Art Modell, the former owner reviled by Cleveland Browns fans for moving the team in 1995, died Thursday at the age of 87. Could his death influence the odds of his long-desired but long-denied induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
Art Modell, the man who stripped NFL football from Northeast Ohio and earned the everlasting animus of Cleveland Browns fans when he moved the team to Baltimore, died Thursday at 87.
Could his death influence the odds of his long-desired but long-denied induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame here in Canton?
Joe Horrigan, vice president of communications and exhibits at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, said it’s difficult to speculate.
“The selectors are told the only thing they can consider is a person’s contributions to the game,” he said. “I would offer to say Art has been a nominee for every year he’s been eligible. Some years he spikes (in voters’ interest), other years, he doesn’t. Sometimes it’s just a result of who else is on the ballot. ... Certainly he remains a strong candidate.”
Joe Frollo, a Cleveland native and digital media and publications manager at USA Football, said he doesn’t believe Modell’s career reaches the threshold for consideration.
“Art Modell’s legacy is already being glossed over by many national outlets, but he has not been a majority NFL owner since 2004,” said Frollo, a former sports editor of The Repository. “His greatest accomplishment, other than the 1964 NFL title and Super Bowl XXXV, occurred in 1962, when he served as the NFL’s lead negotiator for its first television contract.
“He hasn’t gotten into the Pro Football Hall of Fame yet, and I don’t see his death increasing his chances.”
Love or hate him, Modell had a hand in making NFL football America’s favorite sport. An early proponent of TV networks televising games, the brash young business executive from Brooklyn, N.Y., purchased the Browns in 1961.
Modell, whose ego was only outstripped by his generosity to charitable causes and his talent for sports promotion, never shirked from controversy:
• He hired a young Bill Belichick before he was a “genius” who has won three Super Bowls in New England.
• He also traded away popular quarterback Browns Bernie Kosar.
• In 1963, he dispatched beloved and iconic head coach Paul Brown, for overshadowing him. The following year, the Browns won the NFL championship.
But bitter Paul Brown got the last laugh, as he was inducted into the Hall of Fame, and later went on to launch the Cincinnati Bengals.
Though he publicly promised never to move the Browns and criticized other owners who moved their teams, Modell left for Baltimore following a dispute with city officials over conditions at Municipal Stadium.
Mark Craig, a former Repository sports reporter and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Nominating Committee, said he doesn’t think Modell’s death will affect his chances for induction, one way or the other.
Page 2 of 2 - “I was never in the selection room when Art was presented,” said Craig, who covers the Minnesota Vikings for the Star-Tribune newspaper in Minneapolis. “I can’t say what I would have done had I been in the room when he was considered. I also can’t predict how I would vote before I’ve had the opportunity to study it further and hear the discussion.
“...I don’t think his death makes it any more or less likely that it will ever happen.”
Frollo said enshrinement should be reserved for a very chosen few.
“I will never forget sitting with (Pittsburgh Steelers owner) Dan Rooney during the 2000 enshrinement week, when he told me the Hall of Fame should be exclusively reserved for players and coaches,” he said. “I agree. Other than the original NFL founders and some key players in the NFL-AFL merger, enshrinement of owners or front-office personnel should be extremely rare. Art Modell does not fit that criteria for me.”
In a statement, former Browns guard John Wooten says Modell deserves to be enshrined, just as much as his contemporaries who have been given the honor.
“ ... He was one of the great, great owners in the NFL,” Wooten said. “He was a man that sacrificed and did the things to make the NFL what it is today. He was an owner who excelled in dealing with players, working with the public and making sure that our game was growing. He sacrificed.
“He worked alongside Lamar Hunt, Tex Schramm, Well Mara and Art Rooney — and all of those men are in the Hall of Fame. He worked with them in all of those meetings. He was there. It is indeed a shame that he is not in the Hall of Fame.
“I can’t tell you how bad I want Art to be in the Hall of Fame.”
Horrigan, too, said his memories of Modell are fond ones.
“I think he was very personable and always a good friend of the Hall of Fame,” he said. “He always supportive and accessible to us. We enjoyed working with him.”