They're Baltimore's Browns What's in a name? Shame, if it's stolen

November 07, 1995|By Ken Rosenthal

Give Cleveland back the name.

If you're Browns owner Art Modell, that's where you start.

The Browns name belongs in Cleveland, just as the Colts name belonged in Baltimore. It's not much to offer when you've stolen a franchise. But any sign of decency would be welcome now.

The name of a sports franchise is not trivial. Ask any longtime Colts fan. Ask Stallions owner Jim Speros. Ask Modell.

Heck, it was the first question put to him at yesterday's pep rally/news conference/paid political announcement.

"Will you change the name?"

"No," Modell said.

"Very succinctly," Gov. Parris Gloat-dening added, beaming as if the name theft were all part of the deal.

Gloat-dening wasn't content with a SportsCenter moment -- he turned his ESPN star turn into a filibuster. Golly gee, the guv kept saying, it sure was "fun" to steal a team.

Mayor Schmoke and Maryland Stadium Authority chairman John Moag showed more restraint, but this baby was held in a `D Camden Yards parking lot, so fans could come and chant, "Art! Art! Art!"

Modell looked uncomfortable, and for good reason.

It was all rather unseemly.

Unseemly, and surreal.

Modell claimed he had "no choice" but to move the Browns, yet said it was not the proper occasion to explain his reasoning.

"My gosh, they've had six years to do something," Modell later told The Sun's Vito Stellino. "They spent $650 million for a baseball park, a basketball arena, a rock and roll museum and a science museum, and all I wanted to do is get inside plumbing."

Even if you give him every benefit of the doubt, even if you assume city, county and state officials in Ohio blew it, the least he can do is give Cleveland back the name.

The Browns became the Browns in 1946, 15 years before Modell purchased them. The Official NFL Encyclopedia of Pro Football says they were named after former coach Paul Brown. The Browns claim they were named after "The Brown Bomber," former heavyweight champion Joe Louis.

Who cares?

The name is Cleveland's either way.

It certainly shouldn't belong to an owner who made sure yesterday to thank his new Baltimore attorneys and bankers.

Technically, Modell holds the trademark, and no doubt he is attached to the name. Still, he has no idea how much added pain he will cause Cleveland by continuing to call his team the Browns.

Baltimore knows.

Eleven years later, Baltimore still fumes every time a radio or TV announcer says, "Indianapolis Colts." Former Governor Schaefer raised the topic yesterday without even being asked.

"One of the things he should have given us was the Colts name," Schaefer said -- "he" being the wonderful Robert Irsay. "That belongs to Baltimore."

Morally, of course. Not legally.

Speros, remember, tried to use the name for his CFL team, and the NFL promptly sued him, claiming trademark infringement.

Rather than fight a court battle he couldn't win, Speros reached an out-of-court settlement and renamed the team the Stallions.

The horse with no name soon will be the team with no town, but that's another story.

"The Browns are now the Baltimore Browns, and we're proud of it," Schmoke said.

Easy there, Mr. Mayor.

Schaefer, for one, would prefer a new name.

The greed-is-good types at NFL Properties would love it -- new colors, new logos, the works! Indeed, they'll be appalled to discover that a clever entrepreneur was peddling gray Baltimore Browns T-shirts with burnt orange lettering for $10 yesterday outside the Inner Harbor.

What's this, free enterprise?

Someone arrest that man!

Give back the name, and Cleveland could call its next team the Browns. And if that team is the Cincinnati Bengals, the franchise owned by Paul Brown's son, Mike, the city would have the real Browns, once and for all.

Baltimore?

Modell could pick a new name. He could stage a name-that-team contest. He could do whatever he wants, and he'd be even more of a hero for starting a new tradition, wiping the slate clean.

By the way, think maybe this team can put "Baltimore" on its jerseys? Or, in its frenzy to sell permanent seat licenses throughout the region, will that be too much to ask?

If Modell does it, then maybe the Orioles will follow.

Competition makes you do wild and crazy things.

This is a new beginning, a new day, a new age. But like it or not, this team will be forever tainted by its past. Modell can remove the scarlet letter, or add to his former city's misery.

Schaefer was asked yesterday if this move was different than the Colts' departure in 1984, and he responded with characteristic bluntness.

"It isn't," he said.

Make it different, Art.

-! Give Cleveland back the name.

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