Commentary

Modell was mostly a model owner

But moving his franchise probably scuttled his chances with HOF voters

Originally Published: September 6, 2012
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

One of the most-asked questions a Hall of Fame voter gets is about Baltimore Ravens owner Art Modell, who died Thursday at age 87.

As an owner, Modell did almost everything to merit induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His strong presence at the bargaining table allowed the NFL to grow into the nation's top sport. In Cleveland, he ran a model franchise, annually competing for top players. Like Robert Kraft in New England, Modell had a strong presence in league meetings and league decisions.

One episode has prevented his selection to the Hall of Fame, however. After failing to get the city to help him build a new stadium, Modell moved the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore. Although the move buoyed Baltimore fans, many of them still bitter about losing their Colts to Indianapolis, it betrayed the equally loyal fans in Cleveland.

A majority of people in the HOF room -- including me -- never felt comfortable enough to vote him in. Canton is too close to Cleveland. It just didn't feel right.

[+] EnlargeArt Modell
ReutersArt Modell's decision to move his franchise to Baltimore made business sense but also made Hall of Fame voters uncomfortable.

Nevertheless, the Modell name is as influential as the Rooneys, Maras and other who helped to make this league so strong. Despite years of recent futility, the Browns' brand is still one of the best in this league. Browns fans are still some of the best in the sport. Modell served them well during his years in Cleveland.

I'll miss his wit and his words. He usually was the first destination for any reporter covering the owners meetings, because he would provide great insight and great quotes.

In some ways, he was similar to a Jerry Jones. Like Jones, Modell would immerse himself in the big decisions involving his franchise, hoping to put his team over the top. Like Jones, sometimes he'd force a little too much change that may have prevented the team from getting over the top.

But his résumé in Cleveland was impeccable. He bought the Browns in 1961. His Browns played in three NFL title games. Each year, he fielded a playoff-caliber team. He established the same standards in Baltimore after he moved the Browns there in 1996 and renamed them the Ravens.

In 43 years of ownership, Modell was responsible for 28 winning seasons.

He had many more wins on league committees. His 32-year run as chairman of the NFL's television committee helped turn millionaire owners into billionaires. Forbes magazine's recent rankings of franchise values placed the Cowboys' worth at more than $2 billion. That wouldn't have happened without Modell.

He was on the labor committee. He served on the NFL-AFL merger committee. He helped promote the development of NFL Films.

Modell had a vision for the Browns, the Ravens and the sport. He helped expand the NFL into "Monday Night Football." Modell and Tex Schramm of the Cowboys agreed to have a second game on Thanksgiving. Now it's a three-game feast.

Were it not for the move to Baltimore, Modell would have been in the Hall of Fame 15 years ago. The best he's done is make the top 15, but he never advanced past that level and probably never will.

I'm sure his death will create more conversation between now and the Super Bowl about his chances this year. Modell's name is always on the ballot and always under consideration.

Football is a sport, but it's also a business. It made economic sense to take the Baltimore offer when he thought things were going nowhere in Cleveland. Though Cleveland was able to get an expansion franchise to go with a new stadium, it hasn't been the same.

I can say with conviction that the NFL isn't the same without Art Modell. He will be missed.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer