Cleveland hates Art Modell. Let me repeat that… Cleveland HATES Art Modell. I don’t know how much clearer I can be on that point.
With that said, Modell passed away on Thursday and the reverberations can be felt across the country, most notably in Cleveland. He did a lot of good for the NFL, no one can really argue that. Modell was instrumental in helping make the NFL what it is today and helped write the book on how to be a successful NFL owner over the course of 40-plus years. Because of that, it comes as no surprise that the NFL wants to acknowledge his passing this weekend as they begin the 2012 season. In an effort to do this, the league has mandated that all home teams this weekend must acknowledge Modell during their pregame festivities.
For those of you who may not be aware, and I’m sure most of you are, the Browns are one of those teams who will open the 2012 NFL season at home. That means in order to be in accordance with the league handed down mandate, the Browns will have to do something to acknowledge Modell and his passing.
In other words, the NFL has just set up the entire city of Cleveland to look like a bunch of drunk, angry, bitter a-holes.
I like to think that the city and, more specifically, Browns fans are able to contain the hateful rage that still burns into the depths of their souls, but being a realist… and a Browns fan… I know that’s not going to happen. I hate Modell just as much as everyone else who proudly wears orange and brown and calls Cleveland home. What he did was awful. He took a symbol of civic pride and up and moved it 400 miles or so to the east. We loathed the man. To think that a stadium full of 70,000-plus people is going to be respectful is insane.
Still, those who are removed from the situation and can be objective tell us that we’re being petty and childish, that we need to just get over it already, that we got our football team back and just let it go. Maybe that’s true. Maybe it is stupid that 17 years after the fact we’re all still bitter about what went down, but just like with the Lebron situation… Don’t tell me how to feel because the ramifications of Art Modell’s actions are still felt in Cleveland to this day.
Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden, two future hall of famers, were drafted following the Browns’ final season. The Ravens, with Lewis, Ogden, and one of the greatest defenses ever assembled, won a Super Bowl a mere five years after leaving town. Bill Belichick was fired at the end of the ’95 seasosn in order to bring in someone more familiar with the city of Baltimore. Had the Browns stayed put and Belichick been allowed to remain as coach, what could have been? Would we have become the Patriots dynasty?
Even worse, take a look at the team we have now. It’s going on 13 years of ineptness, the likes of which we have never seen before. So get over it? How can I when I’m constantly reminded each and ever season as my team goes 4-12 and my old team goes 13-3? At the core of it, that’s what hurts the worst. That’s what has caused so much anger and animosity towards the Modell’s and to a lesser extent the NFL. We got our team back in 1999 but it’s never been the same and possibly never will. There’s even a small faction of fans who refuse to acknowledge the new Browns, saying that their fandom died the day the Browns left never to be replaced by a shiny new imitation in a generic, soulless stadium.
So go ahead NFL and national media, tell us again how we should feel about this. Tell us how we need to get over it when anyone in our situation would feel the exact same way. You don’t know us, so don’t try to pretend that you do.
On the other hand, I know all of you and I know that this is exactly what you want. By the NFL mandating that the Browns acknowledge Modell’s passing, we’ll make asses out of ourselves, paint Modell as the victim in the end, and give you a story with enough momentum behind it to possibly propel Modell into the Hall of Fame once and for all.
And while yes, all of the good he did more than qualifies him for enshrinement, one action was enough to undo it all in our eyes. Death does not change a person’s life or how it should be perceived. While you tell us about the charity work, the forward thinking, and how he helped mold the present day NFL over 40-plus years of service, our obituary reads different. Art Modell… the man that moved the Browns out of Cleveland.
So on Sunday, when the PA announcer at Cleveland Browns Stadium begins his league mandated acknowledgement of the passing of Art Modell don’t expect heavy hearts and grateful applause. Expect a chorus of boos, obscenities, and Lord only knows what else that will ultimately make us look like idiots. I hope I’m wrong. I hope the desire to be the “better man” in this situation wins out and everyone goes about their business simply ignoring what’s said.
I’m not naive, though. Within 15 minutes of its conclusion the video will be splattered across ESPN, NFL Network, and every other media platform imaginable. We’ll look like jackasses and it’ll be yet another punchline in the long running national joke that has been the city of Cleveland. Just know, I blame you NFL. You should know better. You should have known better than to allow Modell to move the Browns in the first place.
Maybe, when you get down to it, Modell wasn’t the one we should have been booing all these years…