The last time the Ravens raised the Lombardi Trophy, it was in Modell&’s hands in 2001. Only months before, Bisciotti had become a minority owner — Modell needed the infusion of cash to secure free agents for that team — with the promise that he could take majority ownership of the team in a few years. He stood unobtrusively in the back of the locker room in Oakland, Calif., as Modell beamed on national television about going to his first Super Bowl.
On Jan. 20, when the Ravens beat the New England Patriots to win the AFC championship, most football fans finally got a glimpse of Bisciotti, the league’s second-youngest owner and perhaps its coolest: tanned, hair slicked back; wearing jeans, an open-collared shirt and a duster coat; gently rubbing the arm of Ray Lewis, who was draped over his back while wearing a Modell T-shirt.
“In a very positive way he is engaged," said Brian Billick, who was the Ravens’ coach when they won the Super Bowl in 2001, was retained by Bisciotti when he took full ownership of the team and then was fired by him after the 2007 season.
According to a profile in Forbes magazine, Bisciotti spent his high school summers building piers near Baltimore. But at 23, after he graduated from Salisbury State University, he started a staffing firm in a basement with his cousin. It provided temporary employees — engineers — to the aerospace and technology industries.
Forbes reported that Bisciotti became obsessed with making enough money by the time he was 35 that his wife and children would not have to work if he, like his father, died young. According to the Baltimore Ravens, the Allegis Group is now the largest privately held staffing firm in the country. Bisciotti is worth about $1.5 billion, according to calculations Forbes made last year.
In 2000, Bisciotti purchased a minority stake in the Ravens, then largely stayed hidden, trying to learn from Modell. That, Billick said, eased the transition for Ravens employees who might otherwise have been caught in a tense situation.
Even after Bisciotti took full control of the team in 2004, Modell was a frequent presence, watching games from a suite at the stadium and practices from a perch on a golf cart.
“He (Bisciotti) treated him (Modell) with dignity, compassion, and made him feel he was still part of the organization," the New York Giants owner John Mara said. “A lot of owners would not have handled it the same way. They would have loved to push the guy aside."
Those who have worked with Bisciotti at the Ravens say he has a similar gentle touch with his employees. Billick said Bisciotti would come to the team’s training facility about once a week but was just as apt to sit and talk with the receptionist as he was with Billick or general manager Ozzie Newsome.
Bisciotti is not very active in league matters, sometimes skipping meetings and sending the team president, Dick Cass, in his place. And he has stepped out of owners’ meetings, shutting the door behind him to smoke one of his cigars.
The former Ravens kicker Matt Stover said he once heard Bisciotti say, “I know I don’t know football, therefore, I hire people who do," a sentiment that Stover respected.
Still, Bisciotti unquestionably put his stamp on the Ravens when he made the unorthodox decision to hire John Harbaugh, a special teams coach, to replace Billick. That reflected his real skill: making connections.
“He’s got a tremendous ability to have a good feel of people," said the former Maryland men’s basketball coach Gary Williams, who has been friends with Bisciotti — a passionate Terrapins fan — for 20 years. “That is a big part of his decision-making. One of Steve’s strengths is his ability to read people. I coached a long time, that’s as important as anything I did: getting a feel for people you’re recruiting, coaches you work with. I just watch that, it’s a big part of his organization."
Bisciotti became a sounding board for Williams when he was coaching, but at basketball games Bisciotti is thoroughly a fan, screaming at officials from courtside. Forbes reported that he shuttles friends to Maryland games via private jet.
“He’s a man’s man," Billick said. “He’ll go drink for drink, cigar for cigar. You’re going to lose that battle, I promise you."