Art Modell

The hero-villain of the NFL

Art Modell's story could have been a testament to the American Dream. A Jewish kid from Brooklyn who, soon after his father died, dropped out of school at 15 and started working on ships at the docks to help keep his family afloat. At 18, during the height of World War II, he joined the Army Air Corps and later went back to school with the G.I. Bill. He'd go on to make his fortune as an ad man in the glory days of Madison Avenue and, in 1969, even married a TV starlet, Patricia Breslin, who he remained devoted to until her passing in 2011.

On top of his seeming storybook ascendance, Modell was a colossal figure in the making of the modern National Football...