Baltimore Ravens President Dick Cass, right, speaks with General Manager… (Patrick Semansky/AP )
OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Two men in purple ties walked through the front doors bearing a gift basket. Dick Cass greeted the visitors warmly and began to show them around the Baltimore Ravens headquarters: a position meeting room, the team auditorium and eventually the cafeteria.
Haven Shoemaker and Doug Howard are elected commissioners from Carroll County, and they’d scheduled the meeting to discuss the team’s decision to stop holding their training camp at McDaniel College in Westminster.
For Cass, the team’s president, it’s just another item on a growing to-do list in the days leading up to the playoff game against the Houston Texans. A player needs help with arrangements to attend a wake. What uniforms should the Ravens wear Sunday? Where will Commissioner Roger Goodell sit at M&T Bank Stadium? How much time does linebacker Ray Lewis get to dance during player introductions?
“He’s involved in everything,” Ravens Coach John Harbaugh said.
Cass, 66, drives an hour from his Chevy Chase home each day, reporting to work at a franchise many hold up as the NFL’s model. While Harbaugh and General Manager Ozzie Newsome are showered with credit, Cass is comfortable in the background, quietly making sure the trains run on time. Yet his work, and his relationship with owner Steve Bisciotti and others in the organization, are critical to the Ravens’ success.
Born in Washington, Cass grew up a Redskins fan. He had a successful career as a corporate attorney in the District and helped facilitate the sales of the Dallas Cowboys to Jerry Jones, the Redskins to Daniel Snyder and the Ravens to Bisciotti. Nearly a decade ago, the new Baltimore owner hand-picked Cass to run the Ravens. It was the first hire Bisciotti made and still his most important.
“I wasn’t getting in this business to go back to working 60 hours a week,” Bisciotti said. “I tell people this is an uber-hobby. It’s somewhere between a hobby and a business. It’s big. And I don‘t have to worry about it because I have Dick.”
Mergers and acquisitions
In the cafeteria, Joe Flacco and Haloti Ngata sat one table away. Harbaugh was seated with former owner Art Modell. And the county commissioners were wide-eyed.
“I'm a little starstruck, to be honest with you,” Shoemaker told Cass. “When you come here as a fan for the first time, you know, it’s a little overwhelming.”
It wasn’t that way for Cass. His background is unusual in the small circle of NFL executives. His father was in the U.S. Coast Guard, so Cass’ family would move from Washington and back every few years. He still remembers his first football game — Oct. 14, 1956 at Griffith Stadium — watching Chicago’s Ollie Matson run back a kick 105 yards against the Redskins.
“It was a different time,” Cass said. “We’d be out raking leaves in the yard and my dad would say, ‘Let’s go to the game.’ So you hop in the car and just walk up and buy a ticket.”
He played football, too, but only until he suffered a bad knee injury during his freshman year at Princeton. He attended Yale Law — one year ahead of Hillary Clinton, two years ahead of Bill — though he doesn‘t announce such things loudly.
“Usually, you meet people who graduated from Harvard or Yale and they figure out a way to tell you they graduated from Harvard or Yale within an hour of meeting them,” Bisciotti said. “You could know Dick for a year and if you didn’t specifically ask him, you’d never know.”
Cass returned to Washington and began his legal career at the prestigious firm Wilmer Cutler & Pickering, For many years, the closest he came to football was RFK Stadium, where he shared season tickets and cheered for Joe Gibbs’ dominant teams.
“Dick’s a superlative lawyer,” said Steve Sachs, a former partner and former Maryland attorney general. “Dick combined legal acumen and a strong sense of practicality to solve any problem that came up.”
Cass’s specialty was mergers and acquisitions, and in February 1989, Jones called and asked him to hop on a plane for Dallas. In a matter of hours, the basic sale agreement was hammered out that would give Jones control of the Cowboys.
Cass spent the next 17 years working as outside counsel for Jones, representing the Cowboys’ lightning rod of an owner when the NFL sued Jones — and Jones countersued — in a dispute over the league’s corporate sponsorship policies.
“He was not my attorney,” Jones said. “I mean, he was, but he was more like a right hand to the franchise and a right hand to me. He helped me with all matters and had an incredible impact, not just on the Cowboys organization but the entire league.”
While Jones and Cass pushed the NFL into a new era of marketing and money, there were drawbacks to his new relationship.