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Posted by Sep - 7 - 2012 0 Comment

I would be remiss to not comment on the passing of Art Modell. Arguably the most enigmatic figure in Cleveland sports history, Art Modell’s career in Cleveland was punctuated by seismic events that riled fans of multiple generations. From his decision to fire Paul Brown to what is simply known as The Move, Modell left no question as to was the captain of his football ship. Some have even said that he didn’t do enough to keep Jim Brown, which very well might have cost the Browns a trip to at least one of – if not both of – the first two Super Bowls. Still, the Browns won an NFL title in the year following Paul Brown’s dismissal, giving credence to Modell’s largely unpopular decision. Yet regardless of Blanton Collier’s exploits that vindicated Modell’s decision, or the many advancements in the NFL that he fathered or fostered, Art Modell will forever be best known as the man who took the Browns out of Cleveland.

Yet away from the field, Art and Pat Modell were philanthropic members of the Cleveland community. Moving to and adopting Cleveland as their home once he purchased the Browns, Modell invested his time as well as his money into his new hometown. Local hospitals and school districts benefited from their generosity, a practice the Modell’s continued after they moved to Baltimore. But it is that move to Maryland where the scales of judgement tipped irreversibly against Art in both the annals of Cleveland sports, and the court of public opinion.

I recall the announcement of the Browns moving as if it happened today on my way to work. I had just moved to the city of Jacksonville, Florida, a city that itself was just blessed with its expansion Jaguars. Making fast football friends on the First Coast, my young wife and I found ourselves immersed in a community running a high fever for our beloved sport. Compounding the mix was the fact that the Jaguars were in the Browns AFC Central division in 1995, and a friendly rivalry was beginning between us and our new neighbors and friends. Many asked us what it was like to have lived in a town so rich with football tradition such as Cleveland, looking to compliment our history by building some of their own. Respectful envy was palpable as they listened to our stories of the Kardiac Kids, Turkey Jones, Jim Brown, even the heartbreak of The Drive and The Fumble. But even they were taken by surprise to learn that it was possible for a team with such tradition could be plucked away from such a supportive fan base. And when the announcement spread across the nation like wildfire, Jaguar fans clasped hands with our Browns Backer brothers and sisters, fighting to keep the Browns in Cleveland. And when it couldn’t be stopped, they joined in the outcry against one Arthur B. Modell.

Jump to Baltimore years later, and Art Modell is a saint, diametrically opposed of the pariah he is considered to be in Cleveland. Not only had he returned football to the city after the Irsay family sneaked the Colts out of town in the cover of darkness, his team won a Super Bowl within five years of arriving. The incredible irony of the entire situation is almost laughable today. The Colts left amid an affair kept quiet and behind the scenes, Modell’s move of the Browns was like waltzing into public with the new girlfriend hanging off his arm seductively before the divorce papers have even been filed. (I will never forget the smug look on the face of Maryland governor Parris Glendening as he celebrated the conquest of stealing my team from my city, raising Baltimore Browns beer mugs in the air. Sickens me to even recall it.) However, many Browns fans don’t find any of this laughable even today, 17 years later. They still feel as if the struggles of the current Browns would have never happened had Modell not moved the team, and will never forgive him for winning a Super Bowl with “their Browns” in Baltimore.

The semantics surrounding The Move and who is responsible for what will continue to being debated indefinitely. But little can be said to otherwise convince anyone that the lion’s share of the blame rests at the feet of the now passed Art Modell. A trail of bad business decisions when his margin for error was as slim as it was unforgiving, Modell painted himself in a financial corner that couldn’t even be resolved by a sweetheart deal in Baltimore. When he raised the Lombardi trophy that January night in Tampa, the team was already on its way past his progeny and into the hands of billionaire Stephen Biscotti. Still, there is little consolation for long suffering Browns fans that what Art fought so desperately to avoid – that his family would lose control of his franchise – would come to pass only after his fingerprints would be smudged upon his own Lombardi Trophy, while we still wait to tie together consecutive winning seasons in Cleveland.

As news of Modell’s death broke out over the Cleveland airways this morning, most sports talk shows were inundated with calls from still ravenous fans all too eager to trounce upon the not-yet-filled grave for Art. The vitriol spewed from the mouths of some was borderline offensive to those of us who have long since made peace with what transpired in 1995, and have simply done the adult thing and moved on. Myself, I have made said peace. I have not, nor will I ever consider forgiving Art Modell for his decision to move the Browns. He was the caretaker of one of the greatest franchises in all of sport. His sole function was to ensure that it maintained the level of excellence established long before his arrival, and make sure that it all happened in Cleveland. But he failed, and in dramatic fashion for all the world to see. Still, even while my wounds have healed as others have not, there’s little gained by perpetuating the negativity attached to the darkest moment in Cleveland sports history. Art Modell is dead. What also should die is the unending bitterness that still resonates in the hearts of Browns fans. When Jimmy Haslam’s purchase is approved, the final remnant of any ties to Modell will have been severed and a new era of Cleveland Browns football will ensue. Perhaps if the energy spent extolling the vitriol towards Modell can be re-focused into the new evolution of the Cleveland Browns, the sting won’t seem so severe, and the long overdue healing for some can finally commence.

Categories: Cleveland Browns, Featured

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