Art Modell has passed, prompting a wide range of reactions from Cleveland to Baltimore to Park Avenue. Modell is loved in Baltimore, considered "visionary" by many close watchers of the NFL, and reviled in Cleveland. In Cleveland, Modell will only be remembered for uprooting the Browns in 1996 -- for Clevelanders, an unforgivable act of betrayal that nullifies anything else he ever accomplished. He'll forever be firmly entrenched as the most hated man in Cleveland, a distinction that even LeBron James could not take away.
Modell claims he had no choice in 1996. But there was a choice. While it's rarely mentioned, he was having great financial difficulty and nearly broke. He had the choice to sell the team, keeping the franchise where it belonged, and pulling himself out of a financial hole. He chose the quick cash grab, forever altering the first line of his obituary. Later, in 2004, he disclosed that bankruptcy was pending and he was going to have the Browns taken away from him. The debts continued to dog him and he was eventually forced to sell the Ravens to Steve Bisciotti.
Aside from the notorious relocation, Modell lived an amazingly long and eventful life. He fired Paul Brown in 1963, shocking the city and completely changing the history of the franchise. He worked with the league to develop Monday Night Football and create the television model the NFL utilizes today. After years of up-and-downs on the field, he finally captured his first Super Bowl in Baltimore.
I've seen some Cleveland fans say they've been waiting for this day. The passing prompts reaction -- Clevelanders will never forget the move and never forgive the man. But there's no sense in taking joy or pleasure in another man's death.
For more on Modell's passing, visit Dawgs By Nature.