John Harbaugh said at the Super Bowl on Thursday that he hopes folks find it in their hearts to vote Art Modell into the Pro Football Hall of Fame during Saturday morning’s vote.
Don’t expect many hearts in Cleveland to feel that way.
And if Modell’s name is announced Saturday night, don’t expect many hearts to accept it with a shrug, or without angry protest.
Feelings in Cleveland remain raw over Modell moving the Cleveland Browns to Baltmore in 1995. That was evident when the thought of a mere mention of Modell’s death before a Browns game last season brought howls of outcry and anger. Inducting Modell into the pantheon of football’s greats at a facility a little more than an hour south of Cleveland would be like pouring burning hot vinegar into a cut.
Folks in Baltimore are expressing their opinions, which is their right. Harbaugh weighed in. Ozzie Newsome wrote an op-ed for the Plain Dealer. The sentiment toward a man who died and had a viewing at the team’s stadium washes West from the Chesapeake.
There are good people within the Ravens organization who remain loyal to Modell, so their feelings are understandable. To his credit, any time Newsome discusses Modell and the Hall he merely lays out his case. It’s the same old stuff: TV, the NFL-AFL merger, etc.
But at times the proselytizing for Modell comes across as sanctimonious.
As if the people in Cleveland aren’t allowed to remain angry.
One big question is whether Modell moving the old Browns disqualifies him from the Hall.
Who in Cleveland would say it doesn’t?
Modell blamed the move on the city and county not helping him with a new stadium, of promises broken and deadlines missed. His supporters can lay out a pretty compelling case for the move. But a very candid Modell moment came in 2004 when he admitted at an NFL meeting that he never wanted to move.
“Why did you then?” he was asked.
“If I didn’t move my team to Baltimore, my family would’ve gone to bankruptcy,” he said. “I had to (move). I couldn’t afford it. You declare bankruptcy in the NFL, and it’s an automatic revocation of your license. They strip you of your ballclub.”
But when he got to Baltimore he continued to borrow — to the point he owed $180 million and had to bring in Steve Biscotti to bail him out.
This is a Hall of Fame owner?
Modell fired Paul Brown, the greatest coach and greatest innovator in NFL history. That move alone changed the fortune of a franchise; imagine if Modell had somehow been able to set his ego aside and keep Brown coaching.
Modell won a championship in 1964, yes. But he did that with the team Brown built, and Modell didn’t win another in Cleveland. His team never even got to the Super Bowl, though it did play in three NFL Championship games pre-Super Bowl, i.e. the era just after Brown was run off.
Modell won his title with Paul Brown disciple Blanton Collier as coach, using Brown’s players and Collier’s approach. But after Collier retired in 1971, Modell’s record was 187-188. In the 31 years after the Browns won the title, Modell had eight different coaches.
This is Hall of Fame worthy?
After the 1965 season, Modell hastened Jim Brown’s retirement by getting into a contract spat with Brown because Modell wanted Brown to return from filming The Dirty Dozen in time for training camp. Modell didn’t give, and ran Brown away from the game.
This is called the daily double: Running off the greatest coach and greatest player in NFL history.
Hall of Fame?
Then there’s the move.
Modell’s supporters, and there are many, will present his side. It will include hiring Newsome, the first African-American to run a team.
But Modell’s candidacy has many hurdles to overcome. This Hall class is deep, with four extremely strong candidates up for the first time — Jonathan Ogden, Michael Strahan, Warren Sapp and Larry Allen. Cris Carter is a finalist. So are Andre Reed and Bill Parcells and Edward DeBartolo (a much more deserving owner) and Jerome Bettis and Charles Haley.
That makes it tough, but it’s not the reason Modell should not be selected.
The Hall of Fame is for the best of the best, the most special players and people from NFL history. It’s not a Hall of sentimentality or perceived influence.
It’s the Hall of the greatest.
With respect to a lot of good people in Baltimore whose opinions are worthy of respect, Modell doesn’t meet the standard.
Not for the national Hall of Fame.
Folks in Baltimore can induct him in their city Hall of Fame, if they have one. Throw a big party and serve crabcakes. Have at it. No one would begrudge you.