Thursday, January 31, 2013

Rewriting history . . . again

Poor Ozzie Newsome. He just doesn’t know when to leave well enough alone.

The former Browns tight end stuck his nose where it doesn’t belong Wednesday when he wrote a guest columnist piece for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, stating that Art Modell belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The guess here is he didn’t write it all; he had help. And that someone other than himself put him up to it.

Why now? Because Modell is one of the 15 finalists for Hall of Fame consideration this weekend down in New Orleans. And why the Plain Dealer? Because it was certain to rile up Browns Nation.

I could go paragraph by paragraph of Newsome’s plea and rebut just about every one of his contentions that his late boss belongs in the HOF. But that would take up way too much space.  So, let’s pick out a few.

It seems obvious that Newsome, who has become one of the National Football League’s most respected general managers in Baltimore, has rewritten history here. And it seems just as obvious he has been misinformed.

“You can’t write the NFL history without Art,” wrote the Ravens GM. “He was an architect of the game we love today.”

In what way was he an architect? “The first person who recognized that television and football were a perfect match for each other was Art Modell,” Newsome wrote. “He recognized the value of the NFL to TV and sold it, dramatically increasing the money paid to the league.”

First of all, it wasn’t Modell who discovered television was the gateway to the phenomenal success the league now enjoys. It was Pete Rozelle, whose prescient brilliance catapulted the NFL from a regionalized sport to national prominence.

It was Rozelle, the NFL commissioner, who went to the various networks to sell his product, using his public relations background as a podium from which to do business. Modell, who had a television background, was nothing more than an instrument, a conduit, for Rozelle to use.

For years, Rozelle and Modell formed the league’s television committee. Rozelle was the idea guy and Modell opened doors to the networks. The real visionary was Rozelle, who chose to share the glory with Modell.

Newsome also pointed out that TV executive Dick Ebersol said recently that "Monday Night Football was Art's brain child." No it  wasn't.

Monday Night Football was Rozelle’s idea, too. The commissioner had contracted with CBS to televise a Monday night game for a couple of seasons in the late 1960s. He then pitched ABC, struggling with ratings at the time, about a more permanent Monday night slot.

When ABC hedged, Rozelle approached the independent Hughes Television Network, financed by billionaire recluse Howard Hughes. The alphabet network got wind of that, agreed to join the NFL family and launched what has turned out to be a TV institution in 1970.

The only role Modell played in that scenario was volunteering his team to play the New York Jets in the debut telecast. He had nothing to do with putting together the package. Nothing.

According to Newsome, Modell’s Browns had a winning record in 27 of his 42 years of Cleveland ownership. Let’s straighten that one out right now. Modell owned the club for 35 years in Cleveland, not 42. And he racked up 21 winning seasons. From 1961 to 1971, the Browns had 10 of those winning seasons and one that wound up at .500,

Now, let’s take a hard look at that record when the last vestiges of the Paul Brown-Blanton Collier era ended in 1970. From 1972 through the fatal 1995 season, Modell’s Browns had 11 winning seasons, 11 losing seasons and two that wound up at .500.

Breaking that down even further, the Browns had three straight winning seasons from 1971 to 1973. So from 1974 to 1995, the Browns had only nine winning seasons out of 22 with a combined record of 161-174-1. That’s well short of mediocre.

Modell’s greatest success as an owner came in the Brown-Collier years. Twelve of his 21 winning seasons were between 1961 and 1973. If winning seasons are used as a barometer, Modell’s record is not HOF worthy.

Newsome also wrote, “I know many Clevelanders will never forgive Art for moving the team. I understand that.” No he doesn’t. If he did, he never would have penned his piece.

He went on to spew the nonsense that Modell lost money running the old Stadium and wondered why the current stadium couldn’t have been built for Modell. “Some of us will never understand,” he wrote.

Fact is Cleveland voters approved construction of a new stadium a day after Modell stood on that platform in Baltimore in November of 1995 and announced the move that shook an entire city and fan base.

Newsome conveniently leaves out the fact that Modell was a terrible businessman. How could anyone who owns an NFL franchise lose money? Remarkably, he did so in two different cities. He also was one of the few owners who compiled a debt.

Anyone remember several banks turning down Modell, who sought a $5 million loan so he could sign wide receiver Andre Rison? Why would an NFL owner need that kind of money when ancillary income could have covered that need?

Now if longevity is the main criterion for Hall of Fame consideration, enshrine the man. Fortunately, it isn’t. One unconscionable act should be cause enough to keep Modell out.

By moving one of the bedrock franchises in the NFL, he ripped out the hearts of Browns fans, who did nothing to warrant losing their team. Capacity crowds in the cavernous Stadium were commonplace.

Only one owner in the history of the National Football League permanently moved his franchise when it was considered healthy from an attendance standpoint. And that owner was Arthur B. Modell. Al Davis moved his Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles for several years before moving back to Oakland.

The only true fact Newsome listed was his own hiring by Modell after his playing days. “To my benefit, but so historically important, Art Modell is the first owner in the NFL history to hire a minority to run his football team,” he wrote. “I will be forever grateful for that.” Can’t argue that.

Other than that, Newsome and revisionist history are strolling hand-in-hand down the same path.

One thing is certain for Saturday’s gathering of the HOF electors. Many of the voters on the list have been lobbied by the Baltimore Ravens front office, which will do anything to get their man in. That includes getting Ozzie Newsome to write a guest column in the Plain Dealer.

Bottom line: Hall of Fame and Art Modell is – and always should be – an oxymoron.

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