Browns fans are spoiled--thanks to Brown


August 11, 1991|By VITO STELLINO

When the Cleveland Browns self-destructed and struggled to a 3-13 finish last year, the fans took their frustration out on owner Art Modell.

They put up signs knocking Modell and suggesting he should jump out of the box. One read: "Larry, Curly and Modell."

Modell even joked about them, saying, "The only thing that bothered me about that is one night I got up and saw my wife painting the signs."

The bitter reaction to one bad season seemed extreme because the Browns have a history of success. They've been in the playoffs 22 times and have been in the AFC title game three times since 1986.

The only logical explanation is that Browns fans have been spoiled by success. The man who spoiled them, Paul Brown, died last week at 82, leaving a legacy that will be remembered as long as pro football is played.

It certainly will be remembered in Cleveland. He founded the Browns in 1946 and took them to 10 straight title games in the old All-America Football Conference and the NFL, winning seven of them.

And then he was fired in 1962 by Modell, who bought the club in 1960. The fans remember that, too.

It's probably the most controversial firing in pro football history.

As Joe Gibbs, the coach of the Washington Redskins, said last week: "How'd he get fired? I heard a lot of people say when he got fired, 'Hey, anybody can get fired.' "

Neither Brown nor Modell ever really got over it. Brown took so many potshots at Modell in his 1979 autobiography, "PB," that then-commissioner Pete Rozelle fined Brown $10,000.

Modell's first reaction when Brown died was that he didn't know if he was going to go to the funeral. He then realized staying away would be tactless, and he attended.

In his last interview on the subject before Brown died, Modell told The New York Times: "It was an unpleasant episode, and I only regret that it did not work between us, because he was truly a giant in this sport. There were a number of reasons why it didn't work, but some had to do with the fact that I was 35 and the owner and he was 53 or 54 and had been the coach and a legend here for many years."

What is often overlooked is that Brown's firing wasn't as unpopular as you might think in Cleveland in 1962. The Browns went 7-6-1 that year and hadn't won a division title since 1957. The fans were whispering that the game had passed Brown by.

When the Browns won the title in 1964, nobody was complaining that Brown was gone. The problem is that the Browns haven't won a title since. Meanwhile, Brown founded the Cincinnati Bengals in 1968 and had them in the playoffs in their third season.

Brown didn't really like the free-spending, big-money game of today, but football never passed him by.

The Bengals also made the Super Bowl twice in the 1980s, even though they lost both times -- naturally to a Brown protege (Bill Walsh and the San Francisco 49ers). The Browns never have made the Super Bowl.

OC In Cleveland, Brown left a record that nobody ever could match.


Wellington Mara, the co-owner of the New York Giants, remembers taking a train to Philadelphia to watch the 1950 opener between the two-time NFL champions, the Eagles, and the four-time AAFC champions, the Browns.

Naturally, Mara rooted for the Eagles. "We always rooted against the interlopers," Mara said with a smile.

The Browns won, 35-10.

It happened again a little more than 18 years later, when the AFL's New York Jets upset the Baltimore Colts, 16-7, in Super Bowl III.

The interlopers have been one of the reasons for the success of the NFL, which abandoned Cleveland after the 1945 season, when the Rams moved to Los Angeles. Brown then started the AAFC Cleveland team the next year.

The success of the AFL also gave the NFL an infusion of vitality, including a second team in New York.

The NFL only makes progress when it gets competition.

Unfortunately, the NFL won its wars against new leagues in the 1970s and 1980s, when the World Football League and U.S. Football League folded. The new league of the 1990s -- the World League of American Football -- was started by the NFL.

The result is the NFL has added two teams in the past two decades and plans to add only two more in this decade.

D8 The NFL could use a few more successful interlopers.


A second Mystery Guest has entered the Baltimore expansion picture.

The first is the money man for the Bart Starr group. Phyllis Brotman, the Baltimore spokeswoman for the group, said the group has a well-heeled new investor who will help its effort, but she said he doesn't want to be identified yet.

Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said he's been contacted by three new groups besides the Starr, Nathan Landow and Ed Hale groups that have announced they're interested.

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