Art Modell Was Hero, Villain To Football Fans

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Football icon Art Modell has died. Modell was hero to Baltimore Ravens fans because as owner of that NFL team he brought them a Superbowl. But it's a different story in Cleveland, where Browns fans vilify him for moving the team to Baltimore after a dispute with Cleveland political leaders.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel. A former NFL owner, who was loved by one city and loathed by another has died. Art Modell was 87 years old. To football fans in Cleveland, he was the owner of their beloved Browns, who whisked the team to Baltimore in 1995 and renamed it the Ravens. But to fans in Baltimore, he was the man who brought football back to the city after it had been abandoned by the Colts. Bill Rice has our story from Cleveland.

BILL RICE, BYLINE: Art Modell bought the Browns in 1961, and the team won the championship three years later, shutting out the Baltimore Colts 27-0. That would be the Browns' last championship. In 1996, Modell, while clashing with city officials over a deal to renovate Cleveland Municipal Stadium, was secretly meeting with Maryland officials. Soon after those meetings, he decided to move the team to Baltimore. Clevelander Pat McCann remembers that.

PAT MCCANN: It was a hard day. Yeah, we all hated Art Modell for it. Yeah, I don't think I've forgiven him yet.

RICE: TV sports director Andy Baskin says Modell's contributions to Cleveland went way beyond football. He was a philanthropist, giving away millions of dollars. But Baskin understands why some Browns fans still vilify him.

ANDY BASKIN: They'll always remember him for moving the team when they were out there supporting him and buying tickets and doing what they needed to do to support the team. And I think when I look back at it, it's not only Art's fault that the team moved. I look back at the city and I blame the city and I also blame the NFL for letting it happen.

RICE: It's a very different story in Baltimore, though. In the mid-'80s, football fans there were devastated when Colts' owner Jim Irsay moved that team in the dead of night to Indianapolis. Baltimore was without a team for 13 years before Modell brought the Browns to town, renaming them the Ravens. Dave Rather owns Mothers Federal Hill Grille Sports Bar near Camden Yards.

DAVE RATHER: He's considered a hero here in Baltimore. There's a lot of fond memories, and just a lot of tributes and a lot of thank yous. The Ravens are a huge part of our community.

RICE: Art Modell did leave the Browns' name and colors in Cleveland, and three years later, the city was granted an expansion team. Some here in Cleveland do appreciate his contribution to the city and to football. He's credited with ushering the game into the age of television and starting the Monday Night Football tradition. For NPR News, I'm Bill Rice in Cleveland.

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