I was actually doing my reading tonight and bookmarking articles for future post ideas when I came across this one by Jim Williams in the Examiner.
The short version of my reaction is that I’ll support Art Modell’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame when he supports Robert Irsay’s. Williams quotes Sports Marketing, Inc. president Tom Wilson:
“But those of us who know Art know his move was all about business. The Indians and the Cavs got new homes, but the Browns could not get a favorable new stadium deal. The Baltimore offer was one of the greatest deals in the history of sports, and Art would have been a fool not to have taken it.”
Or he could have sold the unprofitable Browns and retired handsomely. The way the Browns/Ravens affair was handled was just terrible, much like Irsay’s moving the Colts in the dead of night. It basically left the team and city in limbo for the latter half of the 1995 season. And what was shaping up to maybe be a decent season turned into a nightmare.
I recall the news came out in early November, right before a home game (which once I looked it up I realized it was Houston because I also recalled they got blown out.) A team that started 4-4 before the secret negotiations were leaked to the news then proceeded to get bombed that afternoon by the Oilers and went into a 6 game tailspin. They did win their final game at old Municipal Stadium (their only late-season win as they ended the ’95 season 5-11) when they beat the hated Bengals 26-10 and hundreds of fans took anything they could out of the old park – turf, seats, whatever wasn’t nailed down. By this time the old stadium was no longer the home of the Indians (they moved over to Jacobs Field earlier that year) so no teams would play there after the Browns left.
I’ll concede that the NFL did learn from the Irsay/Colts debacle, mandating that the Browns name and colors stay with the city of Cleveland until it got a new expansion franchise – which did get the new stadium Modell wanted. From the Hall of Fame website:
“Determined to keep the team in Cleveland, Browns fans and Cleveland city officials orchestrated an unprecedented grass-roots campaign to block the move. The NFL quickly responded and, working with city officials, developed a unique solution that not only provided for a new state-of-the-art stadium, but guaranteed the return of pro football to Cleveland by no later than 1999. Additionally, Art Modell agreed to relinquish the “Browns” name, colors and team history to the new owner of the suspended franchise.”
Time heals almost all wounds. But if Modell is inducted into the HOF this August, don’t be surprised to hear a lot of boos and catcalls from the northeast Ohio football faithful (since Cleveland is the closest NFL franchise to the city of Canton.) That’s if he feels safe coming even that close to Cleveland, a city he reportedly hasn’t visited in a decade. Maybe Jim Williams will comment on the fans’ lack of class, but just as Baltimore’s villain is Robert Irsay, northern Ohio’s is Art Modell.