Can Cleveland Browns Fans Soften Their View Towards Art Modell?


This week, the Oakland Raiders continue to mourn the passing of their infamous owner Al Davis. While many things can be said about Davis (both good and bad), you have to admit that he has become a household name.  Even non-sports fans recognize the name. His legendary antics have made fodder for the media and his contributions to what we now call the NFL are irrefutable.

We also got the news yesterday that Pat Modell, wife of Art Modell, passed away. From all accounts, she was a wonderful person and will be missed by her family and friends. Having lost my mom to cancer in 2007, I know how her children feel. My father now lives with us and his grief at Mom’s passing is felt daily. I send out my sympathies to the Modell family and their children during this difficult time.

But amongst all of the retrospectives this week, a question is being raised here in Cleveland: “When Art Modell passes away, what will his legacy be?” Art Modell lays claim to creating many of the things that NFL football fans love today and can’t live without.  Let’s take a quick look at a few of them:

1968 – Chairman of the Owners Labor Committee: This committee negotiated and signed the very first NFL players’ collective bargaining agreement.

1970 – NFL-AFL Merger Committee: Agreed to move the Cleveland Browns to the weaker AFC division in the newly merged NFL.

1970 – Monday Night Football:  Modell was a negotiator in the MNF deal with ABC. However, the reality is that Pete Rozelle got that deal done by strong-arming ABC into buying the rights to broadcast the games. There were sold-out games and millions of families tuning in to watch teams play, even if it wasn’t their “home team.”

1995 – Moved the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore. Well, sort of. He walked away from city of Cleveland, left the Browns’ name and history here, and took his players/coaches to Baltimore to form the Ravens. While he is not the first owner to relocate a team, and probably not the last, his moving of the team seems to still be regarded as the worst thing to happen in the NFL in its entire history.

As a Browns fan, I’ve tried to look back at what happened and see things from Modell’s side. I’ve tried to understand what drove him to make the decisions that he did. To this day, I simply cannot. His move was so different from any other move the NFL has seen. His being the landlord of the stadium where they played, his secret meetings with local government to try and get a new stadium, his clear ignorance of the power held by Browns fans to put pressure on those officials to give him what he wanted – those things single him out against other owners who have moved teams.

The talk will also start again soon about inducting Modell into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton. Do I think he should get in?  When I look at the other owners already there, does he deserve to be included? Yeah, probably. Most likely. It’s hard to deny. However, I think this may be one of those cases where he needs to go in posthumously. I cannot envision a time where it would be safe for anyone in Canton to have him be there in person for the ceremony.

It is true that Al Davis moved the Raiders out of Oakland. And back again. But I never felt the heartbreak of their fans the way my fellow Browns fans and I felt it here. I should be able to be a “bigger person” and move on from this but I simply cannot. I cannot forgive and forget. I cannot bear to watch him walk on the stage at the Hal of Fame ceremonies. And I am not alone.

As Browns fans, we are left with some simple facts:

  • Conversations about our football team must be prefaced with either “before 1995” or “after 1998”
  • Those years without football did damage to our love of the game and the city ofCleveland.
  • Our children grew up in a different type of sports environment than we did; they are cynical and not as attached to this team as we were to the old Browns.

And with all of this in mind, I fear that Art Modell’s real legacy will be moving the Cleveland Browns. That all other achievements will be overlooked or eventually forgotten. That the heartbreak we endured as fans will never really heal. And even though people joke now about throwing a parade and celebrating when he passes away, I fear that I will simply relive the pain caused by losing my team, mourning the innocence that I lost when faced with the reality that my team was never really “mine.”



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Tags: Al Davis Art Modell Cleveland Browns Pat Modell

  • GeraldE.Rotko

    I worked as a carpenter for a company that built a recreattion room onto the Model house on Southpark Blvd. in Shaker Hts. Mrs. Model spoke to me twice while I was on the Job. Once complementing something I did and another time when she ask a few of us tradesmen our opinion. I stated my opinion and it agreed with hers. I had admiration for her as a person who had principals and stuck to them. The particular project was done to her desires. I was pissed when Art moved the team but changed when I read how the City of Cleveland screwed him over the stadium. They built the new stadium for the Tribe and left the browns down as if they were outsiders.Art deserves to go into the N.F.L. Hall of fame Now. What have the fans done for them. If it wasn’t for them Bill Bellicheck would still be their coach and maybe the Browns would have built onto their legacy. See how the fans are managing [Browns 2]. They would have had Chuck Noll fired if he had managed the Browns instead of the Steelers. Gerry

  • GeraldE.Rotko

    I worked as a carpenter for a company that built a recreattion room onto the Model house on Southpark Blvd. in Shaker Hts. Mrs. Model spoke to me twice while I was on the Job. Once complementing something I did and another time when she ask a few of us tradesmen our opinion. I stated my opinion and it agreed with hers. I had admiration for her as a person who had principals and stuck to them. The particular project was done to her desires. I was pissed when Art moved the team but changed when I read how the City of Cleveland screwed him over the stadium. They built the new stadium for the Tribe and left the browns down as if they were outsiders.Art deserves to go into the N.F.L. Hall of fame Now. What have the fans done for them. If it wasn’t for them Bill Bellicheck would still be their coach and maybe the Browns would have built onto their legacy. See how the fans are managing [Browns 2]. They would have had Chuck Noll fired if he had managed the Browns instead of the Steelers. Gerry

  • semperprinceps

    Hey at least you got to keep your team and colors and name. That crook Irsay took it all from Baltimore and it should have been a wake up call to every NFL fan in America. Your team could be next and look how many times it has happened. To this day the Colts come into Baltimore and the fans trash their buses. You will never get over it no matter how long time passes by. It also divided families. My relatives worked for the Colts back then and to this day none of us speak to that side of the family. Go Ravens!!!!

  • semperprinceps

    Hey at least you got to keep your team and colors and name. That crook Irsay took it all from Baltimore and it should have been a wake up call to every NFL fan in America. Your team could be next and look how many times it has happened. To this day the Colts come into Baltimore and the fans trash their buses. You will never get over it no matter how long time passes by. It also divided families. My relatives worked for the Colts back then and to this day none of us speak to that side of the family. Go Ravens!!!!

  • LeeStover

    i really dont like the idea of art modell being celebrated in ohio in anyway shape of form! the man does not care one iota about the fans. sure, the city maybe should have helped him build the new stadium. but for modell to sneak out of town like he did in the middle of the night was such a slap in the face of not only browns fans, but sports fans everywhere. no where on the planet did any team have a more loyal following than the pre-95 browns! yet art took it upon himself to move the team in the dead of night in attempt to avoid backlash from the fan base. i will give the man his due, but to award him while living to me is reprehensible! posthumous, maybe. booo modell…… GOOOOO BROWNS!!!!!!!!!

  • LeeStover

    i really dont like the idea of art modell being celebrated in ohio in anyway shape of form! the man does not care one iota about the fans. sure, the city maybe should have helped him build the new stadium. but for modell to sneak out of town like he did in the middle of the night was such a slap in the face of not only browns fans, but sports fans everywhere. no where on the planet did any team have a more loyal following than the pre-95 browns! yet art took it upon himself to move the team in the dead of night in attempt to avoid backlash from the fan base. i will give the man his due, but to award him while living to me is reprehensible! posthumous, maybe. booo modell…… GOOOOO BROWNS!!!!!!!!!

  • chegberg

    I can’t believe that after all these years this is still a discussion of conversation. One must look at the totallity of a persons life not just a single moment. Did not the Modell’s give a lot to your community in time and financial support? How many other communities lost their team because of the lack of political and financial support? Colt’s, Oiler’s, Rams, etc. Like others have said you kept the name, colors and records. That can’t be said by many teams. You also didn’t have to wait long for the NFL come back to Cleveland. I am sure Art had to vote on that for it to happen within the AFC North division. We all know what his vote was. A resounding YES. But for me what is most concerning in the article and displayed by many fans is the continual display of immaturity and lack of ability to forgive and forget. If the author and fans are so concerned about the children and the next generation then grow up and display some true virtues for the next generations of Browns fans. Folk’s it’s time to stop tearing the wound open and let it heal. No one is asking that you forget it ever happen, just to forgive and move on. What the current young generation of Browns fans see now is a bunch of adults that don’t know how to move on past a moment, keep the distain alive, unable to forgive and just continue to spew venom about a person who did give a lot to the community and the sport. What message that does that send. I think that message is far more damaging than not allowing Modell into the HOF. Grow up Cleveland! You are missing a big opportunity for a teachable moment of virtues to the younger football generation. And while I am on the soapbox. Baltimore doesn’t go unscathed. All the above goes for them as well. Get over it and move on.

  • chegberg

    I can’t believe that after all these years this is still a discussion of conversation. One must look at the totallity of a persons life not just a single moment. Did not the Modell’s give a lot to your community in time and financial support? How many other communities lost their team because of the lack of political and financial support? Colt’s, Oiler’s, Rams, etc. Like others have said you kept the name, colors and records. That can’t be said by many teams. You also didn’t have to wait long for the NFL come back to Cleveland. I am sure Art had to vote on that for it to happen within the AFC North division. We all know what his vote was. A resounding YES. But for me what is most concerning in the article and displayed by many fans is the continual display of immaturity and lack of ability to forgive and forget. If the author and fans are so concerned about the children and the next generation then grow up and display some true virtues for the next generations of Browns fans. Folk’s it’s time to stop tearing the wound open and let it heal. No one is asking that you forget it ever happen, just to forgive and move on. What the current young generation of Browns fans see now is a bunch of adults that don’t know how to move on past a moment, keep the distain alive, unable to forgive and just continue to spew venom about a person who did give a lot to the community and the sport. What message that does that send. I think that message is far more damaging than not allowing Modell into the HOF. Grow up Cleveland! You are missing a big opportunity for a teachable moment of virtues to the younger football generation. And while I am on the soapbox. Baltimore doesn’t go unscathed. All the above goes for them as well. Get over it and move on.

  • ClvlndK8

    Fans are harsh, but with that aside, I’ve heard many stories like yours about Pat Modell. She seemed to be a very likable woman and left a good impression on people.

  • ClvlndK8

    Fans are harsh, but with that aside, I’ve heard many stories like yours about Pat Modell. She seemed to be a very likable woman and left a good impression on people.

  • ClvlndK8

    @semperprinceps Kids today don’t have the same loyalty to the “Old Browns” that I do. They seem to think moving teams is normal when it should be the exception. There is an impact on people – fans or not – everytime a team moves.

  • ClvlndK8

    @semperprinceps Kids today don’t have the same loyalty to the “Old Browns” that I do. They seem to think moving teams is normal when it should be the exception. There is an impact on people – fans or not – everytime a team moves.

  • ClvlndK8

    @LeeStover I understand that the city was stone-walling him and kept telling him to wait, but he could have very easily placed a phone call to one radio station talk show host and it would have been all over the news. Fans would have rallied and marched and gotten him his new stadium.

  • ClvlndK8

    @LeeStover I understand that the city was stone-walling him and kept telling him to wait, but he could have very easily placed a phone call to one radio station talk show host and it would have been all over the news. Fans would have rallied and marched and gotten him his new stadium.

  • ClvlndK8

    @chegberg I have used this situation as a “teachable moment” for my children: no matter how many good things you do, one really bad thing can make everyone forget the good. Every decision or choice you make has consequences. Bad ones will overshadow the good. But I understand what you are saying and I for one and trying to find forgiveness. I just don’t think it will come until after he is gone.

  • ClvlndK8

    @chegberg I have used this situation as a “teachable moment” for my children: no matter how many good things you do, one really bad thing can make everyone forget the good. Every decision or choice you make has consequences. Bad ones will overshadow the good. But I understand what you are saying and I for one and trying to find forgiveness. I just don’t think it will come until after he is gone.