Cleveland in a New York state of mind

Many Clevelanders rooting for Giant win over Modell's Ravens

January 25, 2001|By David A. Markiewicz | David A. Markiewicz,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

CLEVELAND - Rob Hageman has no particular fondness for the New York Giants. Still, when Super Bowl Sunday arrives, his rooting sentiments will be clear.

"I think I speak for a lot of other Clevelanders," Hageman, 25, said, "when I say, `Go, New York!' For four hours, anyway, I'm going to be a Giants fan."

With a few exceptions, that seems to be the prevailing view here, where a Ravens victory would represent the final galling chapter in this city's recent football history.

Not that Browns fans have anything against Baltimore residents. Or Ravens players, for that matter. But in a town that has suffered through "The Drive" and "The Fumble" en route to losing two AFC championship games, "The Move" may be the deepest cut of all.

So, a Lombardi Trophy for Art Modell, the man who moved their team, would be like Robert Irsay's having won a Super Bowl after bolting Baltimore for Indianapolis.

Unthinkable. Unbearable.

"What he did wasn't right. It was sneaky," said Jenny Just, 29.

Added Hageman: "I want to see them fail."

The thought of a Ravens title, said Michael Connelly, 37, "turns my stomach. People here supported the Modells and the team for 50 years, and then they sold us out."

Although some Clevelanders say it's time to move on and forget about the Modells, others say they will always remember the betrayal. The local media have kept the issue alive. The city's daily newspaper, the Plain Dealer, solicited readers' views on the subject this week, while local radio and television stations take every chance to swipe at Art and David Modell.

For example, when the Ravens' bus hit a police car this week en route to the airport, a TV news anchor quipped that maybe David was driving.

A local radio station airs running gags featuring an Art Modell impersonator. The station also replays an infamous quote from David Modell publicly stating that he would never, ever move the Browns because he was a Clevelander who had raised his family in the city.

Mike Trivisonno, host of a top-rated sports-oriented afternoon talk show on that radio station, said: "I won't stop airing that quote until everyone has heard it at least three times."

Some Browns fans say they've mellowed, however, that the old bitterness toward the Modells has ebbed now that Cleveland again has pro football.

"Before, probably 100 percent of the people here were against the Modells and the Ravens, but now that's probably down to half. And younger people don't have any animosity at all," said Terry Gallagher, 45.

"Personally, I hold nothing against the Ravens."

Derek Giancola, 14, agreed, saying he was too young to remember much about the move in 1996. But, he said, he still was affected by the loss of the Browns.

"I would see people in other cities cheering for their team," Giancola said, "and I felt like I was missing out on something."

If hostilities have eased, it's in part because of time, and partly due to Art Modell's charisma and his long history of charitable work. Former Browns players and fans who knew him and were familiar with his civic efforts in Cleveland said they couldn't help but root for him.

"I think I'm in the minority, but I feel he was a great civic leader here for over 30 years," said Robert T. Bennett, a Clevelander who is chairman of the Ohio Republican Party. Bennett said he regards the move as a "mistake" by Modell, but said Modell did much good for his old, adopted hometown. Too much to completely ignore.

Bennett also agreed that Modell's move was a smart business decision given the fact that Cleveland built a new baseball park and a basketball arena downtown in the 1990s, but not a football stadium. Of the fans' continuing resentment, he said: "It's time we get a little bit of a life."

Longtime Browns defensive lineman Bob Gain said he has "no animosity toward Art. I wish him the very best." Moving to Baltimore, Gain said, "wasn't what Art wanted to do. It was because of the [Cleveland] city fathers."

"There's no one who deserves the glory more than Mr. Modell," said former Browns defensive back Hanford Dixon. "It's sad that the fans here can't let bygones be bygones. They don't know the man. But he's a good person."

That's not enough for some Browns fans who say they won't forget. Ever. And they're not about to let the Modells or the NFL forget, either.

"Even if they win Sunday," said Brian Heffernan, 40, "they'll know that we know what they did."

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