Art Modell died today. I’m sure there are many Clevelanders whose reaction was something akin to “See you in Hell”.
Something you learn from studying history is that there are very few, if any, figures throughout time that are totally Bond-villain evil or medal-worthy Saints, and Art Modell is no exception.
- He bought the Browns in 1961, and fired one of the greatest coaches in NFL history (Paul Brown) in 1963.
- He promoted Blanton Collier who led the Browns to the NFL title in 1964 and a runner-up spot in 1965. Jim Brown also set the NFL single-season rushing record that stood for a decade (1863 yards) in 1963, the first season with Collier in charge.
- He hosted the first ever Monday Night Football game in 1970 (the Browns beat the Namath-led New York Jets 31-21) when no one else would due to fear that the gate would suffer.
- He was the head of a very inconsistent franchise that could never reach the top and always seemed to play second fiddle to the Steelers (not to mention the Bengals and Oilers).
- He gave Marty Schottenheimer and Bill Belichick their head coaching starts in the NFL.
- He leveraged the city of Cleveland into voting for tens of millions of dollars in stadium improvements, and moved the team to Baltimore anyway.
- After four forgettable seasons, his new Ravens team won Super Bowl XXXV while the “new” Browns continue to be the laughingstock of the NFL.
Modell could be revered or reviled depending on your perspective. To Baltimore fans, he righted a wrong. To Cleveland fans, it was at their expense while being used as leverage. That would piss off any fan if it happened to them. Keep in mind though that Baltimore had to wait twelve years for their new franchise, while Cleveland only had to wait three, and Modell announced his intentions, while Irsay moved the Colts out of Baltimore in the middle of the night. Also, the old Browns weren’t exactly the bastion of stability that people remember (They had only reached the playoffs one of six years [1994 under Belichick] in the 90’s prior to moving).
My point is this: Before vilifying the man, remember that he did make some good decisions throughout his career that did bring moments of happiness to fans of two different teams. He did make the seemingly cold-hearted move to take the Browns away from Cleveland, but the NFL made sure that the wrong was righted, and in a timely fashion.
And before you think about pissing on his grave, remember two things:
Football, in all its greatness, is only a game.
If the Browns moving from Cleveland for three years ‘ruined your life’, you need to reevaluate your life.