Tonight, the Cleveland Browns will play the Baltimore Ravens in a game created by Art Modell. The late Ravens owner who passed away on Sept. 6 is directly responsible for the fortunes of each franchise and it didn’t have to be that way. Because of what happened, he is hated in one city and loved in the other.
Modell bought the original Browns in 1961. He kept them there for 34 years before moving to Baltimore in 1996. In that 34-year time, Modell became one of the most respected citizens in Cleveland. The Browns were beloved by everyone and when they won the NFL championship in 1964, his place in team history was secure. It still is because no Cleveland professional sports franchise has won a championship since.
In the late 1980s, Modell’s relationship with the city began to sour. He wanted a new stadium for the Browns, but was unable to get support for it. Modell owned Cleveland Municipal Stadium, known as the ‘Mistake by the Lake.’ It was old, rundown and in need of repairs. One of his tenants was the Cleveland Indians baseball team. The city decided that the stadium was Modell’s problem and instead gave the Indians a new ballpark. This did not sit well with Modell.
Without the Indians as tenants, Modell lost income and had to make a decision: sell the team or move. He decided to move.
The city of Baltimore had lost the Colts in 1984 to Indianapolis. After 12 years without a team, they wanted one badly. The NFL had passed them over in 1994 when it expanded to 30 teams despite the fact Baltimore had funds to build a new stadium from money earned through the Maryland state lottery.
The lottery deal required that Baltimore had to get a team by 1996. If not, the lottery money would go to the state of Maryland. With time running out and no team, the only choice was to find one. The logical choice was Modell and the Browns. He needed money and Baltimore needed a team.
So in November 1995, a deal was struck. The Browns moved to Baltimore the next year and became the Ravens. Modell became the most hated man in Cleveland and beloved in Baltimore.
In 1999, the new Browns were born and a rivalry began. Of course, Modell never went back to Cleveland to watch any of the games. He never stepped foot in the city again for fear of his safety.
The next year, Baltimore won its first Super Bowl. They have been perennial playoff contenders every year while the Browns struggle.
So tonight we get the first Browns-Ravens game since Modell’s death. He is still beloved in Baltimore and hated in Cleveland.
It will always be this way, because he is directly responsible for the fortunes of each.