Seahawks won't block vote: Modell Browns boss expects owners' OK despite Seattle uncertainty

Moag: 'Absolutely no link'

Tagliabue to testify before Congress today

February 06, 1996|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

Ignore all those rumors about Baltimore's bid for the Cleveland Browns getting derailed.

That was the message yesterday from Browns owner Art Modell, who maintained that he has been promised an owners' vote this week on the proposed move of his team to Baltimore despite reports from Cleveland that the vote could be delayed because of the Seattle Seahawks' sudden move to Los Angeles.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer quoted a league source Sunday as saying the timing of the Seahawks' move could help Cleveland's bid to keep the Browns.

"It's visual evidence that you're not just dealing with this [Browns] situation," the paper quoted a league source as saying. "You're dealing with a multitude of situations. And that's the problem we've got here. That's why you can't just look at it [the Browns' case] in isolation."

Modell, though, said he has been promised there will be a vote at the special owners meeting in Chicago on Thursday and Friday.

"Don't listen to all those reports from sources close to the source," Modell said. "You can go crazy dealing with those rumors."

However, they were ominous reminders to Baltimore fans of the way reports starting cropping up in the national media two years ago that Baltimore would be bypassed in the expansion derby. Carolina and Jacksonville wound up getting the teams.

League officials often telegraph their intentions by leaking comments through unidentified sources.

The difference this time is that Baltimore has a lot more clout than it did during the expansion process.

The Maryland Stadium Authority has a signed 30-year lease with Modell that includes a commitment from him to file an antitrust suit against the league if the move is rejected.

The stadium authority already filed one suit when the owners delayed a vote at their Jan. 17 meeting.

Despite Modell's assurances, Seahawks owner Ken Behring's announcement Thursday that he is moving to Los Angeles added another element of instability to the league's image.

Unlike Modell, who has gone through proper league procedures in filing for a move and still has team headquarters in Cleveland, Behring started sending in moving vans during the weekend. In addition, he ignored a resolution the league passed last year to control the future of the Los Angeles market.

Anaheim officials said yesterday that no commitments had been reached, but said they hoped to begin discussions soon on an agreement to make the team an "anchor in the city's Sportstown Anaheim Complex, where it would play in a new football-only stadium."

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who has yet to comment publicly on the Seahawks' move, is likely to be asked about it today when he testifies before Congress in his bid to get a limited antitrust exemption that would enable the owners to block moves without fear of facing antitrust action.

Tagliabue is likely to take the position that the Seahawks' move is another indication of why the league needs an antitrust exemption. He also could seek to delay the Browns' move.

Modell and John Moag, stadium authority chairman, argued yesterday that there should be no connection between the two moves.

"The Seattle situation is irrelevant to the Browns' situation," Modell said.

Moag said: "There's absolutely no link between the Cleveland and Seattle situations. The league has clearly established a very different process for dealing with the Los Angeles market."

Although he's close friends with many of the owners, Modell said he's not lobbying for votes based on his friendship with them.

"I've never asked for a favor and I won't ask for one now," he said. "If I don't have a good case, they should vote no. If I do, they should vote yes."

He added: "I have a more legitimate argument to move this franchise than any team in history."

Until Behring made his move, it was a foregone conclusion that the owners would OK the move.

Tagliabue even seemed to endorse it last week on national television when he talked about cities creating an "unlevel playing field" for the football team by building a stadium for a baseball team.

That seemed to be an allusion to Cleveland, which built a stadium for the Indians and an arena for the Cavaliers without providing a new or renovated stadium for the Browns.

But the Seahawks' move could change his position. Although the owners generally don't like the idea of teams moving, they seem to be waiting to see what Tagliabue recommends.

Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown said, "I want to hear what the commissioner says."

Roger Headrick, president of the Minnesota Vikings, said of the Seahawks' move, "I think that would tend to further confuse the issue." But he added, "I'm going to wait and see what's presented [before making a decision]."

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