Now that the deal is really done, it's time to decide on the details

February 11, 1996|By John Steadman

Never a deal quite like this one. Art Modell, while discovering gold in the streets of Baltimore, gave up a team nickname and uniform colors that were going to be of no practical use to him in the new rent-free football mansion that's to be built to his specifications.

It's no doubt the best trade in the 35 years he has held a franchise in the NFL. He didn't have to give up a single draft choice, but there was a price to pay -- his reputation took a frightful battering, such as old Cleveland friends saying they never want to talk to him again.

Technically, if Modell can make player moves the equal of this one, then he's headed for the Super Bowl, one of his most coveted goals in life. No wonder he believes in being his own general manager.

Dan Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Ralph Wilson of the Buffalo Bills didn't soften their convictions or surrender their integrity in being the only two club owners to vote against the switch. The NFL wanted Modell to sell the Cleveland club to interests there and be guaranteed, in writing, an expansion club in Baltimore.

This was the most sensible way to go, but Modell said no. With so much turmoil, plus the legal entanglements, the final arrangements came out best for all parties under the prevailing circumstances.

Wilson sat next to Modell at the decisive meeting. He told him there was nothing personal in the stand he took. "There was no vendetta," said Wilson. "What he did was simply wrong -- and the way he did it. He's impetuous. Art never gave Cleveland any signal he was getting ready to move."

Wilson went on to add, "Early in life, if the salesgirl at the counter gives you $5 too much in change, you have to decide to keep it or hand it back. The call is always going to be on your own interpretation of what's right or wrong."

The unprecedented switch, coming as it did, puts Modell in a position to make some judgments he never would have had to make. Decisions need to be expedited.

Some are easy, others more complicated. Observations and reactions to the myriad of issues for your and Modell's perusal:

* Team name: The most abominable suggestion of all is `f Bombers, considering the pain endured in war, on both sides, plus the fear and grief terrorists' activities have created. The Glenn L. Martin Co., in Middle River, Md., built bombers for only five years, before and during World War II. Bombers are not a part of Baltimore's heritage.

The name Bombers, in this era, offers an inhumane connotation on the sports page or other places. Imagine survivors of victims in so many tragic bombings being continually reminded of the carnage when they read or hear references to bombers. They should be spared such mental torture.

Lest we forget -- and their families never will -- the devastating loss of life in the bombings of the World Trade Center in New York, the government building in Oklahoma City and the airliner exploding over Lockerbie, Scotland, including bright young men and women from Maryland.

Where's our sensitivity?

* Good name ideas: Baltimore Bees. Short, alliterative and offers imaginative logo possibilities. Another worthy choice is Knights. ZTC Such gentlemen jockeys are included in the official Maryland seal, a suggestion introduced three years ago by WJZ's Chris Ely. Additionally, Bolts, as in lightning bolts.

* Coaches: Bill Belichick saw a team's attentions and emotions torn away, through no fault of his, in midseason when the Browns became lame ducks and played like them. They fell apart, which was to be expected -- from 11-5 in 1994 to 5-11 in 1995. Belichick is deserving of a chance to succeed or fail in Baltimore under different circumstances.

* If not Bill: Either Raymond Berry, the ex-Colt, who took the New England Patriots to their only Super Bowl and is a former Browns assistant, or Ted Marchibroda, late of Indianapolis, who was within a dropped pass of playing in the Super Bowl instead of Pittsburgh.

* Old heroes: Keep the original Baltimore Colts records separate. Preserve them with the respect John Unitas, Lenny Moore, Berry, et al, deserve. Begin a new chapter.

* Off-field reverse: Modell, who voted against the original Baltimore expansion bid but then accepted the same grand offer for himself.

* Unsung hero: Peter Angelos, Orioles owner, who used his influence a year ago to keep stadium funding in place. Modell comes along to ride a rich gravy train to Baltimore and cash in with profits estimated to be upward of $30 million annually by using a rent-free stadium for 30 years -- thanks to the generosity of the governor and Maryland Stadium Authority.

* Wasted money: Spending from $2.5 million to $5 million to rehabilitate Memorial Stadium for two years (a mere 20 games) and then engaging a demolition crew to turn it into a pile of bricks.

* Bad precedent: As former Gov. William Donald Schaefer said on his WCBM radio show, the deal to get the Browns came about because the present governor and the stadium authority gave the state away. All other current and future Maryland businesses can ask for similar consideration or threaten a move to Cleveland (Ohio, not Oklahoma).

* Glendening's fear (and John Moag's, too): That Angelos will invoke the parity clause in his rent contract, maybe even making it retroactive to 1992, which would be a costly byproduct of the football agreement.

* Bottom line: Baltimore is again in the NFL. Hallelujah. Put emotion aside and it's a giveaway that brings little benefit to the citizens but vast wealth to the happy owner. Go, team, go.

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