I don’t have a favorite NFL team. I haven’t since I was ten years old. In 1995, I was still in the early stages of forming my love of football. Growing up in Columbus, I loved the Buckeyes while the Cleveland Browns had become my favorite NFL team. It was in that same year where Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell announced that he was moving the team to Baltimore.
Since that time, I’ve never rooted for an NFL team. Pittsburgh was still to be hated and Cincinnati was still to be pitied. When the Browns returned in 1999, I struggled with apathy. I wanted to be a fan of the team. I watched games, but I never really cared. Eventually I stopped trying to pretend to be a fan. For me, the magic was gone.
Early this morning, at the age of 87, Mr. Modell passed away due to natural causes. In articles and on Facebook, I’ve seen some practically celebrating his death. For my own sensibilities, I can’t be quite so callous. I don’t relish the man’s passing, but as I read articles about him this morning, a question kept returning to my mind. “Why?”
Why did he move the Browns?
I don’t think I’ve ever truly heard a satisfactory answer to that question. Honestly, I think it was his own greed that caused the move.
Before leaving Cleveland, Modell said: “I leave my heart and part of my soul in Cleveland. But frankly, it came down to a simple proposition: I had no choice.”
He tried to blame politicians and the Cleveland government for putting him into a situation where he was forced to leave. I argue that it was the Cleveland Indians who were forced to leave. They were forced to leave Cleveland Stadium because Modell wouldn’t play nicely. In 1973, Modell had negotiated a contract with Cleveland that gave him the lion’s share of the revenue generated for Cleveland Stadium and part of that revenue included luxury suites (even luxury suite money from Indians games went to Modell). Because of this and other reasons, the Indians left and Modell lost millions.
I’ve heard people blame Cleveland for the fact that the Browns moved. Talking as if the city was to cheap to do what it took to keep the Browns. The Browns played in Municipal Stadium which was an old facility, built in 1931. In the early 1980s, talks started to find a new home for the Browns and Indians. Eventually, a plan was to have the Browns, Indians, and Cavaliers all playing in one large sports complex (a revolutionary idea at the time).
Throughout the 1980s, the Browns had been involved with the idea. But they eventually backed out of the Gateway Project. In 1990, the project which provided the necessary taxes for the construction of Jacob’s Field and Gund Arena passed. In 1994, both of those facilities opened and the Browns remained alone in an dilapidated stadium.
Modell had wanted a tax increase to provide renovations to Municipal Stadium. Trivia question: did it pass or fail?
It PASSED. But it passed AFTER Modell had already announced that he was moving the Browns.
So essentially, Modell said he wanted the renovations, which he was going to be given and then people used the fact that he wasn’t given a stadium as an excuse as to why he left even though he had already backed out of a project that would have given him a stadium. He was the one who failed to capitalize on the Gateway Project and yet Cleveland had to suffer.
That would be like a girl telling a guy that she liked him and that they should go out and then dumping him because he didn’t propose marriage before he asked her out on a date. “That girl is crazy!” You would say. Art Modell is that girl.
Why would Modell announce he was moving before the vote happened? It’s clear that the vote didn’t really matter. There is speculation that Modell made the announcement when he did in the hope that it would discourage voters into voting against the tax increase in an effort to give a more legitimate reason to move the team.
But Cleveland was willing to do what it took.
It all comes down to Modell’s greed.
So the team moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens. Baltimore rolled out the red carpet. They gave him a new stadium, millions of dollars in tax breaks, and a number of other money generators. Despite all of that, less than a decade after moving, Modell was essentially forced into selling the team because it was being run so poorly and was facing financial issues.
note: I used Wikipedia for this