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Friday, February 8, 2013

All in the Family: Steve Bisciotti and The Ravens

The Local Lens

Published• Wed, Feb 06, 2013

 My father was a football fan (he was a quarterback for Kent State), and over the years he converted my mother to appreciate the game. My siblings are "iffy" when it comes to football, although I do have a sister in Florida who likes to plan huge Super Bowl parties. "Any excuse for a party," as the very late Pearl Mesta might have said.

In the past I have very been anti-football, which isn’t a very tolerant attitude, really. I took pleasure in castigating people who sit for hours watching helmeted figures move back and forth on their TV screens. "Couch potato" I think is the correct label here. This year, however, I wasn’t thinking of couch potatoes as much as I was hoping that the Baltimore Ravens would win Super Bowl XLVII.

Why and how did this happen?

Here's why I had a change of "football" heart: Steve Bisciotti, the majority owner of the Ravens, is a second cousin of mine. Steve is the son of my godmother, Patricia, who hails from my mother’s side of the family, the Irish Muldoon-Kelly-Tyrone County, Ireland-side. They were (and are) a huge Irish Klan that encompasses the Donohoe Funeral Home empire (yes, when you are a member of this Klan, your needs are taken care of pronto after death).

Anyway, some years ago there was random talk in the family about how relative Steve Bisciotti became a co-owner of the Baltimore Ravens. That was when Steve purchased 49% of the team in 2000, four years before he would purchase the remaining 51% and became majority owner. Since Steve has never been a boastful egomaniac type (he’s not about self-promotion), his Ravens partnership was mostly a quiet affair. Life being what it is, though, whenever anyone becomes prominent and powerful, "hiding" is rarely an option. Steve Bisciotti is now in the national limelight.

I don’t even think I met Steve until three months ago at the family funeral Mass for Patricia’s sister, Connie Davis, in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. It was there, in Saint Anastasia’s church, that I was finally able to put a face to the name. When Steve walked in to the very crowded viewing before the funeral Mass and signed the guest registry, there was a noticeable but discreet buzz in the church. Since I had a special message I wanted to deliver to Steve I decided that I’d wait until the buzz died down—which it eventually did, of course. After all, we were in a church, and the Bisciotti family takes their Catholic faith very seriously, as was reported in a recent New York Times article on Steve and his family.

"…But it is at Ravens games that the full snapshot of Bisciotti appears," The Times reported. "He has attended preseason games in shorts and flip-flops, and his closest friends — many of them from his youth — mingle in his box with his mother and an occasional priest, a reflection of his strong Catholic faith and his support of religious charities."

Let me backtrack a bit. As a college student in Maryland, I visited Steve Bisciotti’s father, Bernie Bisciotti (Uncle Bernie) in a Baltimore hospital with my own father, Thomas C., when Bernie was fighting terminal leukemia. My father had come to Baltimore to drive me home to Pennsylvania where I could prepare for another life venture: going to Boston to work as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. Our visit with Uncle Bernie lasted just over an hour, but this was enough time to see that Bernie Bisciotti was an empathetic gentle giant of a man. As a nervous 19-year-old on the verge of doing something scary, I was used to untoward looks and disapproving comments from unexpected quarters (even from family), but not so with Uncle Bernie. In fact, the very opposite of that was true: Uncle Bernie’s attitude was one of real concern, support and acceptance. He seemed to be a listener, not a judger of "men." The fact that he was so calm and peaceful when he knew he was going to die soon impressed me as something rare.

When I approached Steve before the Mass, I told him about my meeting with his father so many years ago. I told him what I experienced with his father and how my memory of that visit has never wavered all these years.

I won’t bother to state Steve Bisciotti’s net worth (it is one huge fat cow!), but I will state that when people meet him they go away with the feeling that this is not a person who was born with a silver spoon. No family is perfect. There are "frailty sins" galore in every family, although the temptation to become "somebody else" when you become a major celebrity must be immense. In the end, however, I think that some of the stability in the Kelly-Muldoon Klan comes from the teaching ethic of its long-deceased matriarch, Nellie Kelly Muldoon, whom many family members continue to describe as something close to a saint.

Nellie’s story is too long for these pages, but I think you’ll understand when I say that the best teachers do not so much teach as show by example. The Bisciottis, thank God, are not the Kardashians.