The Art Modell HOF debate lives on, despite his passing a decade ago

I don’t know about you, but I was surprised to see that Art Modell is eligible to be on the ballot for the 2023 NFL Hall of Fame voting.

I thought that the good ship “Uncle Arty” had sailed some time ago, and I really wish it had, because every year Modell is mentioned as a possible candidate for induction into the HOF, the Art Modell hate-fest resumes, and we are reminded once again that Cleveland sports fans – and Browns fans in particular – are unfamiliar with the concept of “moving on.”

Don’t get me wrong: There are many things Modell did as owner of the Browns – in particular, during the later years of his ownership – which left me and many others scratching their heads.

That being said, we’re rapidly approaching 30 years since that fateful day in November of 1995 when Art packed up his team and hightailed it to Maryland (effective in 1996), but to listen to Browns fans on social media, you’d think the “move” happened the middle of last week.

There are a good number of inconsistencies with the arguments against Modell when applied to more recent occurrences in Browns history. For instance:

1. Modell could have sold the team rather than move it, which I agreed with and often articulated myself after the move was announced. It was later revealed that Modell was only looking for the same “sweetheart” deal that the city gave to Dick Jacobs to keep the Indians in Cleveland. However, then-Mayor Mike White and Cleveland City Council never thought Modell would actually leave Cleveland even though he had indicated to them several times that they were painting him into a corner, and he would have no choice but to leave. He was never taken seriously – and was surprised and hurt by the cold shoulder treatment he’d received. He was bitter at that point with the city and at that point abandoned any thought of doing what was best for the city, and ultimately the deal to relocate in Baltimore was signed.

2. My feeling is that if the Browns had been successful on the field to a higher degree than what we’ve seen for the last nearly quarter of a century, Art Modell would not be the hot-button topic he is today. Fans like to believe that it’s Modell’s fault that we got the expansion train-wreck and ensuing 2-plus decades of horrid football.

Some of that may be true but has anyone considered that none of the bidders for the new franchise were stronger than the (ultimate winner) Al Lerner group, and had Modell sold the team locally, it would have been to the groups that subsequently wanted the expansion franchise.

Chances are it would have been pretty bad regardless. People assume that if we had kept the original Browns in town, all would have been peachy keen. Not likely it would have disintegrated immediately, but the same ownership group would have taken control, Al Lerner would have passed, son Randy would have taken over, and gulp. Déjà vu.

And remember that it might have been worse – much, much worse.

What if Modell had sold the team to Jimmy Haslam in 1995?

That thought gets you looking for a defibrillator, doesn’t it?


Jeff Bing

Lifelong Westlake resident who dabbles in writing whenever the real world permits. My forte is humor and horror...What a combo!

Read More on Sporting Views
Volume 14, Issue 14, Posted 10:25 AM, 07.19.2022