When Art Modell passed away last September, this is how I summarized his legacy: "In one of the most famous scenes in cinematic history, Marlon Brando (playing boxer Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront) laments, "I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it." Modell could have been a Cleveland hero, a beloved figure and a Pro Football Hall of Famer but instead he is widely viewed as a betrayer. His downfall is his own fault but that does not make it any less tragic; indeed, the hubris and shortsightedness that often leads to ruin are the very essence of tragedy."
Modell is a Finalist for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Terry Pluto brilliantly explains why Modell's career falls far short of Hall of Fame quality. You should read the entire article but here is a particularly noteworthy passage:
When it comes to winning, the strongest statement for Modell in the
Hall of Fame is really a case for Blanton Collier to be in the Hall of
Modell bought the Browns in 1961. He fired legendary coach Paul
Brown a year later. Many Browns fans still hold that against him. After
researching my book, Browns Town 1964, most of the members of
that championship team told me that Modell made the right move. Brown
had become rigid and very impatient with his players.
Collier was a Paul Brown disciple, only with a personality better
suited to the players of that era -- and a more modern approach to the
game. In Brown's last four years in Cleveland, his records were 7-5,
8-3-1, 8-5-1 and 7-6-1. In Collier's first four, the Browns were 10-4,
10-3-1, 11-3 and 9-5.
Collier made them a better team, period.
From 1962-69, the Browns went to the NFL championship game four
times in eight years, winning in 1964. Collier's record was 74-34, a
.688 winning percentage. Collier also ran the football side of the front
Collier retired as head coach in 1971. In the next 25 years, the
Browns were 187-188 ... with 12 winning seasons. Modell went through
seven coaches after Collier, and only two had winning records -- Nick
Skorich (30-24) and Marty Schottenheimer (44-27). Modell's playoff
record after Collier was 4-10.
That is Modell's resume as the Browns' owner: one good coaching hire leading to a brief period of success, followed by a quarter century of mediocrity culminating in financial ruin--something that is very difficult to do in a league that is flush with cash and that makes a point of distributing that cash as evenly as possible. Even the infusion of cash Modell received by fleeing to Baltimore only temporarily made him solvent and just a few years after traitorously abandoning the loyal Cleveland fans Modell was forced to sell his team--negating the very reason he gave for moving in the first place (namely, to keep the team in his family). It would be a travesty if the Pro Football Hall of Fame opens its doors to Modell; the only Halls of Fame he belongs in are the Hall of Mediocrity and the Hall of Betrayal.