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Remembering Art Modell

Jimmy Brown with Art Modell
In my teen years, Art Modell was the NFL owner I most admired. It was easy given the local alternative of George Preston Marshall. We started going to Redskins games in the 1962 season because my Dad thought his son should see a Negro (what we called ourselves back then) play for the Redskins. Marshall had to be forced to get one. The Redskins drafted Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis and traded him to Cleveland for Bobby Mitchell, the player Dad wanted me to see.   

That’s how Modell came to my attention as the antithesis to Marshall, and why I remember him fondly. Modell died suddenly in a Baltimore hospital Wednesday, according to a story in the Baltimore Sun.

Modell will go down in history as the only man to fire both Paul Brown and Bill Belichick. Modell could be gangsta’.

He wounded Cleveland the way Robert Irsay wounded Baltimore. It’s ironic that he moved to Baltimore where he was as beloved as Irsay is in Indianapolis. They won’t remember Modell in Cleveland that way. 

Cleveland.com – Modell’s accomplishments will be overshadowed by team’s move

“Right now, the Browns have no plans to have a moment of silence at the Stadium before Sunday’s opener against the Eagles.” 

Public authorities resisted funding for a new stadium for the Browns and the Colts until after Modell and Irsay moved those franchises away. Then, they were willing to spend anything to get a new NFL franchise. Wouldn’t it have been less stressful to fund the project from the get? Or, to stick to their guns after the team left and spared citizens the financial hit? 

Ohio and Maryland had the worst case scenario. They righteously resisted calls to fund new stadiums, then learned how the loss of a team wounds the soul of a community. They deflected all blame to the departed when facing irate fans and voters. Modell and Irsay were not blameless, but neither were they completely at fault. 

Owners and public officials never quite grasp that they are not dealing with simple customer loyalty to a commercial enterprise. That description is inadequate.  We are speaking of allegiances here. Elected officials hear from citizens who oppose public funding for stadiums instead of schools and teachers, but woe betide the state representative that loses a longstanding sports franchise. That’s when they learn that school funding is already enforced on tax payers. Fans are willing to spend $100.00 per seat to see their favorite player work for a couple of hours. They will not fill a stadium to watch a favorite teacher teach math. 

The mantra seems to be, do anything to get a new manufacturing plant, but don’t spend money on a frivolous sports team … until it’s too late. It still bedevils public officials. Social services are obligations. Fanhood is a passion.

Ohio was at war with Modell, just as Maryland was at war with Irsay. It turns out that sports teams are not the public utilities everyone treats them to be. Owners can move a sports franchise. As already said, all parties are dealing with allegiances here. That’s what Ohio forgot when it fought Modell, and what Modell forgot when he moved the team.     

That’s a cautionary tale for Minnesota and Oakland.

Rest well, Art Modell

Image – Browns Hall of Fame running back Jimmy Brown with Art Modell from here. Plain Dealer staff