Behind the occasional pauses and chuckles by Ray Lewis as he talked about the late Art Modell, there were tears.
You just couldn't see them. Lewis held them back -- barely -- as did Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome on Thursday.
These strong, stone-faced personalities mostly averted eye contact with reporters. They knew this day was coming, but still weren't totally prepared for it.
Modell, 87, passed away of natural causes at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore early Thursday, but some of the Ravens closest to him were able to say their final goodbyes to the man who brought football back to Baltimore in 1995 when he relocated the Ravens from Cleveland. And Modell was the man who was instrumental in starting Monday Night Football, which is where the Ravens will open their season in just a few days vs. the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium.
"The only reason a lot of sacrifices happened throughout this league is because of him. Anytime you can leave a legacy like that, man, we shouldn't mourn -- we do -- but we should be celebrating him because he's one of the most awesome men I've ever met in my life," said Lewis, who was drafted by the Ravens in 1996 and referred to Modell as a "father" and a "leader."
Newsome, a former tight end for Modell's Browns teams and who has been in the Ravens' front office since '96, could barely finish his statement: "When you think back as I have over the past 24 hours the impact of Art, I can't express it in words. Based on all the texts, all the mails and all the phone calls I've gotten from people, the impact not only that he had in my life, he had a major impact in their life too. ... He was a great, great man."
Newsome didn't field questions and quickly exited. Lewis, however, stood there. He didn't buckle under the emotion, though his body language indicated he'd come close.
When the Ravens won the franchise's only Super Bowl in 2001, it was Lewis who got Modell on the platform to celebrate with his signature shuffle.
"One of the greatest moments is actually bringing him that Lombardi Trophy. Us on that stage," recalled Lewis, as he stopped to laugh. " I told him that if we win it then he's going to have to try to do my dance. And we got on stage, I (did) it. He did the dance. It was capped off exactly the way it was supposed to end. Somebody had put in all that work and now we (were) able to bring him what his true dream was, the Lombardi Trophy."
Kevin Byrne, Ravens senior vice president of public and community relations who had been with Modell since his days in Cleveland, couldn't help himself. He had to interject, "Ray, he barely did the dance."
Both shared a hearty laugh about that, too. And Byrne was right. Barely, much like their ability to hold back those tears.
Quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice spoke of Modell, but even those leaders on this team didn't know him like Lewis, Newsome and Byrne. Their relationship with him went beyond football. It was personal.
"It is a son talking to a father," Lewis said of his final conversation at the hospital with Modell. "That's the way I looked at it from the moment I started to whisper into his ear because that's what he always used to do to me. ... It's hard to keep talking about someone who loves you that much."
Second-year linebacker Albert McClellan, who'll be starting for the first time Monday night, admits he knew a little about Modell but believes the locker room is inspired by the day's events.
"I spoke to him, shook his hand. I really didn't know any of his background going into any depth. He's helped the vision of the NFL as where it is today. Without him we probably wouldnt even be playing this Monday," McCellan said.
"The emotion, it's filtered down because he's one of us. Any time, in any group or any tribe or any pact loses a member, they're going to feel down. We just got to go out here and play this game for Mr. Modell."