Modell—as in Hell
Finding Art Modell, the ‘New’ Browns, and Final Closure in Cleveland
Art Modell. Few names in the NFL evince more polarized opinions. In Cleveland, Modell is a traitor; in Baltimore, a savior. Even in Cleveland he is remembered nearly as much for charitable works and a championship (in 1964, the Browns’ last) as he is for decades of football mediocrity and perhaps the greatest heist in community history: relocating the venerated Browns franchise to Baltimore in 1995 to become today’s Ravens.
The move shocked even the most jaded fans. The Browns were as much a part of Cleveland as the Terminal Tower. Losing the team, only to be handed several more decades of futility with a sad-sack expansion franchise, dealt a painful blow to a down-and-out city just beginning to see the early buds of a civic revival. To many football fans around the country, Modell’s transgression symbolized all that is wrong with contemporary professional sports.
And while Modell ultimately won a Super Bowl in Baltimore, he lost his franchise not long before his death in 2012 and never returned to Cleveland. Today he remains a tragic figure: a two-time champion and media pioneer who still is barred from entry to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a prize he valued perhaps above all others. And unlike the celebrated Bill Veeck, whose book Veeck – as in Wreck detailed how he won an Indians World Series title in Cleveland, Modell remains persona non grata to most Clevelanders.
Modell – as in Hell is equal parts biography, investigative journalism, personal memoir, and community cri de coeur. It takes the reader on an emotional journey to the essence of Modell and the Browns’ departure and delicately fingers scars that linger to this day. Public outrage remains, and history awaits a full verdict.
Cleveland needs to gain closure. Modell – as in Hell may be just the catharsis the city needs.
That, and a Super Bowl championship.