CLEVELAND — For countless Browns fans, time has not healed. Art Modell’s move remains an open wound.
And even in death, he torments them.
Modell, the late Cleveland owner credited with helping the NFL grow in prominence but whose decision to relocate his franchise to Baltimore 17 years ago obscures his accomplishments, is one of 15 finalists up for election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Modell’s case for induction — he was also a finalist in 2002 — could spark the liveliest debate in New Orleans on Saturday among 46 Hall of Fame committee members, who will select between four and seven new members on the eve of the Ravens meeting the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl.
His supporters contend Modell helped create America’s most popular sport. His detractors will never forget one despicable deed.
“It would be a terrible thing for the NFL if he ever got in,” said Michelle DiBartolo, president of Canton’s chapter of the Browns Backers, a worldwide fan club of more than 100,000.
“I haven’t met one Browns fan who said he deserves it. Anyway, he doesn’t have the qualifications. How do you put Art Modell next to Paul Brown? That blows my mind.”
Modell will be considered for enshrinement along with coach Bill Parcells, former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr., single-season sacks leader Michael Strahan, offensive linemen Jonathan Ogden and Larry Allen, defensive tackle Warren Sapp, running back Jerome Bettis, wide receivers Cris Carter, Tim Brown and Andre Reed, defensive standouts Charles Haley and Kevin Greene, guard Will Shields and defensive back Aeneas Williams.
Also up for consideration, two senior nominees: defensive tackle Curley Culp and linebacker Dave Robinson.
The inclusion of Modell on this year’s ballot has provided another subplot to the Super Bowl, which has had no shortage of juicy story lines. The Ravens’ run to the championship game has been, in part, fueled by the team dedicating its season to Modell. Baltimore’s players have worn patches with “Art” on their jerseys to honor Modell, who died Sept. 6 – four days ahead of the opener.
There’s no denying Modell’s impact on the game. As Browns owner in the 1960s, he was involved in negotiating TV contracts that brought the NFL into more of the nation’s living rooms and eventually spawned “Monday Night Football,” an institution Modell helped create as the league’s broadcast chairman.
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, a Hall of Fame tight end in Cleveland, believes Modell’s contributions warrant a bronze bust.
“You look at what Art has done for this league,” said Newsome, hired by Modell to run the Ravens.
“He was involved in the collective bargaining agreement, involved in the TV deal, involved in the merger, won a championship in ’64, won a Super Bowl. He had diversity, the first one to hire an African-American.You look at the body of work, why shouldn’t he be in it? If this game is as good as it is today— we all think we have a very good game — then Art was the architect.”