I am glad that training camp is about to open and the football season is not too far away, so that we can have more current things to write about, instead of re-hashing the move of 1995. Most of us have put that behind, but Art Modell, who is making a last-ditch effort to get to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, won't let us let go completely.
Modell is now playing the role of victim, and surprisingly is getting some local support. I don't think there is any question that Modell had some problems with certain key political figures in the city and the state, but that does not give him any defense for making the ultimate move.
Let me remind you---actually let me remind Art---of a few facts. Modell never went public with his problem with the political leaders. If he did, the same fans who bombarded the NFL office and franchises with e-mails, faxes, phone calls, etc., would have done the same to the offices of the Governor, Mayor, and anyone else that they could think of. The public totally would have been on the side of Modell, but he knew he couldn't go public because he would have no chance to take the sweetheart deal in Baltimore.
Secondly, Modell had a lease at the Stadium, that ran through 1999. He never made a demand for a new stadium. In fact, he called a press conferences to show his vision of a renovated Cleveland Municipal Stadium.
In addition, in a league that virtually gives a license to print money, Modell struggled. He had to borrow money to sign a washed-up Andre Rison, who was a symbol of Modell's ineptitude as an owner. I don't think there is any question that, unlike some franchise owners that we have had in Cleveland, Modell really wanted to win. Unfortunately, when he was here, he didn't know how to do it. As an example of how he wanted to run things his way, Art never hired a head coach (except Nick Skorich) who any previous head coaching experience, going back to Blanton Collier. That extended through Forrest Gregg, Sam Rutigliano, Marty Schottenheimer, Bud Carson, and Bill Belichick. Ironically, the tradition has continued with the hiring of Chris Palmer, Butch Davis and Romeo Crennel.
Modell continued to make bad business decisions, which forced him, and his son, David, out of the ownership of the Baltimore Ravens. However, his move to Baltimore, paved the way for several other owners to make millions on new stadium deals in their own cities.
Here is the fundamental reason why Modell left town. Instead of showing loyalty to the millions of Browns fans around the world who stuck with the team from the time Modell arrived in 1961, Art chose to believe that it was more important to pass the team on to his son, David. Art's wife, Pat, along with David, along with the above-mentioned reasons, convinced Art that David would never be accepted by the public as owner of the Cleveland Browns. Baltimore represented a fresh start---for Art to get out of debt (that he built up himself), and for David to establish himself to people who did not know his history.
I suppose that loyalty to one's family is an admirable trait. But not in this case. There would have been several opportunities for Modell to sell the team to Cleveland interests. In each case, I am sure that a deal could have been made to keep David with the team in some capacity. As it turns out, David is no longer part of the Ravens organization.
If you saw the interviews with Channel 5's Ted Henry, you saw a very wealthy man now in retirement. But you also saw a broken, desperate man, pleading his case for his induction into the Hall of Fame. You also saw a man, who, inside, has to know he is still paying for a terrible mistake. Ironically, if he would have made his demands known to the public in 1994 or 1995, the NFL surely would have seen to it that he would have been inducted into the Hall of Fame several years ago, as the owner of the Cleveland Browns, and he would now be able to enjoy the fruits of his labor.
But if it happens in the future, it would be a slap in the face of football fans everywhere.
Enough of the past---let the games begin!
‘More Sports & Les Levine' can be seen M-F from 6-7pm and 11pm-midnight on Adelphia Channel 15 in northeastern Ohio. E-mail email@example.com or www.leslevine.com