Modell's decision to move Browns not fair to fans

My parents were both born in Cleveland in 1946. The Cleveland Browns were born in 1950.

My parents are still together. The Browns, alas, have called their marriage with the city quits.

It was my mom who characterized Browns owner Art Modell's decision Monday to move the Browns to Baltimore as "a divorce." At the time I thought she was simply being dramatic, but in hindsight I think she was right.

I never had the opportunity to live in a town that lived and died with their football team. I lived in San Diego and Phoenix, and I think it's more of an eastern phenomenon. The cradle of professional football is in the rust belt in towns such as Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay and Cleveland. Just look at Cleveland's uniforms brown and dirty orange. It's the working man's uniform, and football is a cold weather, coal-mine kind of sport.

That's what it was anyway. Now, professional football is a dome-stadium, luxury-box type of sport.

Money is what this is all about. How else do you explain Modell's decision?

He had a team filled with tradition Paul Brown, Jim Brown and Otto Graham, Brian Sipe and the Cardiac Kids of the early '80s, and the star-crossed teams of the mid-to-late '80s, with "The Drive" and "The Fumble" denying them Super Bowl trips.

He had a team with rapid fans the Dawg Pound, which would occupy the Lake Erie end of Cleveland Municipal Stadium and throw dog biscuits (and sometimes batteries) at the opposing team while barking through dogs masks.

He had the facility the grimy, ugly wind tunnel that was Cleveland Municipal. It was considered the worst home for any professional team nails sticking out of the walls reportedly served as lockers. It had a field of mud with some grass sticking out.

But it also had style. What other stadium could better house the grind-it-out football team of the city known affectionately as "The Mistake by the Lake?"

Apparently, Modell thought Baltimore's could.

At his news conference Monday, Modell said he had no choice but to move. Baltimore gave him a colossal deal: a new, 70,000 seat stadium, no rent for 30 years and all concessions and parking revenues. Basically, the state will foot the bill for the stadium and receive no revenues from the team until Modell is merely a bad dream in the memories of Clevelanders.

From a business perspective, Modell's move makes sense. The Browns are $51 million in debt and cleared only $60 million in revenues last season, 18th in the NFL. Dallas led the league with $101 million.

It is the revenue that allows teams to give free agents big signing bonuses, and thus circumvent the salary cap. But without revenue, teams can't compete in the free-agent market.

But logic does not work with fans. They just want to know why their team is leaving. They never thought of it as Modell's team, it was their team. They were the ones who sat in the cold, the rain and the snow, while Modell reclined in his box.

There's still hope. Modell's peers the owners, half of whom also seem to be looking for new cities to relocate to still have to approve the move. There's also the possibility the city of Cleveland will sue to keep the team. But barring those events, Modell has a signed contract with Baltimore, the city that couldn't even keep the Colts.

When the Browns played a critical game at home last Sunday against Houston, the fans packed the stadium as usual, but it was Modell who was absent the first time in 35 years he missed a game.

Probably out of shame.

Patrick Klein is Wildcat assistant sports editor.

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