Sense of Cleveland's loss makes it too hard to celebrate over Browns

November 05, 1995|By John Steadman

Under different circumstances, there would be revelry, unbounded excitement and one of Baltimore's most gleeful of all celebrations. A pro football team is coming back where one has always belonged . . . to a city that had an almost religious fanaticism for what the game once represented.

But something is missing. Now, it's all about money. Too bad. That the Cleveland Browns have ostensibly been seduced to leave their profitable home of 50 years to fill the void in Baltimore reduces the joy that would have accompanied an expansion team's being awarded by the NFL.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and his search committee fumbled the opportunity to put a new club in Baltimore, and now Art Modell, always considered a staunch supporter of what was best for the league, is defecting. It's difficult to mention Modell in the same sentence with Bob Irsay, Al Davis and Georgia Frontiere, but that's where he's about to put himself.

It's not enough that the State of Maryland, with public funds, is going to build a $200 million stadium and the business community has agreed to guarantee sellouts for 10 years but before buying a ticket you'll be pressured to pay a fee, probably from hundreds of dollars or into the thousands, for the right to sit in a stadium that your money paid to construct.

It'll put $50 million in Modell's pockets, according to sources in Cleveland, by doing nothing more than promising Baltimore membership in the NFL.

Baltimore is doing to someone else, Cleveland, what was decried as one of the most despicable injustices in all of sports history -- the uprooting of the Colts in Baltimore and hauling them away in the middle of a cold, cutting March night in 1984.

If the NFL had any civility, dignity or consideration for the cities and fans that brought it affluence and prestige, then those decent human qualities have vanished. As good a football citadel as Baltimore once was, it never compared to Cleveland when it came to packing the stands on Sunday afternoon.

For the past 10 years, the Browns have been the NFL's second-best draw, meaning it was better than Dallas, New Orleans, San Francisco, Chicago and Denver. It has trailed only Buffalo in the overall attendance count.

Modell opposed the Raiders' leaving Oakland and the Colts' departing Baltimore. He was a voice of reason, decrying the fact that Baltimore had been robbed of a team.

Former Colts players wanted a team to return, but their sense of fairness leaves many of them far from enamored over news that Modell is pulling out of Cleveland. The Browns, with true greatness in their past, have a bad nickname and are the only team without a design on the side of their helmet -- which is Modell's right to individuality.

When this reporter last talked to Modell, over a week ago, he said something good was going to happen to Baltimore soon. He refused to comment if such a remark translated into the Browns' taking up residence in Baltimore.

What Modell wants is a new stadium in Cleveland. He has been a good citizen in the community and feels let down that a stadium and arena have been constructed for the city's other franchises but nothing has been done for him. He has a point and, consider this, the league is pushing for new stadiums in numerous locations and has likely told him he shouldn't be satisfied unless it's a brand new one, regardless of the cost to Cleveland.

Because a pro football team plays only 10 home games a year, the economic impact in Cleveland, or anywhere else, is far from a major producer of revenue. What being in the NFL does for a community is it provides a sense of feeling good about itself -- stroking its civic ego and perhaps providing a psychological benefit.

One Baltimore businessman, Louis Grasmick, said, even before Modell spoke out, that he was willing to bet $10,000 that one of two teams planning to come to Baltimore and would give the money to charity. From another aspect, the Orioles will get reduced rental and make more profit as soon as a football deal is signed because of their terms with the Maryland Stadium Authority.

As for Modell's upgraded cash flow, he'll make $50 million from the proposed personal-seat licenses in Baltimore before the team even plays a game. He had some business deals, investing a radio station and producing a movie, plus other enterprises, that didn't turn a profit. The Baltimore payoff would take care of any outstanding debts he might have.

In Cleveland and league circles, Modell is considered an interesting, hail-fellow-well-met personality. Behind a microphone, at a news conference, he is at his best, so the promise is he'll charm Baltimore in his opening address -- while Cleveland writhes in a pain and torment it doesn't deserve.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.