Passan: Battle of the Liars

Rich offers his take, and a little-known tale of Modell and the Gateway Project...

Someone's lying.

In this corner, it's the man who made a city grieve after moving a strong National Football League franchise in 1995. In the other corner, it's the career politician.

To set the record straight, I don't like - nor do I trust - politicians. The only successful politician is a crooked politician. They are no longer beyond reproach. If you're an honest politician, you won't be employed very long.

And I don't like men who take successful professional franchises, run them into the ground and then move them under the pretext that they were losing money and had no choice.

Each type unashamedly lies to suit his purpose. Both prevaricate so often, they begin to believe it themselves.

That said, either Art Modell or Senator George Voinovich is lying regarding the real story behind the Browns' move to Baltimore in 1995.

Modell, who refuses talk with the Cleveland newspaper people because he knows he'll get the tough questions from them, used an electronic media outlet for the second time in less than a year to tell his side of what happened in 1995. Several months ago, it was Ted Henry of WEWS Channel 5. Late last week, WTAM radio talker Mike Trivisonno became the latest victim of Modell's spewing blather.

Same old, same old. Please pass the crying towel.

Modell again claimed a prominent politician at the state level (he wouldn't name names, but Voinovich was Ohio governor at the time) told him, "If I were you, I'd move the team and not look back."

During the course of the conversation with Trivisonno, Modell let slip that this politician's wife's name was Janet. Voinovich's wife's name is Janet.

But was it really a slip? I think not. Modell might be old and somewhat addled, but he knows exactly what he's doing. He calculatedly let "Janet" slip out in the conversation. It tripped a trigger in Washington.

Shortly after the conclusion of the rambling Modell interview, Voinovich, most likely tipped off by friends listening to the show, called Trivisonno with his spin.

"I never said that to him," Voinovich said, accusing Modell of revising history. "I said, `Art, you should give the town a chance. You didn't give the town a chance to step forward and say look, we're willing to come up with PSLs (personal seat licenses) and help finance this thing.' "

What else did you expect Voinovich to say? He's not going to come on the show and say, "Yeah, I told him to move." Of course he's going to deny it.

Disparate stories told by two men for different reasons. Modell, down deep, wants to make peace with Cleveland. He genuinely loved this town before committing his unconscionable act. Voinovich's reasons are strictly political. He's trying to save his hide with his constituents.

And now, the great professional football fans of Cleveland are confused because both men tell compelling tales as to how the Cleveland Browns became the Baltimore Ravens in 1995.

Modell spoke about how stupid he was to take the rundown Cleveland Stadium off the city's hands when Cleveland was faced with the threat of the losing the Indians to New Orleans. He spoke of how he was going to save the city and take care of the Browns at the same time and how he sunk $80 million into capital improvements, maintenance and repair of the old Stadium over a 10-year period.

A building that cost less than $4 million to build required $80 million for upkeep? Kind of stretches the boundaries of credulity.

He spoke of how he willingly slinked into the background when Gateway became a reality. Don't worry, Modell claimed politicians told him. We'll take care of you once Gateway is built. Just stay out of the way.

And when that didn't happen, this influential state-level politician (Voinovich?) told Modell that he "wasn't going to get a nickel from that group (in Cleveland)" and that he should move the team and not look back.

Modell, who repeatedly told Trivisonno he didn't want to move, conveniently leaves one fact out of his story. The original Gateway Project's stadium was supposed to be an all-purpose facility housing the Browns and Indians. But Modell wanted to be the landlord, just as he was at the old facility.

Indians owner Dick Jacobs, who agreed to be part of Gateway just to get away from Modell, adamantly refused to be a party to that arrangement. Modell said if he couldn't be landlord, or at least control the new stadium, he would stay put down by the lake. That's how the much smaller Jacobs Field was born.

And even after the Jake and Gund Arena were built, the city did not completely ignore Modell. A few months before the move was announced in November of 1995, the Gateway people quietly made an overture to him in an effort to let him know he wasn't being forgotten.

Tom Chema, the point man for Gateway, escorted Modell's son, David, and some of his people to the Norfolk & Western Railroad site directly across from Jacobs Field one afternoon and suggested it would be a good place to build a new football stadium.

Made sense. Jacobs Field and Gund Arena side by side with the new stadium across the street. David Modell took one look and, according to someone who was there, said, "No. Too noisy."

By then, it obviously was too late. Art Modell had already made the deal with the Baltimore people after slapping a moratorium on talks for a new facility.

Asked why he didn't make a public appeal after the city took care of the Indians and Cavaliers, he said, "I could have gone public and said, `Look, unless I get this, I'm going,' but I wouldn't do that to the man in Youngstown going to the steel mills and being raped like that."

Steel mills? Youngstown? What the hell does that have to do with Cleveland and its fans?

If Modell had gone public and threatened a move, the fans would have railed at first, then realized how serious he was and come through.

So here we have two men, both of whom have good reasons to lie; both of whom have good reasons to tell the truth; both of whom have good reasons to rewrite history; neither of whom I would trust if they told me the sun rose in the morning and set in the evening. They deal in half truths and lies.

So who lied here?

In different ways, both of them. A pox on their houses.

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