Browns from Cleveland to Baltimore in 1996, was getting US$18 billion in television money in the last contract. “It’s safe to say that Wellington’s actions in revenue sharing stabilized the league,” said Pittsburgh’s Dan Rooney, another of the NFL’s most powerful owners. “His counsel is always wise and to the point. Art’s contribution was in television.”