The Suburbanite
  • Most of the time, Modell was one of us

  • The issue: Death of Art Modell

    Our view: Moving Browns is big part of his legacy, but not the only part

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  • The issue: Death of Art Modell
    Our view: Moving Browns is big part of his legacy, but not the only part
    Even 16 years after the act, we still blanch when we hear his name. Art Modell is remembered — make that reviled — mostly for one thing: moving our beloved Cleveland Browns to Baltimore in 1996.
    We still can recall that punch-to-the-gut feeling once the move was announced. The team that was founded by, named for and coached by Paul Brown, Massillon’s adopted son, was gone, perhaps never to return.
    Many will never forgive Modell. He is a pariah even in death.
    His legacy should be defined by that move — but also by much more.
    Modell, who died Thursday at the age of 87, was the last millionaire owner in what is now a billionaires league. He loved to joke, even at his own expense; he was renowned for his charitable endeavors; he was devoted to his wife, Patricia, a former actress; and he ruled the Browns for 35 years with his heart as much as his head. He shared his home phone number with Browns beat reporters and answered their calls, day or night.
    Most of the time, he was one of us.
    As the NFL’s chief negotiator, he engineered the primetime broadcast of an NFL game.
    His Browns hosted the first Monday Night Football Game in history. The broadcasts ultimately became an NFL cash cow, helping to sell a game that has become the most popular sport in America.
    Money, however, was his undoing. The man who spent $4 million to buy the Browns in 1961 clashed with politicians in his attempt to get a football-only stadium built. He tarnished his legacy — and the city that helped him to succeed — by signing those documents that turned our Cleveland Browns into the Baltimore Ravens.
    In later years, Modell boasted that he left the Browns name, records and colors to the city. He took veiled credit not only for getting an expansion franchise for Cleveland but also for securing a stadium, something he had campaigned for repeatedly.
    The Browns, for their part, issued a 15-word statement Thursday on his passing, less than one word for every two years Modell spent as Browns owner.
    We remember Modell today as a complicated, committed team owner, not quite the villain he is seen as in Cleveland, not quite the hero he was heralded as in Baltimore.
    The Browns were a better franchise because of him, and they survived in spite of him.

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