Both cities come up winners if Browns name stays behind

November 16, 1995|By JOHN EISENBERG

When Art Modell took questions from reporters after announcing he was moving the Browns to Baltimore a fortnight ago, the first question came at him hard: "Are you going to change the name of the team?"

Modell's answer was equally direct: "No."

It was the sound of a man with his mind made up, one whose attachment to his team's name has profound emotional and fiscal byproducts after years of ownership.

But clearly, it is time for him to reconsider his opinion.

Time for him to change the name of his franchise.

Leave the Browns' name and colors in Cleveland for the next team that plays there.

Pick a new name and new colors to go with his new city and new stadium.

It is the course everyone wants him to take, which is understandable considering that all parties stand to benefit.

The guilt in Baltimore? Gone.

The anger in Cleveland? Gone.

The vilification of Modell being sounded by sports fans everywhere? Gone.

Oh, sure, Cleveland's fans will always hate Modell for selling them out, and any fan with a conscience here will always feel badly about stealing a team that had planted such deep roots back home. Fans everywhere will always be a little more cynical.

But the heat of the issue would cool considerably, if not entirely, if everyone knew that Cleveland's next team -- and there will be one -- would have the old team's name and colors, courtesy of Modell.

"It doesn't really bother us that they're leaving, because we wouldn't mind another team," said Eric Rahan, a Dawg Pounder standing in the parking lot of Three Rivers Stadium on Monday night. "What bothers us is the loss of the history and tradition. That would bother any fan of any team."

So, why does Modell want to keep the Browns name? Aside from the obvious emotional attachment, there also is sound business reasoning. The name is one of the major assets of the franchise, something that identifies it, gives it value and distinguishes it from other, lesser franchises such as the Bucs.

Modell loses that value if he gives up the name. No businessman would call it a smart move. It would be like opening a McDonald's franchise and calling it Bob's.

Or like moving the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore and basically turning them into an expansion franchise.

That is why most franchises that have moved over the years have taken their names with them. The ridiculousness of such names as the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers is outweighed && by the value the name has accrued over the years.

The only franchises that change their names when they move are those looking to run away from their histories, such as the Washington Senators.

The Browns' name, one of the most storied in all of sports, obviously is not one from which Modell would want to run. And although NFL Properties surely would love to sell yet another new logo and color scheme, you can be sure the league office wouldn't be excited about jettisoning the Cleveland Browns in ,, favor of the Baltimore Rhinos. Talk about shrinking your general name identification.

But even though there is sound business reasoning behind Modell's decision to move the name to Baltimore, it is time for him to forget all that and consider the larger picture.

Consider those other than himself.

The fact is that Modell is already profiting obscenely from Cleveland's pain and Baltimore's desperation for pro football. He is getting a free stadium, a rent-free lease, a free training facility and a huge cash windfall before even one ball is pumped up. Obscene. Yes, that's the word.

Giving up some of his franchise's name identification is a meager price to pay in return for all that.

Especially considering that giving up that identification is all it would take to satisfy millions of fans in both of the cities to which he owes a debt: the city he has forsaken and the city to which he is coming.

It's the right thing to do, and Modell knows it.

Cleveland fans just want their name back. And if Cleveland's fans are happier, Baltimore's fans would be happier, too.

Modell had a fine reputation as a philanthropist in Cleveland, donating his money and time for the betterment of others. He should consider this just another act of philanthropy.

Do it for both cities, Art. Leave the name in Cleveland.

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