This was an inevitable day, one for which the city of Cleveland was never truly prepared. Former Browns owner — and Public Enemy No. 1 for so long — Art Modell has passed away at the age of 87.
With Modell’s passing, it ends the life of a man who did many great things for the league. The current landscape of television deals, revenue sharing, and even the layout of the NFL itself, can be traced back to much hard work by Modell. The Browns’ last championship in 1964 also occurred during his tenure as owner (soon after firing legendary coach Paul Brown, of course).
But since when has any of that mattered to a Cleveland Browns fan?
The only thing Modell will be remembered for in the city is the exodus of the Browns to Baltimore following the 1995 season.
With mounting debt, the Indians’ move into a new stadium, and an inability to secure a new stadium for the Browns, Modell took the team elsewhere. He left behind a city scorned, tremendously heartbroken and bitter.
It’s understandable, but fans should be thankful that a new team was in Cleveland only four years later, one that still could be called the Browns and propped up by its storied history. What kind of shady motives that got the Browns back so soon doesn’t matter; cities are rarely so lucky to claim a new team that quickly.
But the continued ineptitude of the new Browns has allowed the grudge against Modell to fester, evidenced by the biggest punch in the gut of all: the success of the Baltimore Ravens. The “old Browns” are Super Bowl contenders seemingly every year, having won it all in 2000.
There is certainly no denying this is awkward territory. The Browns themselves even acknowledge it, evidenced by the team’s noticeably brief statement responding to Modell’s passing:
“The Cleveland Browns would like to extend their deepest condolences to the entire Modell family.”
There is, of course, still a large faction that holds a grudge against Modell (who never did return to Cleveland), but, more than anything, his passing should allow everyone to finally leave the past where it is, to stop digging up years gone by.
The current incarnation of the Browns has existed since 1999, and the team is now under new ownership. Rather than once again revisiting the pain of the original team’s move, this can be an opportunity to truly move on and look toward a bright future.
Art Modell was anything but an evil man. Look at the other quotes and statements that have poured in from around the NFL. It is clear that he was a respected man in both football and the surrounding communities in which he lived; his philanthropic efforts are to be admired.
That leaves Cleveland as the lone detractor. Is it understandable? Yes, to an extent, and no one is expecting Browns fans to suddenly demand that a statue be built for Modell.
But he does deserve the respect of Browns fans for wanting so badly to put a winning team on the field while he was in Cleveland. When things crumbled around him, he made a decision that seemingly changed him.
Some would call that karma. Others would say it is evidence of a man who never truly wanted to move the team, but didn’t have much of a choice.
It can be argued that Modell should have sold the team and moved on himself, but what is the point of questioning that now? Hasn’t enough time passed to no longer make this worth pondering?
Maybe the unrelenting passion of Browns fans is being underrated here, but the fact of the matter is a legendary figure in the NFL has passed away. He made one major mistake in the eyes of a city, something he could never live down, but it is now time to finally let that go and allow for an innovative man to rest in peace.