Modell still poster boy for fans angry over move Signs of sympathy come from Green Bay, too

November 20, 1995|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND -- If there had been a contest outside Cleveland Stadium yesterday for the most creative sign protesting the Browns' move, the winners might have been a group of Green Bay Packers fans.

They were cheered by the Cleveland fans when they unveiled a green-and-gold sign with a big thermometer and the words:

Ice Bowl 16.

Art's heart 116.

It needed no explanation for NFL fans.

The temperature was minus-16 degrees in Green Bay when the Packers beat the Dallas Cowboys in the 1967 NFL title game, which became known as the Ice Bowl.

Art is Browns owner Art Modell, who has become a villain not only in Cleveland but across the country because of his decision to move the Browns to Baltimore. Yesterday's game was the team's first here since the move was announced Nov. 6.

The Ice Bowl sign was produced by the Brian Gresch family of Middlefield, Ohio. They used to live in Wisconsin and had relatives visiting from Fredonia, Wis., to attend the game.

Another group of Packers fans from Kenosha, Wis., were cheered when they displayed a sign that said, "Go Pack, Stay Browns."

Larry Leff, a maintenance man from Kenosha, said that Browns fans were coming up to him and his friends and saying they were going to root for the Packers.

Leff said, "Nobody wanted the Browns to win," although the Cleveland fans wound up cheering when the Browns did well.

Leff said he was sympathetic to Browns fans: "I wouldn't want to lose my team."

Packers fans may be the only ones in the league who never have to worry about losing their team, because it's community-owned.

But sympathy for the Browns fans seems to be a league-wide phenomenon.

Their archrivals, the Steelers, mourned the end of the Pittsburgh-Cleveland rivalry last Monday night, and some Steelers fans showed up yesterday.

Carolyn Bailey brought her three children with her from Pittsburgh, and they wore orange armbands. "We don't know anybody in Cleveland, but we feel the loss," she said. "They had great fan support."

Meanwhile, Cleveland fans protested in a variety of ways.

A radio station organized what it called a "Million Fan March" from the station to the stadium.

Fans carried Cleveland flags and a coffin, and another group had a dummy that was supposed to be Modell in an electric chair.

Bob Goble, a manufacturer's representative, carried a sign reading, "Art of Hall of $hame" and "Thank$ a million Baltimore."

He said there was a campaign to cancel credit cards at the MBNA bank owned by Browns minority investor Al Lerner.

"He's the guy behind all this," Goble said.

Patty Stark, who said her husband, Rich, was sitting in the Dawg Pound before it became known as the Dawg Pound, handed out "Save Our Browns" signs.

"I grew up with the Browns," she said. "My favorite player was Leroy Kelly. A lot of people don't know what they're going to do on Sundays. They're going to have to readjust the way they live."

Before the game, the fans chanted, "Don't go in," encouraging fans at least to boycott the start of the game.

By midway through the first half, the majority of the fans in the Dawg Pound were in their seats. There were 17,547 no-shows. A total of 55,388 of the 72,935 fans who bought tickets actually went through the turnstiles.

They cheered when the Browns moved the ball and when quarterback Vinny Testaverde replaced Eric Zeier to start the second half.

The biggest cheers came in the fourth quarter, when a few fans ran on the field before being tackled and led off by police. The fans then started an anti-Modell chant.

All the advertising signs had been removed from the stadium because Cleveland advertisers no longer want to be associated with the Browns.

And if the fans can't keep the team, they at least want the nickname to stay in Cleveland.

In fact, the biggest sign inside the stadium read: "Art & Bill [Belichick] Go, Browns Name Stays."

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