Reporting Daryl Ruiter
CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) - Former Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell died Thursday morning his son David confirmed.
Family members were called to Johns Hopkins Hospital Wednesday night where Modell was being cared for before he died of natural causes around 4 a.m.
Modell was an NFL pioneer and renowned philanthropist but his legacy is forever tainted.
Modell, who is 87, ripped the heart out of Cleveland when he took the stage in Baltimore, MD on Nov. 6, 1995 and announced that he was moving the Browns following the season.
“This has been a very, very tough road for my family and me,” Modell said at the time of the move. “I leave my heart and part of my soul in Cleveland. But frankly, it came down to a simple proposition: I had no choice.”
The announcement came just days after the Cleveland Indians lost to the Atlanta Braves in their first World Series appearance since 1948.
Modell, who incurred tremendous business related debts, cited a lack of financial support from the city, county and state for a new stadium after the Indians moved to Jacobs Field and the Cavaliers to Gund Arena in 1994 as the reason for relocating despite years of sellout crowds.
Following months of litigation and negotiations, Modell agreed to leave the Browns’ name colors, records and history of the franchise behind and adopt essentially a new franchise in Baltimore – the Ravens who went on to win Superbowl XXXV in 2001.
“I think that part of my legacy is I left the colors, the name and the records in Cleveland,” Modell said. “The fans in Cleveland were loyal and supportive. They lived and died with me every Sunday for 35 years.”
Modell owned the Cleveland Browns from 1961 to 1995 and saw the franchise make the playoffs 17 times, including 11 division titles, 3 trips to the AFC Championship game and the NFL Championship in 1964.
Despite the move to Baltimore and the friendly no rent, all revenues stadium lease, the financial hardships followed him from Cleveland. He sold the Ravens to minority owner, Maryland businessman Steve Bisciotti in 2004 at the behest of the NFL.
Modell’s relocation of the Browns to Baltimore prior to the 1996 season spurred a stadium and arena boom across the country as taxpayers agreed to pay for new ballparks, stadiums and arena’s for fear that their teams would suffer the same fate as the Browns.
“I have a great legacy, tarnished somewhat by the move,” Modell said in 1999. “The politicians and the bureaucrats saw fit to cover their own rear ends by blaming it on me.”
Modell fired legendary coach Paul Brown, who had won 7 league championships before Modell bought the team, in 1963 and hired Blanton Collier.
The move was controversial but Collier led the Browns to it’s last title a year later.
Modell was instrumental in the emergence of the NFL through television – most notably Monday Night Football. The Browns were the first telecast at old Cleveland Municipal Stadium on Sept. 21, 1970 and they beat Joe Namath and the NY Jets 31-21.
Modell was a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001 and a semifinalist for the classes of 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011 but has not been elected.
The Browns rejoined the NFL in 1999 as an expansion franchise in a new 72,000 seat stadium built on the very location of the old stadium but haven’t come close to relevancy or competitiveness since.
“I have no vindication,” Modell said in 2001. “Let me say one statement about Cleveland. I am simply delighted, on behalf of my family, ecstatic that there is a football team in Cleveland called the Cleveland Browns, and they wear uniforms with seal brown and burnt orange colors, and they have the legacy of Jim Brown and Otto Graham and dozens of others, and above all playing in a new stadium.”
The late Al Lerner, who was an investor in the team with Modell, helped negotiate the relocation of the franchise on his private jet.
He was awarded the expansion Browns for $530 million in 1998. Nearly 10 years after his passing, his son Randy Lerner, who inherited the team, announced the sale of the franchise last month to Jimmy Haslam III.
Below is an overview of Art Modell’s career courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens website:
• Left high school at age of 15 to help financially-strapped family after the death of his father
• First full-time job was as an electrician’s helper, cleaning hulls of ships in a Brooklyn shipyard
• Joined the Air Force in 1943 (He was 18.)
• Under the G.I. Bill, he enrolled in a New York City television school following World War II
• Produced one of the first regular daytime television shows in the nation (“Market Melodies”)
• Joined the advertising business in 1954 and became a partner for the L.H. Hartman Co. in New York City
• Purchased Browns on March 21, 1961
• Won two NFL Championships: the 1964 Browns beat the Baltimore Colts, 27-0, and the 2000 Ravens won Super Bowl XXXV with a 34-7 victory over the N.Y. Giants
• Three more of Modell’s teams — 1965, 1968 and 1969 – played in NFL title games
• His 1986, 1987 and 1989 teams lost memorable AFC Championships to the Denver Broncos
• His 1967, 1971, 1972, 1980, 1982, 1985, 1988, 1994, 2001 and 2003 teams also made the playoffs
• In six other seasons — 1963, 1970, 1976, 1979, 1983 and 2002 — Art’s teams had a chance to make the playoffs on the final day of the season, but did not qualify
• In 43 years of ownership, Art produced 28 winning seasons with an overall record of 346-305-8
• Moved franchise to Baltimore, Maryland on Feb. 9, 1996
• Only elected NFL president in league history, serving in that capacity in 1967-69
• Chairman of the NFL’s Television Committee for 31 years (1962-93). During his tenure, NFL TV contracts set the standard and records for the highest in sports history
• Chairman of the Owners Labor Committee (1968), which successfully negotiated NFL’s first collective bargaining agreement with players
• Served on the NFL-AFL Merger Committee, breaking the impasse for realignment of the two leagues by moving the Browns to the American Football Conference
• Worked closely with Pete Rozelle to establish NFL Films and became first Chairman of Films
• In 1970, was an important negotiator with ABC to start Monday Night Football and volunteered to host the first game in Cleveland
• Conceived and staged first doubleheader in NFL history, consisting of the Browns and three other teams playing back-to-back preseason games at Cleveland Stadium. From 1962-1971, the Browns hosted annual doubleheaders each August drawing over 800,000 fans in 10 years
• Art and Tex Schramm initiated the second Thanksgiving Day Game, and agreed to play the first one
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