Randy Lerner and I are about the same age. We even worked for the same company.
Lerner graduated from Columbia in 1984. A year later, I would get my undergraduate degree in engineering from Ohio State.
After graduation, Lerner worked for the Progressive Corporation, until forming an investment firm called Securities Advisors. In the early 1990s, I was a consultant working with Progressive for a little over two years developing AI systems to help rate auto insurance policies. Cool project.
It was at Progressive that I first heard of Randy's father, Al Lerner, who helped guide the company while also being Chairman of MBNA.
If there was a full org chart of Progressive at the time, it would have started with a box that said "Peter B. Lewis" with a dashed line of some sort that would quickly have connected to another box that said "Al Lerner". About three feet down, after a lot of boxes, straight lines, dashed lines, little jumpover connectors and more sheets of paper, would be the client execs who I worked with at Progressive.
I'm guessing that somewhere on that org chart was a cloud that said simply "various demigods with wealth beyond your mortal imagination". Peter Lewis and Al Lerner were above that in the org chart. Our project team was a ways below it.
Still, what happened on November 6th, 1995 changed the very different lives of Al Lerner's son and the son of a plant manager in Georgia, eventually pulling them into orbit around the same thing.
When Art Modell declared in Baltimore that he had no choice but to betray Browns fans, it set in motion events that would ultimately give Randy Lerner ownership of the Browns.
A trivial side note, unworthy of recording, was that among the multitudes of Browns fans outraged at the events, a manager at a Big Six firm based out of Cleveland was very, very pissed off.
Ten years later, that one-time manager would write an article that Randy Lerner would read.
Therefore, we can only conclude that Modell's actions in November 1995 directly led Randy Lerner to develop a splitting headache over a decade later as he attempted to wade through mangled sentence structure, nonsensical analogies, garbled syntax, and pointless tangents.
From this we learn two things: It's a small freaking world, and one should never underestimate how many of life's maladies can be blamed on Art Modell.
* * *
As important to all of us as the events on 11/6/95 were, something happened a week later which still torments me today. If you've been with this site for a while, you've heard me talk about it at some point.
On November 13th, the Browns travelled to Pittsburgh for a Monday night game against the Steelers in generic Three Rivers Stadium.
Browns fans were rightfully enraged by the news of the week before, and travelled to Pittsburgh with the notion of making their voices heard on national television. Steeler fans, with a vague notion akin to loyalty forming in their primitive simian brains, vowed to join Browns fans in protesting the move of their long-time rival.
That evening ABC television showed football fans where real power lies, and how it can be used to dull and suppress fans of the sport.
As I sat in front of the television that evening, I was stunned throughout the entire first half as ABC television cameras steadfastly avoided showing any shots of the crowd. Such reaction shots, common throughout all broadcasting of all football games, were simply chopped out. The eye of the camera lens pointed only at the field.
During halftime, play-by-play voice Al Michaels, by far the most trusted of the sportscasters in that booth, spent five to ten minutes telling NFL fans across the country that they should sympathize with Art Modell and explaining the conflict purely from Modell's point of view.
Modell had been one of the folks behind Monday Night Football, for decades one of ABC's highest-rated shows. The right to broadcast that money-generating TV staple was not ABC's by divine right, but sold to them by the NFL on a recurring basis.
I felt, and still feel, the NFL had used its power either directly or indirectly, deliberately or not, to ram their point of view down the throats of viewers across the country.
Meanwhile, fans who had been wronged wailed in the darkness. Shunted outside, they pounded without answer on the locked door. People like you, and me, and everyone who comes here, hammered down by the NFL. Told to shut up, while the NFL put their twisted logic into the heads of millions, powerless.
That was over a decade ago, but for better or worse, I've never forgotten it. I'll never forget it.
Even when I tell myself to let it go, that I'm over-reacting, that night created a prism of distrust that I now look through when I see everything that comes from the NFL, and even from the team that earned my lifelong devotion while I was still a youngster.
I hate it. I want to believe, I want to give the benefit of the doubt, I'm trying. But it never goes away.
* * *
When Romeo Crennel talked to us yesterday, he told us that Maurice Carthon "resigned". A little less than two years ago, Butch Davis also "resigned".
I'm a trusting sort by nature. Foolishly so, at times. I'm sure that Soviet leaders in that country's dark oppressive days would "fall ill", or decided to "vacation at a Black Sea villa for the next fifteen years".
When we heard that yesterday, though, it's obvious that the ears of every writer with an ounce of Woodward and Bernstein in them perked up. It didn't sound like the truth, and journalists have this "thing" about getting the truth out there. Fans have this "thing" about trying to find it.
To what purpose?
If the organization wants to say that Mo Carthon "resigned", why shouldn't they be allowed to say that?
The Cleveland Browns are trying to help someone who was in their employ, and I'm sure a lot of us wish we had an employer like that. What's the harm in allowing an employee to leave with as much dignity as possible?
Do little distortions always lead to bigger ones? I hope not.
I wonder if Al Michaels has an opinion. I wonder if Rich Eisen does. But I doubt they worry about such things.
* * *
The National Football League has decided to end their agreement with CBS Sportsline and will bring development of NFL.com in-house.
Here is what was I read in a press release yesterday:
The NFL will increase its owned-and-operated media assets by bringing in-house the operations of NFL.com...
"In a rapidly changing digital landscape, bringing NFL.com in-house provides us greater control of our valuable content and enables us to strategically build the site as a media asset," said Brian Rolapp, the NFL's vice president of media strategy. "Fans can look forward to an even more entertaining, interactive and informative site built upon the expertise of the NFL and its other in-house media outlets such as NFL Network and NFL Films."
If these new capabilities are used to bolster coverage of the game, or even to simply allow the NFL to offer its own scrubbed and polished point of view to fans, I have no problem with that.
If, however, that power is used to monopolize media coverage and take news-gathering opportunities away from the independent and objective media, it is a bad thing for fans. If that power is used to navigate fans away from coverage that the NFL simply doesn't like, that is a bad thing for fans.
The NFL, like any other powerful organization, and particularly a tolerated monopoly of sorts, needs to be held somewhat in check. We learned that here, a decade ago. The media serves a vital and important role in making that happen.
Like any group of people in business, we hope, the folks who comprise the new staff of NFL.com will be competitive and driven. They will want their web site to dominate the landscape. When that happens, there will be the temptation to use whatever resources are available to excel and beat their competition - in this case, independent sites like local newspapers, ESPN, Fox, and, of course, Scout.com.
There is already whispering that gameday press conferences broadcast from NFL stadiums are an "NFL asset" and will be removed from the hands of the independent media for broadcast only on NFL-owned channels. The NFL combines already have only the NFL Network allowed to broadcast them, or even report on them from inside the facility. Reporters are kept outside the facility, across the street.
The more power the NFL accumulates in its own media properties, the more rife the threat of abuse becomes.
* * *
All around my office, from the fan paraphernalia to the bookshelves to the shelves of team photos to the computer, Al Michaels' stentorian voice still echoes, banging around my brain.
I want to believe. I want to trust. I want to not care about this. All I want is to be pleasantly buzzed and do some high fives with my friends as the Browns win the AFC Championship. I want to smoke a stogie afterwards in the Muni, and go home to lie down, exhausted and drained, and think of the Super Bowl that lies ahead.
I want that to be all I care about when I show up each day to work on this website.
That's all I want.
But the echoes of 1995 won't go away.
Barry McBride is publisher of The Orange and Brown Report. He began publishing football-related commentary as a hobby in 1996 with a website protesting the move of the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore. In 2001, he established the OBR, originally named Bernie's Insiders. Barry would be happy to receive your questions or comments via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed in this article are his and his alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of other writers or staff of the Orange and Brown Report.