As a Browns fan who lived through “The Move,” writing about Art Modell and his contributions to the NFL is very difficult, however, taking my personal hatred towards Modell out of it, he did a lot for the NFL. In recent years there has been a discussion about how Modell deserves to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and while I vehemently disagree due to the move, it is important to point out the good things he did. Of course, after mentioning those good things, it is impossible not to come back to the fact that he moved the Browns out of Cleveland.
Modell became the owner of the Cleveland Browns in 1961 and quickly asserted his power by firing longtime head coach Paul Brown. Modell was unhappy with how Brown and some of his players were having problems with each other. Years later, Modell was responsible for Jim Brown retiring from the NFL when Modell announced that Brown would be fined $1,500 per week for not being at the beginning of Training Camp because he was filming a movie that had experienced delays. Paul Brown and Jim Brown were just the first Browns who left Cleveland because of Art Modell.
With the Browns, he gave opportunities to many first-time head coaches like Sam Rutigliano, Marty Schottenheimer and Bill Belichick. When Modell met with Belichick he was enamored by Belichick’s plan to turn the Browns into a perennial playoff team. In 1994 the Browns made the playoffs for the first time since 1989 and in 1995 were expected to take the next step and possibly play in the Super Bowl. Instead, on November 6, 1995, Modell announced that the Browns would be moving to Baltimore.
Once in Baltimore, Modell fired Belichick and hired long-time coach Ted Marchibroda, making him the only person to coach both Baltimore teams (he coached the Baltimore Colts from 1975 – 1979). In 2000, the Ravens won their first Super Bowl under coach Brian Billick, who was hired after Marchibroda was not retained by the team. In 2004, Modell sold the Ravens to minority owner Steve Bisciotti.
Amongst Modell’s accomplishments, he is credited with helping land the lucrative TV deals that have made a lot of money for the NFL and their owners. Additionally, he helped come up with the idea of sharing the TV revenue equally which has helped keep parity in the league. Finally, he had the foresight to see that specially-timed games would be a big thing and had the Browns play the first prime-time Thanksgiving Day game in 1966 as well as the first Monday Night Football game in 1970.
When Art Modell passed away in 2012 many articles were written that now is the right time for Cleveland fans to forgive Modell for his transgression. I have not and will not forgive him. That being said, there have been fans who have been utterly disrespectful to Modell since his passing and that is unacceptable as well. There is room in this world for not forgiving someone who did something bad to you but there is no room for being so disrespectful that you go to the bathroom on someone’s grave.