Moag feels heat for job well-done

November 15, 1995|By Ken Rosenthal

He was hired to do a job.

John Moag did it too well.

Get a football team, that was his mission. Get a football team, the best one available. Get a football team, no questions asked.

Moag got a football team, all right.

Not a team with a sorry history.

Not a team with a despicable owner.

No, John Moag got the Cleveland Browns.

He didn't anticipate the local uproar, or the national uproar, but the furor will pass, and his stature will only rise.

Imagine if the Browns make the Super Bowl in five or 10 years. Moag will look that much better. And the NFL will look that much worse.

That's what is so unnerving: Moag, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, didn't have to settle for the Arizona Cardinals or Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Browns' move wasn't the first, and it won't be the last, and it might not even be the most traumatic, if the league is as unstable as it appears.

"This is an industry in deep trouble," Moag said yesterday. "If you have an understanding of the industry, you know a lot of movement will take place. Or, out of the blue, you'll have a lot of cities taking care of teams real, real quickly.

"Probably one-third of the owners are in deep financial trouble. They'll have to move. It's a fact of life. In Baltimore, we weren't getting an expansion team. We were going to get a troubled team to come here for financial relief. And we got the best one available."

Simple as that, from Moag's perspective, and from Baltimore's. Indeed, it bears repeating that the league asked for trouble by rigging the expansion process and awarding expansion franchises to Charlotte and Jacksonville.

Moag's logic isn't hard to follow. If you have to pursue an existing team, you want one that is stable and successful. And if you want one that is stable and successful, you want the Browns.

Arizona and Tampa Bay were the two other teams under consideration. Arizona, owned by Bill "Which way out of town?" Bidwill. Tampa Bay, owned by Malcolm "Please let me come back" Glazer.

Horrid franchises, both of them. Franchises that can't get out of their own way. Franchises that, quite frankly, would have left Baltimore even more unsatisfied.

Which is the whole point.

You can't win in this dirty game. You steal a bad team, you get a bad team. You steal a good team, you face the guilt and the backlash and the reality that deep down, you're no better than Indianapolis.

"What were the alternatives?" Moag asked. "Had I brought Bill Bidwill into this town, or had I brought the Glazers into this town, there would have been criticism from the standpoint that I was bringing an owner who had been critical of Baltimore, or an owner who, correctly or incorrectly, is perceived as a carpetbagger.

"Instead, I brought a good, solid owner into town. Now it's, 'Let's whip and flagellate ourselves because we're getting a good franchise.' "

He sees it in newspaper columns, and he hears it from CFL fans, but he doesn't sense it out in public. Some fans are disturbed by this; others aren't. Years from now, maybe even weeks from now, few will remember, or care.

The first test will come when the Browns start selling permanent seat licenses. The stadium authority didn't give Modell a financial guarantee, but it's allowing him to raise $75 million the newfangled way -- through extortion.

Alas, this is the price of admission for NFL football in the '90s. Modell wasn't satisfied with a publicly financed $200 million stadium designed to make him rich. He wanted his expenses covered, so now the fans must pay.

It will all be forgotten if the Browns return to prominence, if Modell is as good an owner as Moag believes, and not the one Cleveland fans portray. One thing is clear -- Modell will have no excuses. He'll be getting the cash he needs to compete.

You don't have to like this. If you've got any conscience, you can't like this. But the problem isn't John Moag, the stadium authority or even the state of Maryland. The problem is a league that created an environment in which such a travesty could occur.

"My thought was No. 1, to get football. No. 2, to do what I could do to get the best possible team," Moag said. "If you're going through the list of troubled teams, looking at them in terms of quality of owners, I think we're at the very top.

"I also thought the Brown family in Cincinnati was terrific. But Art Modell and the Browns are pretty tough to beat. I'm proud of it. I'm not going to apologize for it."

He was hired to do a job.

He did it too well.

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