Art Modell would be kvelling this week.
The Jewish businessman from Brooklyn who brought a pro football team back to Baltimore in 1996, helping to alleviate the pain of the city’s beloved Colts sneaking out of town a dozen years earlier, died in early September. So he didn’t live to see the hoopla surrounding his Ravens appearing in the Super Bowl this Sunday, where they’ll take on the San Francisco 49ers.
Baltimore fans mourned Modell, and sports talk shows, in the midst of an exciting Orioles pennant race, devoted hours to praising him for restoring pride to the city.
Not so in Cleveland, though, where football fans never forgave Modell for moving their beloved Browns to Baltimore.
I empathize with the Cleveland folks even as I have celebrated having a hometown football team to root for again.
I remembered what it felt like in March 1984 when Robert Irsay, the owner of the Baltimore Colts, after publicly promising the governor of Maryland that he wouldn’t move the team, did just that a few days later. In the middle of the night. The image of Mayflower moving trucks emptying the Colts’ training facility under the cover of darkness still haunts.
But that’s pretty much what Modell did, if not as dramatically or falsely, when he took the Browns to Maryland, where they became the Ravens, in honor of that troubled son of Baltimore, Edgar Allan Poe.
After the Colts moved to Indianapolis, there was talk in Maryland of suing Irsay for adding insult to injury by using the team name and keeping their distinctive uniforms, with the horseshoe emblem.
For years sports announcers on TV in Baltimore referred to “the Indianapolis Irsays” when reporting on games around the league.
When Modell’s new team arrived, the all-volunteer Baltimore Colts Marching Band, which had kept together and performed around the country during the dozen-year post-Colts drought, hoped to become the Raven’s official marching band.
“I thought you always were,” Modell said, to the delight of the band, now known as The Marching Ravens, and the city.
Modell did get to see his Ravens play in one Super Bowl, when they handily defeated the New York Giants 12 years ago.
This year’s team wore the name “Art” on their jerseys in his memory, and no doubt would love to dedicate a victory to him on Sunday night.
And Baltimore fans would like to see Modell elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend. Cleveland fans? Not so much.
I guess a lot depends on geography – that is to say, where you sit, when it comes to assessing franchise owners.
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