They say that Nero fiddled while Rome burned.
Well, if Nero were alive today, I know where you would find him. He’d be eating a hot dog in the owner’s box at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, proudly smiling as he sat alongside his prized pupil, Art Modell.
Art Modell is the most hated man in sports of all-time. End of story. The road of his legacy is littered with the remains of one of the greatest football teams in the history of the game. Piece by piece, Modell set upon a path of self-serving greed and egotism that single-handedly resulted in the dismantling of legends. With no direct ties to the city he would eventually destroy, he swept in like a plague of locusts, feeding off of the hopes, dreams, and expendable income of a hard-working, blue-collar city. And when the last drop of blood was sucked dry and he could take no more from that city, he left. There was no remorse, no pity, and no consolation for those left behind.
A New York businessman by trade, Modell became owner of the Cleveland Browns in 1961, having purchased the team for $4 million.
This was no ordinary team he had just purchased, though. The Cleveland Browns were THE team to beat when this transaction took place. The Browns, coached by Paul Brown and led by Hall of Fame players like Otto Graham, Jim Brown, Marion Motley, Lou Groza, and Dante Lavelli, were perennial championship contenders. In fact, during the 1950s, the Browns won conference championships in 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, and 1957, and won league championships in 1950, 1954, and 1955. To this day, no football franchise has even come close to that level of domination for such an extended period.
Cleveland was also considered the adopted home of professional football. With the Professional Football Hall of Fame now residing in nearby Canton, many people accept Cleveland as the symbolic birthplace for the game.
The point that I am trying to make is that Art Modell was basically being given the keys to the entire kingdom of football. That, however, wasn’t good enough for Art.
Applying his business mentality to the game of football, Modell immediately set about plans to make sure that the Browns operated “HIS” way. HE was the owner, HE was the boss, and he didn’t care what worked before. It was HIS team now, and what HE said was gospel!
Well, after two seasons of not making the postseason, Modell felt that it was time for a change, so he fired head coach Paul Brown.
I’m going to let that sink in for a moment.
Paul Brown, the father of the modern offense, one of the founders of the team (the team was even NAMED after him for pete’s sake!), a championship coach for the Massillon Tigers, The Ohio State Buckeyes, and the Browns, was fired because he didn’t make the playoffs for two years.
What did he know, anyway, right? He was just a dumb coach… Modell was the REAL brains of the operation!
As if firing the greatest coach of all time wasn’t a big enough jewel for the crown of King Modell, 3 years later he would become responsible for the early departure of the greatest player of all time. That’s right, after firing Paul Brown, Art Modell is the reason that Jim Brown quit the game.
Rather than permit Jim Brown, many of whose accomplishments on the field still have not been repeated, to report late to training camp, Modell threatened to suspend the greatest player of all time without pay. In response, Brown, who believed that being a professional football player would not be a life-long career anyway, retired from the game.
I (and the many passionate fans like me who bleed orange and brown) wish that I could tell you the story ended there. Sadly, I must go on.
You see, after winning the NFL championship on the heels of Jim Brown’s dominance in 1964, Art Modell’s guidance and involvement in the operations of the Cleveland Browns was so great that the Browns never won another championship game. That’s right, a team that couldn’t be beaten PRE-Modell has been in a 45 year dead-drop POST-Modell involvement. He did such a good job with his involvement that the team which couldn’t lose became a team which couldn’t win.
And after putting the city of Cleveland through more than 30 years of turmoil, grief, and agony, Art Modell decided that he had enough, so he just packed up his things and took the greatest football team in history and moved them out of the city.
In summary, Art Modell fired the greatest coach of all time, forced out the greatest player of all time, and closed down the greatest team of all time. Case closed. Now if you’ll excuse me, I feel nautious.