Modell legacy bankrupt when it comes to bid for Hall of Fame

I’ve always known that you never bring up religion, politics or Art Modell in polite conversation.

Religion and politics usually elicit less confrontational talk, which in itself says something about our society. Dare bring up Modell, the long-time owner of the Cleveland Browns, and you might have to fight your way home.

Modell, who passed away last September, is in the news this week because his name is among the non-players on the final ballot for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His credentials will be discussed when the voters convene Saturday morning in New Orleans, after which the voting will take place.

The topic of Modell’s worthiness touches every raw nerve in Browns’ fans for obvious reasons. Neither time nor death has assuaged feelings of bitterness that have dug deep roots in the minds and hearts of many of them. If Modell is voted in, the induction ceremony might have to be moved inside and attended by only those with invitations to avoid what could be an ugly scene in Canton.

That probably won’t be an issue. Modell is competing with former coach Bill Parcells and former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. Only one will be elected, and odds seem to favor Parcells.

There is a Baltimore faction, however, that believes it’s time to forget about Modell’s tumultuous ownership of the Browns, which ended in near bankruptcy and an expedient move out of town. In Maryland, he won the favor of state and local politicians that showered him in riches and gave him another football play toy known as the Ravens.

Such thinking is remarkably narrow and undoubtedly influenced by Modell’s short tenure as owner of the Ravens. Modell brought football back to a city that had lost the Colts after the 1983 season and threw a cherry on top with a Super Bowl win in the 2000 season.

Those same pro-Modell people were also influenced by the charitable and engaging side of Modell. He could charm a nickel from a homeless man. It was difficult not to like Modell if you were around him for any length of time.

Quite frankly, most of the Baltimore supporters and others that champion Modell’s candidacy have no reason to tell a Browns’ fan to forget the past. That’s a decision each has to make individually. It rings hollow when a Baltimore columnist that’s about to cover the Ravens in the Super Bowl for the second time opines on the reasons for forgiving Modell.

Take a walk in the shoes of a Browns’ fan for one day. Until you can fully understand what transpired in Cleveland in 1995, go write another sob piece on Ray Lewis.

I forgave Modell long ago. It was a classic case of wasted energy to generate so much hate for a man that moved his business out of town. The same thing has happened numerous times to businesses in the Mahoning Valley for 30-plus years, with more lives being affected adversely.

Forgiving and accepting of Modell’s flaws and inadequacies as a candidate are mutually exclusive. I can like the man but not agree that he’s worthy of Hall of Fame acceptance.

Modell purchased the Browns in 1961 and remained in Cleveland for 35 seasons. His record before the move to Baltimore was 285-247-7, which included a NFL Championship in 1964. Most of the players on that team were brought in by legendary coach Paul Brown, who was fired by Modell after the 1962 season.

Once the Brown-era players began to retire, the fortunes of the franchise sagged. From 1970-95 the Browns combined for a record of 194-187-3 with nary a Super Bowl appearance.

The argument for Modell looks beyond the numbers and sees a man that teamed with Commissioner Pete Rozelle to move the NFL into the modern era of big-event, entertainment-style television. It went from being Major League Baseball’s poor second cousin to the wealthiest, most-successful member of the sports family.

Modell certainly played a role in that transformation, but Rozelle, as television executives from that time will confirm, was the main power broker. To say that Modell was the driving force would be a bit of an overstatement.

There are men in the Hall of Fame that on paper probably shouldn’t be included in the club. New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath had a career 50.1 completion percentage with 173 touchdown passes and 220 interceptions. In a modern-day comparison, that sounds like Derek Anderson to me.

Namath was voted in as a transcendent player that was the face of the brash and upstart American Football League in the 1960s. He came along at the right time and place to make history and help reshape the NFL with a monumental upset of the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.

Charles W. Bidwell Sr., who owned the Chicago Cardinals from 1933-46, is an inductee based primarily on his determination to keep the franchise in business in the wake of the Great Depression. The Cardinals were a failure on the field until finally winning the NFL Championship in 1947, about six months after Bidwell’s death.

One could make the argument that Modell’s credentials equal or exceed Bidwell’s. The difference is that Bidwell kept the Cardinals in Chicago despite money problems and being overshadowed by the more popular and successful Chicago Bears.

The Browns were the only football team in Cleveland, yet Modell somehow managed to run the franchise into the ground financially. Unlike Bidwell, he broke a lease and ran as fast as possible to Baltimore.

For that reason alone, Modell doesn’t deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.