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DMA 7-22 Sports


February 2, 2011 3:00 AM

For Modell, Road to HOF Untenable

Modell super.jpgFifteen modern-era NFL players and contributors will learn on Super Bowl Saturday whether they made the cut for enshrinement in the 2011 class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Jerome Bettis, Marshall Faulk, Curtis Martin, Cris Carter, Tim Brown and Deion Sanders are among the headliners in the current class.

When the ballot of finalists was announced Jan. 9, it meant that the old man, Art Modell, would have no chance again. Modell, now 85 years old, made it to the semifinal round for induction for the first time since 2001, but merely has been an afterthought during the intervening years.

For Mr. Modell -- the former majority owner and current minority owner of the Baltimore Ravens and the man most responsible for the likes of Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Jonathan Ogden, Joe Flacco, Brian Billick, etc., by bringing pro football back to Baltimore -- enshrinement as a Pro Football immortal may never come or at least not until he is dead and gone.

You see they hate Art Modell -- in Cleveland especially where he uprooted that storied franchise, grabbed the almighty dollar and brought them to Baltimore in 1996. That seems to remain the main reason Modell was not among the HOF finalists again, though unforgiving critics are starting to take even deeper shots at his legacy.

Modell is so vilified in Cleveland that his hate-meter reading is even higher than the one for LeBron James.


Baltimore knows how Cleveland feels. Robert Irsay surreptitiously uprooted the proud Baltimore Colts franchise in 1984 and set them down in Indianapolis, leaving us here without football until the Browns (Ravens) arrived.

You hear on sports talk radio in Baltimore from time to time about how it is a shame Modell is being denied a rightful place in Canton. Surely, Baltimore is indebted to Modell for getting us football, winning a Super Bowl in 2001 and fostering one of the great rivalries in sports today with the Steelers.

Yet, otherwise, you get the feeling that the Baltimore citizenry is largely ambivalent about Modell and his prospects for the Hall. While Cleveland deeply hates him, Baltimore probably doesn't care much.

Maybe when he moved here, Mr. Modell could have approached the town in a way other than as rich pro football savior and opportunist. But when you build your fortune through family money, it becomes hard to relate to the working man. Modell's grandfather founded and his father built the enduring Modell's Sporting Goods chain in New York, still the largest such family-owned chain in the country to this day.

So there is no outpouring of support here among the populace for Modell.  That's the kind of town Baltimore is. It's not a knock, just reality -- glad to have football, and that's all that really matters here. Local sportswriters, broadcasters, talk show hosts, former-players-turned commentators and business people tend to speak more loudly in favor of Modell, but self preservation and getting paid because the Ravens are in town might have as much to do with it as anything.

Modell sold majority control of the Ravens to then minority partner Steve Bisciotti in 2004.

The ordinary Baltimorean probably doesn't much care because Modell's demeanor since coming here has been more regal, royal and upper crust than Average Joe. Most of the town, those mired in the trenches of getting through city life, just aren't like that and figure why should they care. Sure, to his great credit, Mr. Modell and his family have been attentive to Baltimore since coming here and have been generous, at least what you see on the surface, in doing their part to be philanthropic.  In Cleveland, you don't get the feeling that they saw him as royalty. Maybe that is why they hate him the way they do. Even as well-heeled as the late Irsay was, Baltimore probably related to him more than Modell. Baltimore still feels about Irsay the way Cleveland does about Modell.

Irsay was never shy about chugging down some shots and then going on TV or radio for a slobbering, drunken rant. It was legendary. In belittling Modell's HOF credentials, Cleveland partisans are now saying moving the Browns to Baltimore isn't the sole reason why Modell isn't worthy. Old school columnist Bill Livingston of The Plain Dealer said in a December 2010 column, for instance, that digging into Modell's historical record shows he simply has been an "average" owner "at best."

Livingston pointed out that unlike Oakland Raiders Hall of Fame owner Al Davis, who also has moved his teams, Davis has won three Super Bowls and is credited with helping to force the AFL-NFL merger when he was AFL commissioner by spearheading talent raids on the established league.

Modell, Livingston pointed out, won no Super Bowls in Cleveland and was mired with a 161-174-1 record during his last 22 seasons in Cleveland. (Modell had owned the Browns in Cleveland from 1961-1995. In those 35 seasons as team owner the Browns qualified for the postseason 17 times, winning 11 division titles and the NFL championship with Jim Brown in 1964. The team's overall regular season record during his time was 252-233-10.)

"As a businessman, he managed to lose money hand over fist as an NFL owner. It is a feat of impressive ineptitude," Livingston wrote, alluding to the years of wrangling in Cleveland over money and new stadiums.

Modell also has received credit over the years from supporters for savvy in the 1960s and 70s in helping the NFL become a television-rich through contracts with the networks, but Livingston seeks to debunk Modell's role.

So Modell gets only venom from Cleveland on the possible road someday to Canton. And, again, Baltimore, is just glad to have the Ravens and is grateful to Modell for that. But as a city, the feeling is, if he gets in the Hall of Fame, great. If he doesn't, he doesn't.

Modell Getty.jpg

  • DMA 7-22 Sports is a blog column about sports in the Washington-Baltimore market, covering amateurs, colleges and pros. The title DMA 7-22? Means "Designated Market Area," per use of media rating services, signifying Washington is the 7th largest media market in the United States, and Baltimore is the 22nd. You can reach M.V. Greene at DMA722Sports@gmail.com

Photos: Art Modell with 2000 Lombardi Trophy, AP; Art Modell, circa Cleveland Browns, Getty Images

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