Art Modell isn’t a Hall of Famer.
For the sake of Browns fans, I hope the same can be said tonight.
Modell didn’t belong immortalized with pro football’s greatest in 2002, when he was a finalist to get a bronze bust in Canton. He didn’t belong in the 10 years that followed, when he failed to make the cut to the final 15. He doesn’t belong now. And he won’t belong in the future.
But Modell is among the 15 finalists again this year — the vote is today in New Orleans — so there’s a chance I could be proved wrong.
Only if justice and karma are distracted on Bourbon Street.
The thought of Modell being included in the Hall of Fame has many Northeast Ohio fans in a panic. How could the man who moved the beloved Browns to Baltimore be enshrined as a legend of the sport in their own backyard?
His candidacy has a sentimental element following his death in September at age 87, and the Ravens’ appearance in the Super Bowl has given it a publicity boost.
But the only thing that’s changed on Modell’s resume since he sold the Ravens in 2004 is his death. And that shouldn’t be anywhere close to enough to sway many of the same voters who didn’t include him in previous years.
The anti-Modell argument seems like a Cleveland-centric point of view. People around the league don’t have the same animosity. Commissioner Roger Goodell even endorsed him Friday in a state-of-the-NFL address.
Then there’s the push from Baltimore, where he’s adored for bringing back football and winning the Super Bowl. General manager Ozzie Newsome is his most vocal supporter and wasn’t afraid to take on the fans of Cleveland, who supported the “Wizard of Oz” during his Hall of Fame career.
The Ravens players and owner Steve Bisciotti have also sounded the trumpet.
“I’m not asking Cleveland to understand,” Bisciotti told reporters. “I’m not even asking Cleveland to forgive. I just know that Cleveland’s rabid fans should not be the reason that they keep him out.”
Modell’s decision to move the Browns is the No. 1 reason he should be denied entrance to the Hall of Fame. How can the land of crab cakes continue to carry animosity toward Robert Irsay for stealing its team, yet ignore Modell’s similarly selfish act?
And I don’t care if the rest of the league, country or world thinks Browns fans are being petty and spiteful and holding a grudge too long. They don’t know the depth of the pain Modell caused across Northeast Ohio, and the reality that being a Browns fan hasn’t been the same since the betrayal was announced in 1995.
Modell’s the reason.
We’ve heard a lot this week about the accomplishments of Modell during his 43 years of full ownership of an NFL franchise, starting in Cleveland in 1961. His work in TV negotiations is the strongest argument, as he participated in deals that launched “Monday Night Football” and saw the owners’ revenues skyrocket. He also won an NFL championship in 1964 and a Super Bowl with the Ravens following the 2000 season.
The resume isn’t strong enough. Modell doesn’t belong in the pantheon of all-time owners. He isn’t George Halas, Lamar Hunt, Wellington Mara, Art Rooney, Al Davis or Eddie DeBartolo Jr.
The last is why I don’t think Browns fans should be too worried about having Modell forever stain Canton’s crown jewel. The voters are unlikely to elect multiple contributors, and DeBartolo (and former coach Bill Parcells) has the clear edge on Modell.
The 49ers were the preeminent franchise in the 1980s and DeBartolo was the man driving the organization. He paid handsomely for players, provided first-class treatment and became a model for other franchises.
It’s a model Modell couldn’t follow because of his poor business deals that left him cash-poor, despite the league’s revenue sharing. The mismanagement caught up to him, compromised his ability to operate the team and “forced” the move.
Modell spent 35 years here. He built a bond, promised not to leave, then did. He knew he would be breaking the heart of a city that did nothing but support him and keep money in his pockets.
He left anyway.
He’s not a Hall of Famer. And the move, which can be rationalized but not forgiven or forgotten, is the primary reason.
A good weekend
The worst possible weekend for Browns fans? Modell gets into the Hall of Fame today and the Ravens win the Super Bowl on Sunday. The nightmare also features Ray Lewis dancing in the Superdome with the “ART” logo near his chest for the entire world to see.
I don’t see any of that happening.
How could Modell beat out Parcells and DeBartolo, not to mention Cris Carter, Jonathan Ogden, Warren Sapp, Larry Allen, Michael Strahan and Tim Brown? This is Modell’s last best chance — and he won’t make it.
The game’s tougher to predict. And should be exciting.
But the Niners have more talent and a few unique play calls up their sleeves. As long as inexperienced quarterback Colin Kaepernick protects the ball and safety Dashon Goldson doesn’t give up too many deep balls to Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco, the Niners will win.
San Francisco will improve to 6-0 in Super Bowls — it must be nice — with a 27-20 victory.
Contact Scott Petrak at (440) 329-7253 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.
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