Any Cleveland Browns fan in Ohio reading that headline has to be shaking their head in disgust. With the recent passing of former Cleveland Browns/Baltimore Ravens owner Art Modell, I have noticed the media has talked about his legacy and impact on the NFL prior to his team’s move to Baltimore. The focus has been on his impact on TV contracts, broadcasting, the AFL-NFL Merger and revenue sharing. When the discussion shifts to the team’s move to Baltimore people look upon him in a negative way.
But this wouldn’t be the first time an NFL team had left the city of Cleveland. The Cleveland Rams came into the NFL in 1936 and left after their championship season in 1945 for Los Angeles, where they now reside in St. Louis.
Over the years as history has now shown, I see Art Modell in a different way, a more positive way. Not because of the impact he had on the NFL before he moved the Browns to Baltimore, but because of the positive impact he had on the NFL and the rest of the sports landscape after the move to Baltimore.
In the days since his passing, I have reflected on the impact he had on the NFL and the rest of the sports leagues and how his actions impacted so many franchises in the sports world. In many ways, by moving forward, he also helped bring the past to the present.
When he fired the legendary Coach Paul Brown in 1963 his actions lead to the creation of the AFL’s Cincinnati Bengals with none other than Paul Brown leading the way. The team colors were similar, they were placed in the same AFC Central Division of the newly merged and aligned NFL in 1970, and the cross-state rivalry has existed ever since.
After Modell saw the Cleveland Cavaliers move into Gund Arena and the Cleveland Indians move out of Municipal Stadium and into the brand new Jacobs Field, the Browns were lone tenants of the run down stadium. Modell underestimated how much revenue he would lose when the Indians moved out and failed to get $175 million in tax dollars to refurbish the stadium. To add insult to injury, Cleveland added the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame to boost tourism. At that point, he decided enough was enough and made a deal to move the Browns to Baltimore.
This wasn’t the first time an NFL team had left the city of Cleveland. The Cleveland Rams came into the NFL in 1936 and left after their championship season in 1945 for Los Angeles, where they now reside in St. Louis.
Baltimore had been without an NFL team since the Colts left in the middle of the night after the 1983 season. The city of Baltimore finally got a football team in 1994 when the Baltimore Stallions of the Canadian Football League moved to town.
After much debating, protest and lawsuits in regards to the move, it’s the aftermath of the move that I find absolutely fascinating.
The talks between the two cities produced a legal settlement that would later set a precedent that would keep the Browns team name, colors and history in the city of Cleveland, thus making the Baltimore franchise more of an expansion team. The NFL then announced that the Cleveland Browns would come back within 3 years either as an expansion team or from an existing team. The league also announced a brand new stadium in the spot of the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Once a new Cleveland franchise was established, the Browns name, colors and history would be restored. Another stipulation of the agreement was that when the Browns came back into the NFL they would be placed in the same division as the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals, restoring the long standing rivalry between the three teams. When they came back into the NFL in 1999, they were indeed placed back in the AFC Central with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals, Jacksonville Jaguars, the Tennessee Titans (formally the Houston Oilers) and the old Cleveland Browns team now known as the Baltimore Ravens.
The effect of the Browns move to Baltimore essentially killed the CFL’s Grey Cup Champion Baltimore Stallions who left Baltimore after the 1995 season and moved to Montreal and renamed themselves the Montreal Alouettes.
As ESPN’s 30 for 30 Documentary showed, the Baltimore Colts Marching Band continued to play on years after the Colts move to Indianapolis. Thirteen years later, the marching band finally got an NFL team to call their own again. The marching band was then renamed “Baltimore’s Marching Ravens.”
In 1995, the Los Angeles Raiders moved back to Oakland, where they always belonged and the Los Angeles Rams moved to St. Louis to fill the void left by the Cardinals move to Arizona in 1988.
In 1996, the Houston Oilers played their last season in Houston and would play the 1997 season in Memphis and then the 1998 season in Nashville before moving into their new stadium in 1999. During the late part of the 1998 season, Houston/Tennessee Oilers owner Bud Adams announced that he would ‘retire’ the Oilers nickname and rename the team the Titans, while keeping the teams colors, name and history. This was a direct result of Art Modell’s actions as Bud Adams did not want another team in Houston assuming the Oilers name.
In today’s NFL, many teams looking to seek a new stadium used the threat of moving the team to Los Angeles, but back then, a few teams used the threat of moving to Cleveland to get a new stadium deal. The Seahawks, Bengals, Buccaneers, Lions, Cardinals and even the Chicago Bears all used the threat of Cleveland to leverage stadium deal.
The impact of the move also led to filling the void of a team back either in Los Angeles or Houston to give the NFL 32 teams. When Houston won the expansion rights to begin play in 2002, it set the course for the NFL to realign its divisions into what you see today, including moving the Seattle Seahawks back to the NFC where they spent their first year as an expansion team in 1976.
The NFL was not the only sports league where Art Modell’s move created a lasting impact.
When the Minnesota Twins of the MLB signed their new stadium deal for Target Field in 2006, there was a provision that the name, colors, history and the World Series Trophies all remain in Minnesota if they were to ever leave the state.
When the Montreal Expos moved to Washington for the 2005 season, they changed their name to the Nationals, leaving open the possibility of a future team to come back to Montreal and revive the name and history.
In December of 2005, the San Jose Earthquakes of the MLS moved to Houston to become the Houston Dynamo. Again, all team names, colors, championships; history would stay in San Jose. The Earthquakes returned to the MLS in 2008.
The same team history agreement would again come into play when the Seattle Supersonics of the NBA moved to Oklahoma City to become the Thunder in 2008. The only twist in this agreement is the Thunder will continue on with the Sonics history until an expansion team emerges. When that happens, the new Sonics will take over the everything once again but this time the new Supersonics and the Thunder will share the team history.
In 1996 the NHL Winnipeg Jets would move to Phoenix and become the Coyotes. In 2011 the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg and retook the Jets nickname. The city of Atlanta still holds the rights to the Thrashers name and logo.
The cities and its fans have felt it’s important enough to keep the history and name of their departing team, paving the way for another team to move in and take its place at some point in the future.
What most Cleveland Browns fans will fail to admit or even realize is if Modell didn’t move the Browns when he did and how he did it, Cleveland may have lost the Browns at some point in the future and they might have been lost forever. I personally believe his actions actually saved the Cleveland Browns franchise and created the chance for them to come back and remain in Cleveland.
Art Modell’s move from Cleveland to Baltimore and the impact of the aftermath it had in the NFL and the rest of the sports leagues created a new legacy for himself. A new legacy for this generation that should be looked upon in a positive light, because without Art Modell’s move, there is no telling how different the sports landscape would be today.
- Joey Rivaldo
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