CHICAGO -- Ravens owner Art Modell let bygones be bygones and helped his former friend and business partner, Al Lerner, win the bidding war for the Cleveland Browns to become the 31st NFL owner last night.

Even though there was a major rift between the two men after Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore, Modell helped break the logjam when Lerner was stalled at 21 votes, two shy of the 23 votes necessary to get his bid approved by the other owners.

In a move reminiscent of the way the league deprived Baltimore of an expansion team, the league had the process wired for Lerner.

He had the high bid of $530 million and the committee recommended him by a 7-0 vote over the group headed by the Dolan brothers, Charles and Larry. The Dolans bid $500 million. New York real estate developer Howard Milstein bid about $450 million and was eliminated by the committee.

But the owners didn't rubber stamp the Lerner bid the way they did when Carolina and Jacksonville were awarded the 1993 expansion teams.

Instead, a bloc of nine owners either voted for the Dolans or abstained, leaving Lerner two votes shy of approval during four ballots.

Joining Modell in voting for the Dolans were the two New York teams, Buffalo, Tampa Bay, Chicago and Cincinnati. St. Louis and Oakland were abstaining.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said that's when Modell made a short speech suggesting they unanimously vote for Lerner.

Lerner was then approved by a 29-0-1 vote. Only Raiders' owner Al Davis, who abstained, refused to join the majority.

The actual purchase price was $476 million -- the highest price for a franchise in any sport -- because $54 million will go back to the league to repay stadium funds the league had advanced Cleveland.

Several owners had talked about a price in the $1 billion range, but an NFL team simply doesn't produce enough revenue to justify that kind of price.

Although Modell conceded he had the votes to block Lerner, he said he made the move "for the good of the league."

"I look forward to playing the Browns twice a year," Modell added. "That's all I want to say."

Modell's gesture was surprising because Lerner distanced himself from Modell after the move and then talked as if he had little to do with the move, even though he negotiated much of the deal and it was signed on his plane.

On the other hand, Modell's trademark before his move was supporting league policies.

John Moag, the head of the Maryland Stadium Authority, was quoted this week by the Cleveland Plain Dealer as saying that Modell felt "incredibly betrayed" by Lerner and "permanently scarred" by the move.

When Lerner was asked what he thought about Modell's support last night, he said, "It sounds like the kind of thing he would do."

When Lerner was asked to describe his current relationship with Modell, he stumbled.

"I don't. I don't. I have , " he started out. He then added, "It's fine. It's fine."