It's not faith, or hope it's just money The Browns' Move to Baltimore

November 06, 1995|By Ken Rosenthal

CLEVELAND -- Ah, the joy of an NFL Sunday.

"Art Lied," said one sign at Cleveland Stadium.

"$pineless $lug" was another.

"You Pig," went a third.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Say hello to our new owner, Art Modell.

The announcement is today. The Browns are coming to Baltimore. And it's just so obscene.

Oh, Baltimore deserves a team, no one can deny that. But not this team. Not this way.

Modell is going to stand up at today's news conference and talk of reviving the Colts tradition. He's destroying an even grander tradition, but never mind.

What do words matter? History doesn't matter. Fan support doesn't matter. Nothing matters, except the next sweetheart deal in Grovel City, USA.

Sports reflect society. Modell is no different from any owner, no different from any of us, really.

Just grab that dollar, baby.

Grab that dollar, and don't apologize.

All that was missing yesterday was a fleet of Mayflower vans lined up outside the stadium. Baltimore has waited 11 years for this moment. How long before we regret it?

Modell gets a $200 million, publicly financed stadium at a time when the city and state desperately need funding for other purposes.

He gets to charge hundreds of dollars for seating rights that will price most fans out of the stadium.

And, even with a 30-year lease, he gets to play this game all over again when the billion-dollar Mega Dome opens in Rio in a decade or so.

After all, he's an owner.

Owners hate the idea of free agency, except when it applies to themselves.

Modell is moving the Browns after saying he wouldn't. He declined to show yesterday after saying he would, missing a home game for the first time in his 35 years as owner.

"How can there be a [fan] reaction?" he asked Cleveland writers Friday. "Nothing has happened, has there?"

Nah, nothing at all.

Modell signed his lease with the Maryland Stadium Authority on Oct. 27, a full week before his little chat with the local press.

No one in Cleveland knew it at the time, but the city lost its football team one day, and the Indians lost the World Series the next.

And yet, volunteers stood outside the stadium yesterday, handing out signs urging fans to approve Issue 5, a $170 million stadium renovation project that will be voted on tomorrow.

Little did they know, Issue 5 is irrelevant, was irrelevant, has been irrelevant for the past 10 days.

The fans, 57,881 of them, seemed almost numb, and not because of the 37-degree temperatures at the blustery, old stadium that sits next to Lake Erie.

The Browns have been a Cleveland institution for 50 years, attracting three of the 10 highest season attendances in NFL history.

Doesn't matter. Nothing matters, remember? The fans came in their Browns apparel, huddled up in their blankets, waved their Issue 5 signs. And they grew increasingly agitated during the Browns' 37-10 loss to the Oilers.

The Houston Oilers.

That is, until they move to Nashville.

Heck, some fans in Cleveland aren't all that concerned about losing the Browns. Already, there is talk they might get the Cincinnati Bengals.

Paul Tagliabue is commissioner, all right.

Commissioner of anarchy.

"I think the validity of our bylaws is in a scrap heap, as far as moves are concerned," New York Giants owner Wellington Mara said.

A scrap heap.

One in which Baltimore was buried for 11 years.

The leagues are run by the wealthy, for the wealthy, and heaven help those who get in their way. The Browns' fans are loyal and enthusiastic, but they're mostly working class, so let them eat cake.

There won't be an unruly Dawg Pound at the new downtown stadium in Baltimore. There'll be club seating, luxury suites and maybe even a pricey Kennel Club, but no Dawg Pound.

The Browns are leaving Cleveland because the baseball Indians got a new stadium and the NBA Cavaliers got a new arena and Modell got caught empty-handed.

"We need a dome," one fan lamented yesterday.

They'll probably build one, too, to lure the Bengals or the Arizona Cardinals or some other disenchanted franchise.

Beware, Baltimore.

Such is life in the NFL.

Filling a 70,000-seat stadium might not be easy for a city that already supports a baseball team, a city full of people trying to make ends meet. Many can't afford NFL season tickets, much less a fee for the privilege of buying them.

But what choice is there now?

Cleveland supported its team, and look what happened.

Only a few thousand fans remained at game's end yesterday, throwing snowballs, shouting expletives.

The scenes could get uglier.

It's rare when a team announces a move in midseason, but Modell needed to act before the Maryland legislature revoked the stadium funding.

And now, he's left with three more home games.

Jim Brown, the Browns Hall of Fame running back, was asked if this was the saddest day he could remember at the stadium.

"Other than when Kennedy got killed," Brown said, recalling a tragedy from 32 years ago. "It was sort of like a dream out there."

No, Jim.

Sort of like a nightmare.

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