Unlock doors to Hall for Modell

October 25, 2007|By DAVID STEELE

The longer the oversight lasts, the more stories like this will be told. And the oversight has lasted a long, long time, as long as the apparent vendetta.

The facts will never change: In his 46 years on the scene, Art Modell did a great service to the NFL, to sports fans everywhere and to a proud but snubbed city and its football legacy. Stick a doughnut in my right hand, a Duff beer in my left and call me "Homer" if you like - but those facts should be enough to get Modell into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

But so far, they haven't been. This year might be different, but not many people are holding out hope anymore. Modell, now 82 and getting around by wheelchair and golf cart, has never been the type to publicly campaign, and Tuesday night at the dinner in his honor at Valley Mansion, he let others campaign for him. The size of the crowd and the people who spoke about him did just that.

In speaking to The Sun's Edward Lee, Modell said of the turnout: "All part of the Modell family. I always ran the business as a family business. These people are an extension of my family, of which I am very grateful."

No one's arm was twisted to come praise Modell once again. Not the old Colts, such as Lenny Moore and Tom Matte. Not the past and present Ravens, like Brian Billick, Michael McCrary and, via recording, Jonathan Ogden. Not John Mara, scion of one of the original NFL families and current owner of the New York Giants, like Modell an NFL lifer. Not the night's presenters, the folks at the Babe Ruth Museum, which existed before Modell and the Ravens arrived and began as a history repository for a different sport.

Not Ozzie Newsome, a great player for Modell in Cleveland and a man Modell later trusted with the entire football operation when most other owners couldn't find it in themselves to trust a black man to as much as coach the team. That took Hall of Fame-worthy vision or guts or a combination of the two.

Jim Brown even tried to make it, denied only by the Southern California wildfires threatening his home. And Brown has never shown much love for establishment types. Brown and Modell have an interesting, complicated history, some of which involved the Browns' contentious departure from Cleveland. But Modell meant that much to him that he was going to honor him anyway.

It's the scars left from the move, of course, that have denied Modell his moment in Canton and his well-earned right to football immortality. The list of his accomplishments in the NFL ought to be well known by now: a pioneer in televising the league, a major player in the NFL-AFL merger and in the first labor agreement with the players, the man who broke a significant barrier when he promoted Newsome, the owner who produced the last pro championships for Cleveland and Baltimore on his watch.

Plus ... he did leave Cleveland the nickname and logos.

Truthfully, the Cleveland faithful can't be derided for hating Modell; heartbroken Colts fans here know that better than anybody else. But each city still has only one representative on the 44-person Hall of Fame selection committee, and the time is approaching to pick semifinalists for the 2008 class. Modell has made the final cut only once, in 2002.

So it's up to the others to think this through: Is the NFL better off now that Baltimore is back in the league, after all that Baltimore has meant to it?

And is it better off now that Cleveland is represented, too? With the new stadium it never got while Modell was there, like the one Baltimore got long after Robert Irsay beat it out of town. Heck, Indianapolis has proved beyond a doubt that it is worthy of having the NFL, too.

Pro football belongs in all of those cities. Along with the rest of his body of work, credit Modell for getting the NFL back to one place that didn't deserve to have it stolen away.

Plus, not that this matters to the Hall, he did find time to leave a legacy of great charity work in two cities. Ask the kids in Baltimore who are going to be educated by the public boarding school plan, part of the SEED Foundation's efforts, to which Modell and his wife last January pledged $5 million.

Yes, the man actually did a little more in his football life than, as a famous Sports Illustrated cover depicted, punch the Dawg Pounders in the gut.

It's long past time to stop punching Modell back. Punch his ticket to Canton instead.


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