SBD/September 6, 2012/People and Pop Culture

Former Browns, Ravens Owner Art Modell Dies At 87; Remembered As NFL Visionary

Modell's image took a hit after moving Browns to Baltimore in '96
Former Browns/Ravens Owner ART MODELL died this morning of natural causes at John Hopkins Hospital at the age of 87. Modell owned the Browns from '61-95 before moving the club to Baltimore, where he ran the renamed Ravens from '96-'04. Modell won two NFL Championships ('64 and '00) and he was a key figure in launching "MNF," as he chaired the NFL's TV Committee for 31 years. He also was the only elected NFL President, and was Chair of the NFL Labor Committee, which negotiated the league's first CBA (THE DAILY). NFL Commissioner ROGER GOODELL wrote in a series of tweets, "Art Modell’s leadership was an important part of the NFL’s success during the league’s explosive growth during the 1960s and beyond. Art was a visionary who understood the critical role that mass viewing of NFL games on broadcast television could play in growing the NFL” (TWITTER.com, 9/6).

ONE OF LEAGUE'S SIGNIFICANT FIGURES: Fox' BRIAN BILLICK said, "I don’t know how you can look at the history of the NFL and where it is right now and not recognize the fingerprints that Art Modell had all over it.” Billick: "In the ‘60s and ‘70s, when it really transcended baseball, when the TV presence exploded, that led to where we are now in the NFL. Art was a huge part of that. He negotiated those first contracts. He was one of the protagonists for creating 'Monday Night Football.' He was the head of the broadcast committee" ("Mike & Mike in the Morning," ESPN Radio, 9/6). In Akron, Rich Heldenfels notes Modell’s “greatest single contribution to TV and the NFL was his endorsement" of "MNF." Cleveland hosted the first "MNF" game in '70 “at a time when the idea of prime-time network football seemed alien to many observers” (OHIO.com, 9/6). NFL Network’s Mark Kriegel said, “He was one of the first NFL guys who understood he was in the television business as much as he was in the sports business. … His experience in television made him almost a visionary kind of owner.” Meanwhile, NFL Network's Steve Wyche noted Modell was "one of the pioneers in football for integration." NFL Network's Eric Davis: "He was drafting black players when a lot of teams weren’t. He put a black person in charge of a team as a GM. There are things that he added to this game that you have to give him credit for” (“NFL AM,” NFL Network, 9/6).

A TALE OF TWO CITIES: In Baltimore, Morgan & Murray write Modell "was a visionary in the NFL's boom years." But even as the league "he helped create grew into a billion-dollar industry, he was forced to relocate Cleveland's legendary Browns to Baltimore after the 1995 season to avoid bankruptcy and losing the team." Modell in '99 "sold minority interest" in the Ravens to current Owner STEVE BISCIOTTI. Modell then "yielded controlling interest" to Bisciotti in '04. Modell was "a major fundraiser in Ohio, both for charities and political causes," and he continued that "philanthropical work in Baltimore." But for "all of Modell's philanthropic projects in Cleveland, he will be remembered there mostly for his dramatic exit in 1995" (BALTIMORESUN.com, 9/6). In Cleveland, Tony Grossi writes Modell "was a showman, a sportsman, a fascinating figure in Cleveland sports history." Modell "survived the unfathomable firing of legendary Browns founding coach PAUL BROWN in 1963." His life and legacy "changed dramatically when he moved the Browns -- provoking the wrath of NFL executives and some of the league's most respected team owners who were powerless to stop him." Modell was "vilified by national commentators and politicians, received death threats and employed two bodyguards." He then "cut off one of the greatest pleasures of his life, kibitzing with national reporters, and became a reclusive figure." Modell "became a league outcast" and "never returned to Cleveland after moving the team to Baltimore" (ESPNCLEVELAND.com, 9/6). In Cleveland, Bill Livingston writes under the header, “Art Modell’s Time In Cleveland Didn’t Turn Out The Way He Imagined It Would.” From the moment he “appeared on the dais with the Baltimore officials to announce the deal until his death today, he was the biggest villain in Cleveland history." The “irony was that Art Modell at first connected so well with people in Cleveland, his adopted home" (CLEVELAND.com, 9/6). Former Browns OL DOUG DIEKEN said, “It’s a shame that one decision hurt how some people think of him, because he did so much good” (AP, 9/6).

STILL WAITING ON CANTON: In Cleveland, Mary Kay Cabot notes Modell has been a finalist for the Pro Football HOF several times, but the move to Baltimore "ultimately prevented Modell from induction despite deserving credentials." The closest he got was the round of 15 in '02, but he "didn't receive enough votes to make it past the first cut to 10.” Modell is “on the primary ballot for the Class of 2013, and many of his supporters are campaigning for him to get in” (CLEVELAND.com, 9/6). NFL Network’s Wyche said, “Here’s a guy on merit that should be in the Hall of Fame, but by moving that team out of Cleveland and creating so much animosity there, he’s still waiting” ("NFL AM, NFL Network, 9/6). 

SHOULD CLEVELAND HOLD MOMENT OF SILENCE? FOXSPORTSOHIO.com's Zac Jackson writes there "could be a leaguewide moment of silence observed in Modell's memory before kickoffs Sunday and Monday," but for the Browns, the "prudent plan would be to do nothing." Jackson: "The Browns should absolutely not observe a moment of silence in Modell's memory before Sunday's game with the Eagles. It would not end well." The Browns holding such a tribute "would only open the door for fans to interrupt it, make the wrong kind of national news or make it a spectacle." Jackson: "There's just nothing the Browns or Browns fans would gain from that happening" (FOXSPORTSOHIO.com, 9/6).

TWITTER REAX: Reaction to Modell's passing is starting to come across on Twitter. CBS' Jason La Canfora: "Art Modell will be vilified for some forever for Browns move, but he was a visionary who belonged in Hall of Fame before his passing." Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal: "Covered him in Baltimore, enjoyed the back-and-forth. Departure from Cleveland more complicated than portrayed." SI's Peter King: "One of the most fascinating people I've ever covered in this business. He loved the NFL as much as any owner." ESPN's Andrew Brandt: "One of architects of NFL success, advocated for equal revenue-sharing model." Sports On Earth's Joe Posnanski: "If I ranked the people who had the most influence on my life, Art Modell would be unnervingly high on the list." Ravens WR Torrey Smith: "RIP Mr. Art Modell...without his dream I would have never been able to play for this great city...thank you."
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