Ray Lewis and Art Modell

*Former NFL team owner Art Modell, whose reputation was forever tainted when he moved his franchise from Cleveland to Baltimore, died early Thursday. He was 87.

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David Modell said he and his brother, John, were at their father’s side in Baltimore when he “died peacefully of natural causes.”

Modell was among the most important figures in the NFL as owner of the Cleveland Browns, who became the Ravens after he took the team to Baltimore in 1996 — a move that hounded him the rest of his life, reports the Associated Press.

The Ravens won their lone Super Bowl in January 2001, less than a year after Modell sold a minority interest of the team to Steve Bisciotti. In April 2004, Bisciotti completed purchase of the franchise but left Modell a 1 percent share.

(L-R) Ray Lewis, Art Modell and Shannon Sharpe

“Art talked with me every day when I played in Baltimore,” former Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe said. “He knew everything about what was going on in my life. He showed real concern. But, it wasn’t just me. He knew the practice squad players’ names. He treated them the same. He was out at practice when it was 100 degrees and when the December snows came. I loved playing for him.”

Current Raves linebacker Ray Lewis released the following statement earlier today:

“When you think about Art Modell, you think about a great man, a leader, a father and a servant. Every minute of his life, he cared more about everyone around him than himself. Anytime I saw him, he would always make me smile. He always had a joke to lighten your mood or some sort of wisdom to impart to make you a better man. I genuinely loved Art as a man, and he showed me what to strive for in life. When you truly see the impact he had on everyone he touched, it humbles you. When I found out he wasn’t doing well, I knew immediately I had to see him. When I was with him yesterday, I prayed with him and shared with him things that a son would say to a father. Even though he has left us, he is going to a place that one day we all want to be. I am truly blessed to have had Art in my life. He was a humble servant, and one of the best men I have ever known.”