To escape 'hostility,' team to head to San Diego early Continuing protests fail to upset Modell

Browns notebook

November 27, 1995|By Vito Stellino and Mike Preston | Vito Stellino and Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Browns will go to San Diego Wednesday to prepare for Sunday's game against the Chargers, owner Art Modell said yesterday from his Florida home.

Modell said he gave coach Bill Belichick permission to make the trip early and his son, David, said the coach had decided to do it although Belichick said the decision wasn't final.

"The idea is to get out of some of the hostility in Cleveland and get a new environment and concentrate on the game," Art Modell said.

Since the Browns Backers have a large contingent in California, the decision to practice there may start a new round of protests. It's also likely to lead to more media coverage in California.

Modell said he will return to Baltimore today for three days of meetings, but said he declined an invitation to testify at the congressional hearings in Washington this week to study the movement of sports franchises.

"Commissioner Paul Tagliabue is going to speak as one voice for the league," Modell said. "They're not just talking about the Browns' move, they're talking about all the moves."

He watched the Browns-Steelers game on television and saw all the anti-Modell signs, but insisted they didn't bother him.

"I'm sort of flattered about all this attention on the importance of the Browns' move. Baltimore ought to be thrilled [to get the team]. Maybe they'll run me for something [political office] because they're getting a hot property. I haven't seen any demonstrations in Houston. When Georgia [Frontiere of the Los Angeles Rams] moved, they helped her pack her bags," he said.

Modell said he's not concerned about Cleveland's legal fight to keep the team. "I have a lot of attorneys to worry about it," he said.

Of the nationwide protests against the move, he said, "It's part of the game, part of the landscape. If you can't take the heat, get out of the bathroom. I think Harry Truman said something like that, maybe it was the kitchen."

Of the Cleveland fans who cheered for the team yesterday, he said, "I love the fans. I blame the political system for letting this happen. They took me for granted."

QB barbs fly as usual

Belichick and Cleveland quarterback Vinny Testaverde exchanged their usual post-game barbs yesterday.

Belichick didn't exactly give Testaverde a ringing endorsement when he was asked about who was going to be his starting quarterback against the Chargers.

"I'll have to think about it," said Belichick.

Will he wait until the last minute like yesterday?

"Not necessarily," said Belichick. "Vinny didn't practice Thursday and I didn't feel comfortable naming a quarterback until I knew he could play."

Belichick named Testaverde the starter over rookie Eric Zeier two hours before game time.

"I haven't thought about starting next week," said Testaverde. "That's Bill's decision and we have to live with it whether we like it or not."

Jones: Rivalry won't die

Offensive lineman Tony Jones said the fans deserved a win in the last game of the storied Pittsburgh-Cleveland rivalry.

"The fan reaction was great. They came to support us. I wish we could have won the last Cleveland-Pittsburgh game for the fans," he said.

He said the rivalry with Pittsburgh will continue in Baltimore.

"Fans might be different, but most of the players are going to be the same. That team is still going to be on our hit list to beat."

Fond farewell from Cowher

Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher, who played and coached in Cleveland, said, "I kind of got caught up in the game, but this is a great stadium. And I hope there is more football here in this stadium. It's too special of a place not to have football being played. I don't even want to think about it."

Of the Dawg Pound, Cowher said, "It was kind of nice down there. I was called a traitor a couple of times by the Dawg Pound fans. I felt good, I was counting on them to be hollering and cursing at me because I kind of like that."

Signs of times

The fans had a new batch of protest signs.

One of them, above Modell's empty loge, read, "Art, How Do You Spell I-N-J-U-N-C-T-I-O-N?", a reference to the court action that has stopped the Browns from currently doing business in Baltimore.

There was even a Thanksgiving motif. One fan had a sign with the heads of Modell and Belichick on top of turkeys with the words, "Hey, Baltimore, if you're going to take these two turkeys, at least leave us our good name, the Cleveland Browns."

One fan who was torn was Mark Sementilli, a psychologist from Baltimore but a Cleveland native.

"I'm very upset," said Sementilli, who said he won't buy tickets in Baltimore. "Once a year I came back to see them. It [the move] was terrible. It's a shame. I don't know what I'm going to do. I'm losing sleep over it."


The crowd of 67,269 was the smallest ever to watch a Steelers-Browns game other than in a strike-shortened season since 67,773 showed on Nov. 25, 1973. . . . The Steelers' multi-talented rookie Kordell Stewart had two receptions for 36 yards, and completed both his passes for 17 yards.

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