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Browns Browns Archive Hope, Common Sense, and Tony Grossi
Written by Jeff Rich

Jeff Rich

HOFReal life, without fail, forces us all to do something that we don’t want to at some point in the day, almost on a daily basis.  Those inconvenient obligations could be work, could be family, and could be fairly basic life functions, depending on how lazy one might be.  One thing that most, if not all, of us are rarely forced to do is turn on the TV and view something that we don’t enjoy.  Yet, I’ve tuned in for NFL playoff games, Baltimore Ravens playoff games every weekend since we turned our calendars to 2013, hoping for the best; I expected and received the worst.

Like cockroaches, they just won’t die.  It isn’t the football team itself that bothers me, they’re not the Steelers.  It’s the story lines, which I’ve managed to avoid as much as possible.  Supposedly, the man coaching Baltimore is kin to the man coaching San Francisco, so that’s a thing, but a thing we could probably tolerate on its own.  From the aging linebacker, who has simply become a parody of himself with his own melodramatics to the stories of two bodies he hurried away from in Atlanta a lifetime ago that everyone just wants to forget, I’m not enjoying what I saw on the telly.  At the end of the day, all of that stuff matters, but not as much as those Art patches and the building in Canton, where no statue of the name on that patch exists.

LewisI don’t want to think about this.  Like the aforementioned aging linebacker, in reference to those who perished in the early morning hours of January 31, 2001, I just want to put it all behind me.  I’d prefer it, if Baltimore was just another team on the schedule, rather than a rival of any sort.  Like anything that Browns fans want to be a rivalry, the Browns relationship with the Ravens is one-sided on two fronts.  Baltimore wins every single time their team takes the field, having stolen the franchise from Cleveland, and that’s a fact that will be changed by positively nothing ever.  They also own the scoreboard at the end of the day, more often than not, which is just an act of kicking us while we’re already down…for the better part of fourteen years.

A common misnomer is that “hate” is the opposite of “love”, but it isn’t.  A gas tank full of cane sugar isn’t the opposite of a gas tank full of unleaded, but an empty tank is the opposite of both.  That’s where I hope to get with the Ravens, and specifically one Arthur Bertram Modell, someday.  Remember when Cameron was flipping out over whether or not to help Ferris Bueller with his plan to rescue his girlfriend from the rigors of high school?  That’s where I was at, contemplating whether or not to break my hard line of apathy with the late Art Modell.  Allowing myself to think about it was allowing myself to care, and before I know it, Bueller is pulling my father’s prized possession out of the garage that my father did not lock.

ModellI don’t hate Art Modell.  I just love the Browns, and what Modell did hurt me.  It hurt millions of my closest friends too, and we’ve all spent the last seventeen-plus years dealing with it on varying levels.  Modell’s gone, his time on this earth is complete, so my first thought is that there’s no one to be angry at any more.  I do think there was a small bit of spite intended for Cleveland with the 1996 relocation of what-was-then the Cleveland Browns, even if it was mostly about the almighty dollar, but I really don’t think he took joy in breaking the hearts of the Browns fans.  We, the fans, were collateral damage, an element of the saga that I’m sure Modell wishes didn’t have to be.

BmoreWhether or not he had malicious intent means absolutely nothing, we lost our team, our heart and soul.  He got everything; an adoring fan base in Baltimore acts as if he walked on water when he brought a team without a name to fill an NFL void that had haunted them for 13 years, then a Super Bowl win in 2001 that proved to everyone in Cleveland that karma isn’t a real thing.  59.6 miles away from the stadium he left empty, there’s this museum in Canton, and it’s kind of a big deal, historically.  It’s a place where football recognizes its greats, and emotionally, we don’t want this man, who did this awful thing to us, to be a member.

A lot of us don’t think he deserves to be.  Granted, not wanting something makes it really easy not to search for reasons for things to happen against our wishes and without our blessing.  Our ring-leader, a man who isn’t generally an ally to more than a few in the Cleveland Browns communities, is a lot of things, but Tony Grossi isn’t an emotional school-girl on the Hall of Fame committee.  The people he continues to convince that Modell doesn’t belong in the exclusive club are not necessarily the type to sink themselves into being persuaded by emotion.  There are facts that speak against Modell’s candidacy, whether you’re angry about “The Move” or not.

GrossiThis Hall of Fame discussion, one where good isn’t quite the odds-on favorite that it’s been against evil, is starting to get legs; disgusting, fat, hairy legs.  And, if it comes to fruition, it will worse than we ever imagined.  Of course, we aren’t going to fire-bomb the building or be able to “make a scene” of any significance, as some talking heads and keyboard heroes will suggest, but that sinking feeling of hopelessness will reign supreme, without question.  The reality is something that I can’t possibly illustrate with any words, just know that the day that Art Modell is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and any subsequent day that reminds of that day, will be the worst day of our life…over and over again (in a football context, of course).

We have to hope that it doesn’t happen.  We have to hope that Grossi and whatever influential supporter(s) he has in his corner can keep this nightmare at bay, with the sympathy of Modell’s September passing is still fresh.  An entire season has gone by, and that would have been enough, but for 4 of the 11 post-season games featuring a team wearing a patch that bears his awful first name.  The name “Art” isn’t actually awful, only when you know that the last name is Modell, like it is here, for example.  If that team wins on February 3rd, his name and candidacy for Canton become a real live story that we have to worry about.

Let me be clear that this isn’t about any angst for the city of Baltimore, or condemnation of them having a team.  Baltimore is a great football city that got jobbed when expansion went to Jacksonville and Carolina.  I think there’s two groups of fans there, the old Colts fans, who genuinely feel for Cleveland in this whole thing, probably to this day, and the new school younger fans that, in 17 years, have grown up with this team.  Of course, there’s some serious benefit of the doubt going on here; I hear the classlessness of the fans chanting, “bullshit” on television every time the officials don’t rule in their favor, but let’s keep the word “class” in perspective and focus on Art Modell.

HAllWe have three reasons to believe that Modell won’t get a bust now, or ever.  Our emotions play a role, but facts should speak for themselves, and at some point, it can’t possibly get any worse for our tortured fan base.  The committee of 46 men and women, which is a representative of each team, an individual from the Pro Football Writers Association, and thirteen At-Large voters, will meet at the Super Bowl to discuss the 17 finalists.  There will be four to seven members selected from that pool of finalists, which does include the former Browns owner.  My age plays a factor in knowing much about Curly Culp, who played from 1968-1981, but I see 15 other names that all seem more worthy of this honor than Modell.

On an emotional level, it sucked.  Cleveland pretty much died when the Browns left, but the Indians were worth the price of admission in the moment, which softened the blow, but only in that moment.  The sting of this move existed in parasite form, and still makes us sick at random moments over the last seventeen years, mostly the last fourteen football seasons.  I still remember my last game in 1995 against the Chiefs.  I went with a guy named Mike White, who looked nothing like our mayor with the same name and wasn’t exactly one of my best friends.  I had a car and he had an extra Browns ticket; the world wasn’t too complicated for any of us, back then.

Browns ChiefsWe sat in the “Reserved” section, the beige seats, not the red ones, behind what used to be home plate at The Stadium.  There was nothing especially special about the game, other than the fact that the Browns were 3-1 after winning that game 35-17.  When Mike and I walked out, I’m sure neither of us realized we were walking out of that building for the final time.  Then again, maybe Mike went to another game that season; like I said, we weren’t all that close.  Being the adolescent that I was, my ’88 Tempo was extremely low on gas, leading to a discussion about whether we’d conserve more gas by turning the engine of while waiting to escape the parking lot.  We talked about Plan B, where the hell we were going to get gas when I ran out, and also if we had enough cash between the two of us to afford gas after putting a $5 deposit on a gas can.

ModellIt was the second to last win that team ever had in Cleveland, how little we knew!  It was a few weeks before we had the bomb dropped on us.  I was too busy being a high school student, a student-athlete of sorts, and a jack of all trades at a west side Marc’s store, but none of it ever seemed real to me.  It was as if it just couldn’t happen, like Steinbrenner moving the Yankees, which is third-year law school stuff that I don’t understand.  Even when fans were taking whole rows of Stadium seats with them, the Baltimore thing as real as it ever was, I held out hope.  There was no 11th hour deal to keep the team home, and pleas for common sense were ignored.  Modell left Ohio, never to return, before the end of the 1995 season.  How could we orchestrate his “return” in the form of one of the game’s highest honors?  It can’t happen like that, it just cannot.

Understand that the move itself is a factor, and one not to be taken lightly, even if you care not for the pleas of the distraught Cleveland fans.  He did it, and it’s a big negative on the entire Art Modell body of work, but there’s more to keeping Modell out of the Hall than just our hurt feelings.  Our own Tom Moore has stated how Modell played the long con in voting Jacksonville for expansion over Baltimore in the early 90s, likely to keep Baltimore in play for his own interests. 

Big DawgAnother factoid from Moore reminds us, “For the nine-year stretch preceding 1995, the Browns averaged more than 70,000 fans a game. Local TV ratings were among the highest in the league, with the Browns finishing second (to the Dallas Cowboys) in 1993 and first in the league in 1994. But somehow Modell couldn’t make it work in Cleveland.”

If you never take anything that I say with more than a grain of salt, I beg of you to make an exception when I advise that you read “Kanicki’s” piece on why Modell lacks credentials, even with all vendettas and agendas put aside.  In the article, Kanicki reminds us what type of product Modell put on the field after he meddled in football affairs, and that meddling included driving Paul Brown (and his .757 winning percentage) out of Cleveland and sending Jim Brown to Hollywood and out of football, among other things.

We’re also reminded that the counter-argument to our case paints Modell as this television pioneer and Civil Rights innovator.  We honestly don’t know Modell’s role in the negotiations with CBS, and no one with first-hand knowledge has ever spoken of it, but the AFL left the negotiating table with a much sweeter deal from NBC.  I may go as far as to commend Modell for hiring minority executives, but Paul Brown had already integrated Marion Motely and Bill Willis into the game on the field.

MrtyIn addition to parting ways with Brown the coach and Brown the player, Modell forced Marty Schottenheimer out after appearing in two of the previous three AFC Championships.  The guy after Marty, Bud Carson, didn’t last as long as Pat Shurmur or Chris Palmer did as Head Coach of the Browns.  He also fired Bill Belichick, after leaving town, but before his Baltimore franchise had a name.  To be fair, Belichick went back to learn a little more under Bill Parcells (who is among this year’s 17 candidates for Canton), before winning the Super Bowl in New England, only two years after Art’s Ravens won theirs.

Even opponents of this line of thinking would probably agree that Modell was a poor business man.  He couldn’t make money on a stadium that will filled every Sunday, let alone a team that the public adored with their hearts and their wallets.  He needed current Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti to buy the team in chunks to survive as an owner long enough to see that Super Bowl thing happen in 2001.  Everything he did required spending money that he didn’t have, notably for the services of Andre Rison in 1995, and these aren’t the types of stories that anyone ever tells about owners like Wilson, Mara, Rooney, Lambeau, or Davis.

ArtIt wouldn’t be worse than The Move itself.  I probably wouldn’t classify it as anything worse than what the new incarnation of the Browns has done to us either.  However, Modell going to the Hall of Fame, just the conversation about it, summarizes every way that Cleveland has been wronged in my lifetime.  It would be horrific, if only because of the giant middle finger it sends to our region.  We don’t matter.  Just kick us all you want, because we don’t matter.  We either stand-by and take it, from Maumee to Niles, down to New Philadelphia, to a segment of Columbus, over to Mansfield, up to Cleveland, and down I-77 to George Halas Drive in Canton; or we act like assholes to disrupt the ceremony.  It’s lose-lose.  The only way we win the Art Modell Induction Ceremony game is not to play.

The only way not to play is to keep him out.  To believe in this cause, you may have to seek guidance from a higher power, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a little faith and believe in Tony Grossi.

Help us, Tony Grossi.  You’re our only hope.

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