By Steve Silverman
» More Columns
All the good things that Art Modell did for the NFL don’t matter at all.
He may have been a likable man and an innovator with plenty of television know-how, but he took the Browns out of Cleveland, and that will forever be his legacy. Modell died on Thursday at the age of 87.
Never mind that there’s another team in Cleveland that goes by the same name and claims the Browns’ history. He took the Browns out of Cleveland, brought them to Baltimore and ripped the heart out of a downtrodden city.
Modell’s backers can mitigate the deed all they want. It doesn’t overcome what he did.
He brought his team to a city that had been similarly heartbroken by Robert Irsay when the Colts left Baltimore in 1984.
He gave Cleveland plenty of chances to save the franchise by building him a new stadium that he coveted.
None of that matters. Of all people, Modell should have known better.
He was born and raised in Brooklyn, and when Modell was in his early 30s, the Dodgers left Brooklyn for Los Angeles.
There may have been plenty of blame to go around, but it was Walter O’Malley who signed the papers and did the deed. He ripped the Dodgers out of Brooklyn, and it can be argued that the borough has never recovered — even with the Nets playing their first regular-season game there in just a couple of months.
Sports franchises are not like other businesses. They belong to the community that bears their name. It’s one thing if the Atlanta Flames leave a community that had no hockey tradition and moves to a Canadian city like Calgary that loves and supports them.
But when you take the Dodgers out of Brooklyn, the Colts out of Baltimore or the Browns out of Cleveland, you are ripping the heart and soul out of the communities they inhabit.
In Modell’s case, he wanted a new stadium. He needed one badly, as the old Municipal Stadium was a disaster. There were no skyboxes and it was an embarrassing home compared to the other stadiums in the NFL.
Modell couldn’t get what he wanted. So in 1995, he made a deal to take the team to Baltimore for the 1996 season. He got his beautiful new stadium.
Modell never understood why he was hated in Cleveland after that. He wanted the Browns fans to blame the “politicians and the bureaucrats” for forcing his hand.
He didn’t want to blame himself, though he had made poor financial decisions. If he wasn’t going to get the new stadium, he could have sold the team to someone who would have kept the team in Cleveland. He simply made a decision to line his pockets end his financial difficulties by taking the team to Baltimore. He said that the decision kept him from declaring bankruptcy.
If that had happened, it would have been his fault — nobody else’s.
In other ways, Modell was an ideal owner. He knew and genuinely cared for his players. He came up with the concept of Monday Night Football. He was also one of the key negotiators when it came to getting the NFL new and more lucrative television deals. To put it simply, he was a forward thinker.
But none of that matters. When you trample on a city’s soul, make excuses about your reasons and then try to maintain your “good guy” status, it’s not going to work.
Modell’s family and friends will always stand by him and say what a wonderful man he was. On an individual level to those people, he was.
But he ripped the heart out of a city, and that will never be forgotten.
Is this take on Modell’s legacy too harsh or right on point? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below…