City's good news seen as bad news

November 14, 1995|By John Eisenberg

PITTSBURGH -- There were dueling photo opportunities outside Three Rivers Stadium last night before the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers kicked off.

There were the one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine busloads of Browns fans who drove over from Cleveland in a noisy, honking caravan, arrived an hour before the game and began barking, waving signs and chanting unprintables about Art Modell.

At the same time, around a bend in the stadium, there was Cleveland Mayor Michael R. White shouting into a bullhorn in the evening mist at a rally protesting Modell's move to Baltimore.

Hundreds of Steelers fans showed their sympathy and support for their rival fans by wearing orange armbands and joining in the anti-Modell chorus.

"Go Baltimore!" shouted a wiseacre at the mayor's rally.

"Shut up!" people hissed.

No, no one wants to hear about Baltimore these days.

Our 11 years of wandering in the desert without pro football? Forgotten.

The crimes visited upon us by Irsay, Tagliabue, Cooke, Bidwill and Glazer? Old news.

We have gone from sporting martyrs to conspirators, however innocent, in an event that has deeply offended the NFL's entire constituency.

Baltimore's good news is being digested as bad news, troubling news, just about everywhere else.

No wonder Modell chose to watch last night's game in Baltimore. It is pretty much the only place where he is a welcomed figure in the pro football world these days.

Fans in Pittsburgh were the ones showing their support for Cleveland last night, but fans across the country are upset and shaken by the decision to move a team still drawing some of the biggest crowds in the league.

Here's betting Modell would have heard boos, loud ones, had he been introduced at any NFL game over the weekend.

"I'm from around Cincinnati, and Bengals fans are up in arms about it," said Brian Bogard, a Browns fans from Alliance, Ohio, who drove in for the game without a ticket last night. "I don't know of anyone who is happy about this. It just isn't right and everyone knows it."

Newspaper columnists across the country have criticized Modell almost in unison for turning his back on some of the country's best fans. ABC's Dan Dierdorf, admittedly a Browns fan, said on "Monday Night Football" last night that fans everywhere were "shaken." There were anti-Modell signs at several other NFL games Sunday. Jay Leno even told a Modell joke on one of his "Tonight Show" monologues last week, a sure sign that Modell's decision had struck a chord that resonated across the entire country and not just in Cleveland.

The outrage is easy to understand. The Rams' move to St. Louis? Los Angeles had stopped caring. The Cardinals' move to Phoenix? The franchise hadn't been in town that long. The Raiders' return to Oakland? Righted a prior wrong. The Colts' move to Indianapolis? Look at the crowds in those final years at Memorial Stadium.

But this move is different. Browns fans were still filling Municipal Stadium. The city still cared deeply about the team. Modell's decision to leave, however well reasoned he thinks it may be, had nothing to do with his city's support and everything to do with modern sports economics. And, of course, support is what fans are all about.

If Cal Ripken's streak has embodied to millions of fans all the things that are good about sports, the Browns' move has embodied all the things that are bad.

* The emphasis on money instead of loyalty and tradition.

* The fact that nothing can be taken for granted anymore.

* The fact that any team in any sport may move at any time. (You can be sure Jack Kent Cooke will get that new stadium he wants now, in Washington if nowhere else.)

* The importance of the tiresome stadium controversies aflame in almost every city right now.

But fans are upset mostly because the Browns' move symbolizes the disdain for fans that exists in every sport today.

Those filled seats at Municipal Stadium meant nothing. Those years and years of sellouts and playoff berths and memories meant nothing.

It's basically the same tune sounded during the baseball strike, when the players and owners said the fans would come back because, well, they always had.

If fans could hear the disdain with which they were treated in front offices and locker rooms and clubhouses, they'd be shocked.

The Browns' move sums it all up. What do fans matter anymore if the Browns can up and leave Cleveland?

None of this emotion would have flared if the Bucs had decided to take Baltimore's offer and move to Camden Yards. The Bucs have never put down powerful, lasting roots in Tampa. Same with the Bengals and Cardinals and Seahawks and Oilers.

But taking the Browns out of Cleveland after 50 strong-and-still-going years . . .

In Baltimore, we have our own list of gripes, our own list of horrors inflicted on us. But no one wants to hear about them anymore. No one wants to sympathize.

Suddenly, our name has a decidedly unpleasant connotation for millions of fans everywhere. You may not like that, but it's the truth.

Browns results

Date .. .. .. Opponent .. .. .. .. Result

Sept. 3 .. .. at N. England ... .. L, 17-14

Sept. 10 . .. Tampa Bay . .. .. .. W, 22-6

Sept. 17 . .. at Houston ... .. .. W, 14-7

Sept. 24 . .. Kansas City .. .. .. W, 35-17

Oct. 2 ... .. Buffalo ... .. .. .. L, 22-19

Oct. 8 ... .. at Detroit ... .. .. L, 38-20

Oct. 22 .. .. Jacksonville . .. .. L, 23-15

Oct. 29 .. .. at Cincinnati ... .. W, 29-26*

Nov. 5 ... .. Houston ... .. .. .. L, 37-10

Nov. 13 .. .. at Pittsburgh .. ... L, 20-3

Sunday ... .. Green Bay . .. .. .. 1 p.m.

Nov. 26 .. .. Pittsburgh .. ... ...4 p.m.

Dec. 3 ... .. at San Diego . .. .. 4 p.m.

Dec. 9 ... .. at Minnesota . .. .. 12:30 p.m.

Dec. 17 .. .. Cincinnati ... .. .. 1 p.m.

Dec. 24 .. .. at Jacksonville . .. 1 p.m.

* -- Overtime

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