Art Modell was the driving force behind the creation of Modern Night Football. He was a visionary who saw the NFL’s future in television and worked tirelessly to transform the game into the product most of us love today. Were it not for one decision, he’d likely be in the Hall of Fame and almost universally beloved. Instead, he passed this morning with an extremely complicated legacy. He was 87.

In 1996, Modell decided to move the Cleveland Browns, the team he’d owned for thirty-five-years, to Baltimore. His players were redubbed the Ravens, and half a decade later, they won a Super Bowl. The victory ushered in a sense of euphoria in parts of Maryland, but in Cleveland, it was simply another heartbreak for a city with a long history of sporting disasters.

Sports franchises move all the time. Numerous owners have made the decision to pack up their teams, but an overwhelming majority of the time, the choice is only made after the locals have stopped caring. Apathy was never a problem in Cleveland. The residents lived and died with that team, but the stadium was antiquated and falling apart. Modell claimed he was losing millions because of it, and when the politicians refused to fork over tax dollars, he packed his employees up and left.

Three years after the move, the NFL put another franchise in Cleveland. It was re-named the Browns, and over the years, many gave up hating Modell. They stopped burning the man in effigy and started embracing their new players. In a way, the latter part is what Modell always wanted. When he moved the team, he left all the records in Cleveland and all the rights to the name, hoping the city would build a new stadium and allow a new owner to come in.

Throughout his life, Modell donated millions of dollars to good causes, and by all accounts, was a great man to work for until he sold most of his stake in the Ravens in 2003. He was generous and kind. In the end, he’ll be remembered for the move to Baltimore, but hopefully, he’ll also be remembered for all of the positive changes he helped enact to the game he loved.

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