Friday, September 7, 2012

Me and Art Modell: We almost made a big deal

As Mayor of the City of Euclid in the mid-1990s, I flew to Florida for a private chat.


With the man destined to become the most detested owner in sports.


Art Modell.


I didn't want to steal the Browns.


But I also sensed that Mayor Mike White was allowing his pride to get in the way.


The Browns, I feared, might be allowed to slip away.


So I made a daring play.


Art Modell and I convened in a posh hotel conference room during the NFL  owners' meeting.


Could  the Browns move from downtown Cleveland into suburban Euclid, Ohio?


Nuts, right?


Not so.


There is precedent for such a move.


New York, Boston, and Detroit  teams have played in facilities outside City limits.


The idea was to pursue the plan only if Cleveland officials refused to build a new gridiron palace.


I wasn't going to poach.


I wanted the Browns in Cleveland.


But if that were not possible, a Cleveland suburb would at least keep them in Northeast Ohio.


We discussed a couple of potential  locations and I presented an ambitious financing concept.


It was a heady time.


I loved the Browns and still do.


As a kid, I wore number 86  because of wide receiver Gary Collins.


Collins caught three touchdowns in the 1964 championship game in an upset over who else but Baltimore.


Jim Brown, the greatest player in football history,  wore brown and orange.


Brian Sipe and the Kardiac Kids.


Bernie, the   gutsy gangly leader of a potent offense.


The Browns are a part of us.


They are Cleveland.


And here I was talking to the icon who  invented Monday Night Football.


Modell must've thought  I had a lot of chutzpah.


The Browns owner promised  he would get back to me if and when the City of Cleveland forced him to walk.


I never heard from him again.



Modell then made a surprise announcement that he was moving the Browns to Baltimore.


He broke my heart.


The rest, as they say, is history.


Would they have been called the Euclid Browns?


Not likely.


But at least they would've been here.


All the bloodletting  could've been avoided.


The team never had to leave.


I think  Modell was  disturbed that Cleveland politicians refused him a new stadium.


After all, the taxpayers built a new home for Dick   Jacobs and the Indians.


Mike White called his bluff.


Modell wasn't bluffing.


Even suburban mayors have big dreams.


And in 1994, I sat down with sports history and had a conversation.


I will never fulfill my fantasy of getting a hand-off and running to daylight through a huge hole opened up by Gene Hickerson.


But I'll always love my Browns.


I almost got a chance to save them.


For all of us.


I wish only good things for the soul of Art Modell.


If only he had called me.


Sometimes I sit at my desk and daydream.


Maybe he'll call.


I'm waiting, Art.


Give me the ball.


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