April 23, 2014

Art Modell’s Hall of Fame Bid Shouldn’t Pit Baltimore vs. Cleveland

Modell Browns SI CoverThe Art Modell Hall of Fame story line played out when Modell passed away recently. Now, he’s been made a finalist on the ballot to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. That necessitates that we talk this thing over (at least) one more time, but I figured rather than trying to make an obvious and easy plea to the emotional side of the story, it might be interesting to attack the issue a different way. It’s pretty easy to summarize Browns fans’ overwhelming opinions and more importantly their feelings that drive those opinions. It is clear and obvious. The Browns fans are the most obvious and explainable of the stakeholders in this storyline. Now it’s time to deconstruct the proponents, namely Baltimore Ravens fans. Mostly that requires a question that no Browns fans can answer. I want to know the answer, just the same. What motivation do Ravens fans have to induct Art Modell into the hall?

This weekend in the Baltimore Sun and the Plain Dealer, Bill Livingston wrote on behalf of Cleveland and Peter Schmuck1 wrote on behalf of Baltimore as the two publications pitted Cleveland against Baltimore. While I understand the desire to do that and set it up that way, I’m wondering why Baltimore even cares this much to make the argument.

Modell delivered the Browns to Baltimore and after all the legal wrangling the name of the team was changed and it had no history, which remained in Cleveland.2 So, I do understand why the fans might initially like the guy. He brought them a team after the Irsay family stole theirs away in the middle of the night in 1983. The Baltimore fans had to wait almost a decade and a half for the NFL to find its way back to their city. That’s undeniably brutal. Still, the fact is that Modell’s first season in Baltimore was 1996 and he was then directed by the NFL to sell his prized possession to Steve Bisciotti in 2003 due to more financial strain. Bisciotti, already a minority owner has owned the team since that time.

What’s my point? Art Modell delivered the team, but he only owned it there for nine years. The team won a Super Bowl, but three years later, the same guy who delivered the team and a Super Bowl was forced to sell it despite a no-cost stadium lease and all the revenues from parking and concessions. Those were roughly the same dire financial straits that caused Modell to move the team in the first place. Lucky for Baltimore this time that their adopted football father was directed to sell the team rather than go looking for another municipality with the financial ability to bail him out.

Imagine a world where Art had been “forced” to go look for another city because he “had no choice” given the economics of his situation in Baltimore? I know it’s unrealistic because the NFL intervened this time in 2003, but imagine just for a second if Modell was forced to go find some favorable tax advantages in a city like Oklahoma City or something? Would Ravens fans be promoting good old Art for the Hall of Fame because of all he ever did for the TV deal or would they bemoan the mere idea that a failure who ripped their team away yet again was even being considered for the game’s most prestigious designation?

It’s an important question. If you read most of Peter Schmuck’s article about Modell, most of it focuses on attacking Browns fans for being bitter, judgmental and never letting it go. I can’t help but wonder why they even care if Browns fans ever let it go. But who has standing in the argument?

A stakeholder analysis looks to map out the various people and parties related to an issue. In the case of Art Modell and his candidacy, the primary stakeholders are his surviving family. They are the ones ultimately affected first-hand by the result. The secondary stakeholders are NFL fans, media and employees. These are the people indirectly affected by the events. Finally there are key stakeholders. These stakeholders can belong to the first two groups, but have significant influence upon or importance within the issue.

So the question becomes of the “key” stakeholders, who should have standing? Baltimore fans had Art Modell bring football back to them and he owned the team from 1996 to 2004. Browns fans had their team taken away by Modell and had him as an owner from 1961 to 1995. Does that discrepancy in time periods give Browns fans more standing than Baltimore fans in the argument? Not by default, but it is probably a factor in the voters’ minds.

I just wish I could get to the heart of the matter with Ravens fans. With all the good things going on right now for them and since 1996, do they really love Art Modell or have they merely enjoyed the team? Are those two things inextricable for them?

Obviously they’ve enjoyed the team, but what responsibility for all their good fortune did the guy who was in financial trouble when he delivered the team and again when he sold the team to their current owner have in making them happy? Yes, he hired Ozzie Newsome and Brian Billick, but even in the face of Super Bowl victories and appearances, this same guy couldn’t keep his QuickBooks enough in line that he could keep the team in his family. And even if his fingerprints are all over the game’s current financial viability, what does it say about the guy who couldn’t seem to take advantage of it?

Even beyond that, all the good things that Modell might have done happened when the people of Baltimore were still Colts fans. The things that Art Modell did that would ever make him Hall of Fame worthy were as Cleveland Browns owner. He wasn’t an executive for the NFL based on employment with the NFL. He was serving for the NFL as a franchise owner of the Cleveland Browns. Ultimately as franchise owner of the Cleveland Browns he was forced to move, then lost the history and colors in the legal process. The Cleveland Browns never actually moved to Baltimore as a result. Maybe it’s a technicality, but “Art Modell, owner of the Baltimore Ravens” never would have been considered for the Hall of Fame based on his stint post-move that resulted in the sale to Steve Bisciotti. Any case that he might have made for being qualified for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton he made as an owner of the Browns, not as owner of the Ravens. Yes, he’s still the same guy, but it helps identify which stakeholders might have the most standing in the debate.

Shouldn’t Browns fans voices ring loudest when it comes to lobbying? Why should Ravens fans even care? Should a Baltimore columnist care so much as to write that article and also be given equal time on the topic? Do the NFL fans at-large around the country think so? I’m curious.

As for Ravens fans, shouldn’t they be enjoying Steve Bisciotti and their upcoming appearance in a second Super Bowl since getting a team back in 1996? Maybe they’re not mutually exclusive. They can enjoy their success and also lobby for Art Modell, I guess, if they really want to. I guess I just don’t understand why they really want to. If anyone can make me understand that, I’d be grateful more than anything else.

Hopefully Modell’s bid is turned away again this weekend and we won’t ever have to talk about it again. I prefer the Baltimore vs. Cleveland stuff to exist only on actual football fields going forward.

 

___________________________________________________

Footnotes:

  1. Ha! His name is Schmuck! It’s not really funny, people. It’s his name. Don’t think you can make that joke in the comments and be funny. It’s so obvious that it voids any potential humor that might otherwise exist. Trust me. Google “Low-hanging fruit” []
  2. It was not graciously left there by Modell by the way. I’m not sure why this fake fact continues to live on. It’s right up there with the Cavs being unwilling to trade J.J. Hickson for Amare Stoudemire in terms of legitimacy. []

  • Old goat

    Paul brown deserves to be in the HofF before that slime by name of Arturo Modell

  • http://www.facebook.com/larry.shlachter Larry Shlachter

    I’m a Clevelander who went to college in Maryland in the early 90s. I was there when the NFL awarded the expansion franchises to Carolina and Jacksonville. I was pulling for Baltimore to get a team and they should have gotten a team over Jacksonville. If my memory serves me correctly, Modell voted against Baltimore getting a team. If that is the case, shouldn’t Baltimore fans be angry too.

  • David Thomas

    Someone I work with is a Pats fan and when I told her I would be rooting for the Pats in the AFC Championship she asked why. I said because I hate the Ravens and again she asked why. She had no idea they were moved by Art Modell to Balitmore from Cleveland. At that moment I felt so old.

  • David Thomas

    The thing is that Baltimore fans say we need to let go. Well they need to go first then because I know for a fact they still hate Irsay, and rightly so, but they talk to us about letting go when they need to do the same

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.stepanek.121 Robert Stepanek

    Bankruptcy as an NFL owner was not pioneered by Art; Jerry Wolman had to sell the Eagles in ’69 due to financing issues over his Hancock Tower project in Chicago bankrupting him, and the man he sold to, Leonard Tose, went bankrupt due to gambling debts (also a/the probable, though undiscussed, factor in Modell’s serial insolvency) and thus had to sell in ’85.

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.stepanek.121 Robert Stepanek

    Artie not only voted against Baltmore’s bid, he led arguments against it, in favor of J’ville. Speculation has been that in the process of reviewing the expansion bids he recognized Baltimore was well-prepared to meet the stadium+concessions+parking conditions he sought, and so awarding J’ville a team allowed that option to reman open, whereas selecting Baltimore would have left a J’ville vacancy that would have been less prepared to meet his terms. (well before all this – around the time of the Bud Carson era – Modell had also received in a dinner meeting at his home a delegation from Baltimore trying to get him to move the team, so he knew the desire there was feverish, if not to say desperate.)
    Carolina had first gotten unanimous (28 owner vote) approval, and when J’ville’s bid appeared to collapse due to issues with Gator Bowl renovation, they were given extra time to resolve the problems before a secondary round of voting – a consideration suggesting the fix was in over the other bidding cities of Baltimore, Memphis & St. Louis (which was deemed the favorite). Modell was one of 26 owners opting for J’ville, with Baltimore and St. Louis each getting only 1 vote.
    There was also foreshadowing in the peliminary bidding process. There were 3 separate groups representing Baltimore (the finalist being led by Boogie Weinglass, though one of the 2 other groups was headed by the Glasers, who ultimately purchased the Bucs, and Man U). Carolina’s bid, led by former player Jerry Richardson, was originally deemed unacceptable because it hinged on a fully owner-financed stadium – e.g., the league demanded that the local citizenry have skin in the game – and so it was only after their group came up with the innovation of PSLs that they passed muster. It can fairly be argued that stadia extortion of fan bases was codifed as an NFL corporate growth strategy through the 1993 expansion bid process.
    Fun fact: the Baltimore expansion franchise was to be called the Bombers (and, as you may know, one thread of narrative lore has it that the Browns are named after Joe Louis – The Brown Bomber).

  • tortfeasor58

    True, Modell didn’t pioneer owner bankruptcy. Last I checked, though, nobody (much less Eagles fans) were pushing Wolman or Tose for the Hall of Fame.