As Super Bowl Week 2013, gets underway today and the storylines begin to unfold, one of the biggest and most ironic of them is whether former Ravens owner Art Modell is selected next Saturday to be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame later this summer.
I reflected on Modell and his legacy as the final seconds ran off the clock last Sunday night in New England and the Ravens won their second AFC Title in franchise history. I thought of Modell because the last time the Ravens were in this position, back in 2000 , when they defeated the Oakland Raiders for the AFC Championship and then the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV, two images kept flashing through my mind.
The first was Ray Lewis holding up a copy of the Tampa Tribune, with confetti flying in the background. The paper printed in big bold print read, RAVENS WIN and had a picture of the Super Bowl trophy to go along with it.
Lewis the game’s MVP, was as much of a storyline then as he is now. Of course, Lewis’ story then was much different. Back on Jan 28, 2001, the then 25-year-old middle linebacker was not even a year removed from sitting in an Atlanta jail following Super Bowl XXXIV, accused of double murder.
This time, the 37-year-old future Hall of Fame middle linebacker will be playing in his last game and while many questions will be asked of that fateful night in Atlanta again this Super Bowl week, Lewis will make his last ride on his own terms. Five years from now on Super Bowl weekend, Lewis will be selected to be enshrined into Pro-Footballs Hall of Fame as a first time nominee. That is as much of a given as saying a Harbaugh will win his first Super Bowl next Sunday.
The second image from SB XXXV that remains etched in my mind is “The Old Man” holding up the sport’s biggest prize. You did not have to be an expert in reading facial expressions that night to see Ravens owner Art Modell was elated and at the same time sad as he was holding up the Lombardi Trophy.
The joy from having finally claimed the games top prize and the pain was from not being able to do it for Cleveland. While Modell loved his adopted home of Baltimore, Cleveland is where Modell made his mark in the NFL and in life. Modell loved Cleveland and hated that the city had to hate him until the day he died for moving the Browns.
That night on the podium in Tampa, then NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue awarded the trophy to Modell, and never appeared to be comfortable in his own skin, as he stood next to both Lewis and Modell. Two of the game’s biggest villains at the time.
The irony of it all for the NFL must have been too much for Tagliabue to swallow. Handing the Lombardi over to Modell, less than five years removed from when he moved the team from Cleveland to Baltimore and of course awarding the MVP trophy to Lewis.
As a Ravens fan, and more importantly, a lifetime Baltimore football fanatic, I do not know what brought more joy to me that night, seeing Tagliabue squirm or the Ravens winning the Super Bowl. Tagliabue was a nemesis to the city of Baltimore as they tried to reacquire a football through NFL expansion in 1995. Ultimately, Tagliabue and the league awarded one team to Charlotte and the other, after delaying the process an additional month to allow them to “get it together” --- Jacksonville, Florida.
Then Ravens head coach Brian Billick knew how special the moment. Billick knew what the trophy meant to the city, but he also knew what it meant to Modell. The ever-arrogant Billick saw the irony in the moment and did not let it slip away for his city. Billick knew the pulse of the Charm City and he knew Tagliabue told the city of Baltimore to take the money they had set aside to build a new stadium and instead, erect a museum after they lost out during the expansion derby.
Billick, who was wearing a microphone for NFL Films during the game took his moment quick and sudden and after Tagliabue shook his hand and said “Nice job” Billick remarked, “How about the old man, a long time (Super Bowl Win) coming” . Tagliabue simply responded by saying, “yeah”.
Tagliabue looked for an escape and was forced to hug Modell’s son David as Billick looked on. While Ray Lewis is a mortal lock five years from now, Modell, a man Lewis called a father figure following his passing in early September, is not and his fate will be decided next Saturday afternoon when the voters are locked in a room to argue their points for and against the 15 finalists.
JONATHAN OGDEN IS A LOCK FOR THE HALL:
“The Old Man”, a pioneer in the NFL, Arthur B. Modell is one of 15 of those finalists remaining for induction into the Hall of Fame. Also eligible is first year nominee and former Ravens All-Pro Tackle Jonathan Ogden.
Ogden is all but a mortal lock to be on the final list of those getting a new Gold blazer later this summer. The Ravens first ever selection, Ogden was taken in the first round (fourth player overall) of the 1996 NFL Draft. For 12 seasons and 177 games, the former UCLA standout spent his entire career wearing black and purple. Big ol’ No.75 was the true protector of the blind side for whomever the Ravens threw out under center. And he was simply the best during his era. Ogden was named an All-Pro six times during his career, earned All-AFC honors nine times, voted to 11 Pro Bowls and was selected to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of 2000s.
He became an instant starter and was recognized as a consensus All-Rookie pick in 1996. He anchored a Ravens offensive line that amassed more than 5,000 yards of offense in back-to-back seasons, 1996-97. A native of Washington D.C, Ogden was just as good a pass protector as he was a run blocker. Ogden was part of a line that helped Ravens RB Jamal Lewis become the fifth player in NFL history to rush for 2000 yards in a season in 2003.
Ogden’s honors speak for themselves and Baltimore will be beaming with pride as the first true Ravens players is inducted in August but it wouldn’t it be nice if two Ravens were to be inducted on that day? The Ravens have never played in the Hall of Fame game but would almost seem the likeliest of the 32 teams to take the field this year if both are enshrined.
The Ravens dedicated this past season to their former owner, who passed away at the age of 87 back on September 6 at John Hopkins Hospital of natural causes. His team and his community loved Modell but not everyone felt so lovingly about the man simply known as ART.
While 31 NFL teams observed a moment of silence for Modell during opening weekend, one team did not, the Cleveland Browns. If Modell does not get into the Hall next Saturday, it is solely because of the teams move from Cleveland to Baltimore.
Still bitter and angry with Modell for moving the team to Baltimore back in 1995, the Browns never acknowledged Modell's death at their home opener against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Ravens honored Modell with memorials and a public viewing at M&T Bank Stadium so fans could say goodbye to the man that help restore a sense of civic pride to the Charm City.
The Ravens also honored Modell with a simple but classy gesture during every play of every game this season. The team wore a black patch with ART written on it in white lettering. The patch was placed above their hearts on their game jerseys. The season was dedicated to Art and last week Ray Lewis was wearing a Modell T-shirt after Baltimore's AFC Championship Game victory.
If Modell is selected with Ogden for enshrinement in August and the Ravens win the Super Bowl, all I want to know is who is going to play Modell in this movie. The Blind Side will have nothing on this perfect script.
However, the process of getting into the Hall of Fame is complicated. Four first-year eligible nominees – Larry Allen, Ogden, Warren Sapp, and Michael Strahan – are among the 15 modern-era finalists who will be considered for election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame when the Hall’s Selection Committee meets in New Orleans, La. next Saturday. Joining the first-year eligible, are eight other modern-era players, a coach and two contributors. The 15 modern-era finalists, along with the two senior nominees announced in August 2012 will be the only candidates considered for Hall of Fame election when the 46-member Selection Committee meets. The 15 modern-era finalists were determined by a vote of the Hall’s Selection Committee from a list of 127 nominees that earlier was reduced to a list of 27 semifinalists, during the multi-step, yearlong selection process. A finalist must receive a minimum positive vote of 80 percent. Other than the four first-year eligible nominees, including Art Modell, all of the modern-era nominees, have been finalists in previous years.
THE CLEVELAND OPINION STILL MATTERS:
Here is where human bias and opinion factor into the equation and here is where this argument takes shape for and against Modell’s induction. If you are in Cleveland, Modell is in hell and has no place in the Hall of Fame. Some of the best writers sports have to offer reside in Cleveland.
A Ravens fan will tell you different. A modern day savior not just for bringing back the NFL in Baltimore, but also for his work the community as a whole. Professional sports help cultivate civic pride. Beautiful new stadiums bolster downtown skylines and economies flourish, as local business benefit greatly. Such was the case for the city of Baltimore when Modell moved from Cleveland in 1996.
This wasn’t just the case in Baltimore, but as Modell always seemed to do, he help start a new revolution in the NFL and in many of the cities its teams played in following his move to the Charm City. The move fueled a proliferation of 12 new stadiums throughout the NFL. Using the NFL-City of Cleveland agreement's promise to supply a team to Cleveland by 1999, several NFL franchises used the threat of relocation to coerce their respective cities to build new stadiums with public funds. Such franchises include the Broncos, Eagles, Seahawks, Buccaneers, Bengals, Steelers, Lions, Cardinals, and ironically enough and once again, the Colts.
The people of Baltimore could justify their new team because they tried to acquire a team the “honest way”. So when that failed, the city embarked on luring one much the same way theirs had been lured out of Baltimore in 1984, by promising a lucrative new stadium deal with little or low rent, low or no interest loans and a promise to sell out the new venue complete with state of the art luxury boxes. Modell was the perfect candidate.
The football fans of Baltimore felt little sympathy for the fans in Cleveland. The Baltimore Colts moved out in the middle of the night in March of 1984. Then Colts owner Robert Irsay spent three years before the move shopping Baltimore’s beloved franchise to cities such as Phoenix and Jacksonville before ultimately deciding on Indianapolis. While Modell didn’t do that, he did say he would never move the franchise and this is what journalists such Tony Grossi, formerly of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, now with ESPN Cleveland, latched onto, and still holds against Art.
Benedict Art they called him and despite Modell remaining public enemy No.1 in Cleveland, and LeBron James 1A, next Saturday may be the best shot to get Art into a place in which its own legacy was built in part because of some of Modell’s accomplishments and achievements.
According to Jamison Hensley of ESPN, this is the closest that Modell has been to reaching the Hall of Fame since, coincidentally, the Ravens were in the Super Bowl 12 years ago. Grossi, who was working for the Plain Dealer in Cleveland at the time, was in charge of presenting Modell's candidacy and spoke against inducting the former Browns and Ravens owner in 2001.
But now Grossi, who is with ESPN Radio in Cleveland, is keeping an open mind, asking Cleveland football fans for their input on what to do. He is conducting an informal Twitter poll as a guide on whether he should speak against Modell, in favor of him or stay out of the discussion. Grossi is asking everyone to use the hashtag #ArtIn or #ArtOut. (Here is a chance to be heard Ravens fans) If Grossi speaks in favor of Modell, it would significantly help Modell's chances. Hensley said he is not holding out much hope for a change of mind or heart for Modell. But the move should not be held against Modell if it wasn't used against former Raiders owner Al Davis from being enshrined. It is understandable that Browns fans still paint Modell as a villain. Those who knew him as an owner and a man will remember him much differently.
What fans in both cities have to realize is that neither Irsay nor Modell is entirely to blame for moving their franchises. The city of Baltimore was not exactly honest with Robert Irsay and broke promises of a better tomorrow while the city of Cleveland built two new sports complexes plus the Rock-N-Roll Hall of Fame while Modell’s team lost millions in the mistake by the lake known as Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Yes, we Ravens fans know all about Modell’s attempt to corner the Cleveland sports when he took control of Cleveland Municipal Stadium in 1973, which had been owned by the City of Cleveland but had become too expensive for the city to operate or maintain.
Modell worked out a deal with the city whereby his newly formed entity, dubbed Stadium Corp., would rent the stadium from the City for $1 per year, assume all operating and repair costs and would sublease the stadium to its two primary tenants, the Browns and the Cleveland Indians, Cleveland's franchise in the American League of Major League Baseball.
However, Modell underestimated the long-term cost of maintaining such an old venue and this crippled his finances. Especially after the Indians, who were not happy with Modell’s lack of revenue sharing, persuaded the City of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County voters to fund a new ballpark through new taxes.
While there are many reasons to hate these men for lying to and deceiving the cities their franchises once called home, there is almost as much evidence to support their decisions. In Baltimore, city government failed the fans as much as Irsay did. Anyone remember Hyman Pressman and a certain ballot question during the 1974 fall election known as “Question P”?
Those stories are to be rehashed another day, this one is about inducting Art Modell into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and you cannot write the history of the NFL without Modell and that, in and of itself should be enough to make him a member in August.
It is sad that Modell’s accomplishments need to be told and sadly, because of his move, Modell must be sold to the voters next Saturday as if this were a Heisman vote.
Modell purchased the Browns in 1961 for a then unprecedented $4 million. He invested only $250,000 of his own money, borrowed $2.7 million, and found partners to cover the rest. With one of the games greatest legends as its head coach, the Browns, led by Paul Brown were already one of the sport’s most successful franchises. The winning tradition continued under Modell.
Despite firing Brown in early 1963 and replacing him with his assistant, Blanton Collier, The Browns managed to win the NFL Championship in 1964 by defeating ironically enough, the Baltimore Colts 27-0 in the title game. The team closed out the decade with three consecutive divisional crowns and two championship game appearances. During the 1970s, the team had just three losing seasons and made the playoffs in 1971 and 1972 and barely missed a third appearance in 1979. Seven times during the 1980s, the Browns advanced to the playoffs, including three memorable AFC title game losses to the Denver Broncos.
The Browns, after defeating the New England Patriots in the 1994 Wild Card Game, made one final playoff appearance, losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers 29-9 in the divisional playoff game.
Following a series of bad business decisions both with the Browns and with the stadium they played in, Modell was going bankrupt. He could not compete in the new NFL, one in which teams were no longer being built through the draft and developing young talent but being built and bought at the same time with savvy economic leaders working with General Managers in the front office.
His bad decisions, such as the Andrea Rison contract, were done in what can only be described as a panic moves to keep up with the Joneses so to speak. Modell needed money to right the ship, or he would lose his sole source of income, the Cleveland Browns. On November 5, 1996, at a rally in downtown Baltimore and with then Maryland Governor Parris Glendening at his side, Modell announced the move to Baltimore.
From that moment on Modell was public enemy No.1 in every NFL city, except for Baltimore and especially Cleveland.
Following a lawsuit by the city Cleveland, the NFL reached an agreement whereas they would deactivate the Browns for three years, which assured the city they would play once again and in a new stadium. In the end, Cleveland was able to do what Baltimore could not. They were able to keep the history they created by keeping the name, the colors, the records and the tradition of Browns football. It all stayed where it belonged, in Cleveland.
Modell’s sweetheart deal in Baltimore helped him with the infusion of cash he needed and he was able to save his fledgling franchise. Modell was able to put together what is still one of the best front offices in all of football and four years after moving to Baltimore, won his coveted Super Bowl.
The move is only a small slice of Modell’s history in terms of what he accomplished in Cleveland and for the league.
Modell is widely credited with helping to increase the NFL's popularity through his work as chairman of the NFL's television committee from 1962 to '93. Prior to buying the Browns, Modell had modest success in the television industry and because of this was named chairman of the broadcast committee in only his second year in the league. Along with Commissioner Pete Rozelle, Modell struck a partnership with television executives that would open the financial floodgates to unimagined riches.
The contracts he negotiated over a 31-year period (1962-1993) set the standard not just for the NFL but also for the rest of sports. Television revenue is the No.1 source of income for every major sports franchise. In 1970, he helped create the longest running Prime time show in television history, ABC's Monday Night Football and because the game seemed like a huge risk and predicted to fail, Modell volunteered to host the first game. Before the largest crowd in Browns history, Modell’s Browns beat Joe Namath and the NY Jets 31-21.
Simply put, Modell helped make the NFL and the men that own its teams enough money to last a thousand lifetimes. NBC and CBS paid $420 million a year to televise games from 1982-1986. Starting in 2014, a new television contract will take effect in which five networks (NBC, CBS, ESPN, FOX, and the NFL Network) will pay NFL owners $4.95 billion per year for the next seven seasons.
Modell was the only elected NFL president in league history, serving in that capacity from 1967 to '69 and in 1968 directed negotiations that produced the league's first collective bargaining agreement with its players. Modell was also able to convince other NFL owners that sharing revenue would be the way to success.
MODELL WAS A VISIONARY:
He convinced owners the league was only as strong as its weakest link. That concept enabled small-market teams to compete on equal terms with large-market teams and ranked as one of his greatest contributions. The vision to know that sharing this revenue would eventually lead to an NFL where in 2012 and for a 10th straight season a team that finished in last place the year before won a division title the following season.
Money can create divide or it can create parity and thanks to Modell, the NFL chose parity and because of it, the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels and Dodgers only exist in Major League Baseball, so to speak.
Modell was a man of progress in a league of men that did not care very much for change. He served on the committee that negotiated the NFL-AFL merger, and in 1969, helped break the deadlock on realignment by agreeing to move the Browns to the small-market AFC.
Modell was also a man of equality and was a strong advocate of minorities being head coaches and front office executives in the NFL. Modell made current Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome the league's first African-American general manager late in 2002.
Art Modell’s credentials in the NFL and his credentials in life are worthy of being in the Hall of Fame. If sports writers turned sports talk show hosts are too damn stubborn, ignorant or narrow minded to see the full picture of a man like Art Modell’s accomplishments, then the process is a sham.
Keep in mind as sponsors pay $3million for a 30-second commercial spot next Sunday night during the big game, Art Modell had the vision to see this day coming. If you are looking for further proof of Modell’s vision when it came to what he potentially saw, try this on for size. Football fans tuned into the 2012 NFL season in big numbers. According to The Nielsen Company, the 2012 regular season reached 200 million unique viewers, representing 80 percent of all television homes and 69 percent of potential viewers in the U.S. NFL games accounted for 31 of the 32 most-watched TV shows among all programming last fall.
For the first time ever, an NFL game was the week’s most-watched TV show in all 17 weeks of the season. NFL games ranked 1-2 in viewership in 15 of the 17 weeks.
Modell may not be the most beloved man in the history of the NFL but he didn’t bet on his sport, he did not beat his wife and there wasn’t any crime committed when he moved the Browns to Baltimore. If being inducted into the Hall of Fame is based on your contributions to the game and your impact as well as your legacy for having been apart of it, then Modell should already be in Canton. I will say it one last time. The history of the NFL cannot be written without “ART”.
GOING HOME TO REST:
Modell loved the NFL, he loved the Ravens and he loved the Browns. According to Map Quest, Canton, Ohio-- the location of the Pro Football Hall Fame is 65.29 miles from Cleveland Ohio. While he never returned to Cleveland following the move, going home to rest is a phrase often used when one passes from this life. Canton may not be Cleveland but I am sure Arthur B. Modell would be just fine with his bust resting in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, an hour from the city where he helped make the NFL what it is today.
What a weekend it will be in early August as hopefully two members of the Ravens family are inducted into the Pro-Football Hall of Fame. Here is hoping next Saturday (and Sunday) turns out to be “One Hall of a Day” for the city of Baltimore, Jonathan Ogden and Arthur B. Modell, may he rest in peace.