CLEVELAND -- Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell was hung in effigy outside Cleveland Stadium and verbally lashed by commentators Bob Costas and Mike Ditka on NBC yesterday.
Costas called Modell's proposed move to Baltimore "one of the outrages of the century in sports" and said it's ironic that Modell is a Brooklyn native because he will "become his sport and his generation's Walter O'Malley," who moved the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1957.
Costas said that Modell was a "good man who made a terrible mistake" and added, "No doubt most of this is his fault."
Ditka, the former Chicago Bears coach, said the move was about "greed."
Modell, who has yet to see a Browns game in person since announcing the move Nov. 6, watched the comments on TV from his winter home in Florida, but declined to respond to them.
"I'm not interested in keeping the debate going," Modell said. "I'm not interested in all this rhetoric by commentators who know nothing about the situation. I'm not referring to Bob, but across the board. Soon enough, the story will be told in detail."
The Browns will give their side when they go to court in February to fight Cleveland's lawsuit seeking a permanent order blocking the move until the team's Cleveland Stadium lease expires in 1998.
Of the final game in Cleveland, Modell said, "It's a sad day for everybody, myself included. I'm not leaving Cleveland without a very heavy heart. . . . I know what [Baltimore] went through when [Colts owner Bob] Irsay pulled out."
Modell, who said he'll be in Baltimore this week for a round of meetings, also denied a report that Maryland House Speaker Casper Taylor asked him to restructure his stadium deal and take on some of the costs because of opposition in the legislature.
Modell said he had breakfast with Taylor, but said there was no discussion of changing the stadium deal.
"It's full speed ahead," the owner said of the deal.
Signs of disgust
The NBC commentators used Modell's empty loge as their studio and there was another new sign above it. Each home game since Nov. 5, the fans have unveiled a new one above his loge, starting with, "Home of the Brave Coward." This time, the sign read, "Reserved for a Winning Owner."
That was a reference to the fact that the Browns have won just four playoff games -- none on the road -- in the past 26 years and have not reached the Super Bowl.
Among the other signs in the stadium: "Goodbye to our boys of winter;" "Hey, Art, where can my mom take me for my birthday now;" "Same time, same place, next season;" "All I want for Christmas is Art's two front teeth;" "Will Rogers never met Art Modell;" "The Grinch who stole Cleveland;" and "Check the books, Art's a crook."
There also were signs referring to coach Bill Belichick's comment when he released Bernie Kosar two years ago that the quarterback had diminishing skills. The firing of the popular Kosar still rankles Cleveland fans.
One read, "4-10, A Sign of Diminishing Skills." Another read, "Art and Bill have diminishing skills."
The mayor's campaign
Cleveland Mayor Michael White fired up the fans at a pre-game rally when he said they had to continue the fight for four more weeks before the owners' scheduled meeting Jan. 17 to vote on the Browns' move. He's trying to collect 2 million signatures opposing the move.
White said Modell expected a quiet reaction to the move and he said, "It ain't quiet, baby, it ain't going to be quiet."
He led the fans in chants of "It's not over!" and "No team, no peace!"
Players in limbo, too
Browns players said they have not been given any instructions about the off-season program in Baltimore or in Cleveland.
"I guess they'll decide that at a meeting at the end of our last game next week," said defensive tackle Larry Webster, a former standout at the University of Maryland. "As for me, I'm going to rest a while before I begin any workout program."
Wide receiver Andre Rison said he has put his house up for sale in Cleveland, and has four potential buyers.
"I'm not worried about a house right now in Baltimore," said Rison. "I want to know about the basketball courts in Baltimore. Where are the best courts, man?"
Cornerback Antonio Langham said: "We have no idea what's coming from one day to the next. At this point, everything seems up in the air."
Belichick will never be accused of being emotional. Asked if he was going to miss Cleveland, he said, "That's out of my control. We'll have to wait and see what happens." . . . Browns quarterback Vinny Testaverde said Rison was unshaken by all ** the boos yesterday. Rison, in fact, was an agitator and asked for more. "You couldn't help but notice the reaction after Andre caught the ball," said Testaverde. "Andre came back to the huddle and said they weren't booing, they was saying 'Moon.' His nickname is Moon." . . . The Browns have beaten Cincinnati seven consecutive times. . . . The Bengals' Carl Pickens received a mild concussion after a catch in the third quarter.