Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Book shows the reasons behind Modell’s move

The Cleveland Browns filled a large void in my life after the Rams moved to Los Angeles.

The Rams had won the NFL championship on a dreary December day in 1945 when they scored a safety after Washington quarterback Sammy Baugh bounced a pass off the goal post in his own end zone, giving the Rams their margin of victory.

That situation can’t take place any more; the goal posts are no longer on the goal line.

But the Rams immediately headed for the West Coast, and I was left in dire need of professional football. I was a devoted fan of Riley “Rattlesnake” Matheson, Corby Davis, Bob Waterfield, Chuck Cherundolo and all the other Rams who made autumn so much fun.

But the following year, 1946, along came the Browns, and life returned to normal once again. For many years the Browns were virtually unbeatable, and a new galaxy of stars was born – Otto Graham, Dante Lavelli, Jim Brown and so many others who helped put Cleveland on the pro football map.

A terrible thing happened along the way, however, when the team’s new majority owner, Art Modell, fired Paul Brown.

The team has never been quite the same since, but we made accommodations, lived with it and kept on rooting for the home team.

Who could ever dream, could ever imagine, that the same thing that happened in 1945 could ever happen again, and that the team could be moved again, leaving the town without pro football once again?

But it did happen. After the 1995 season, Modell moved the team to Baltimore, where it remains as the Ravens.

There was no pro team here for three years, when the Browns were re-born as an expansion team.

The “success” of that team has been mainly at the turnstiles. It has become very proficient at losing.

On a recent Thursday night in Pittsburgh, the Browns put on one of the greatest goal-line stands in the history of professional football, denying the Steelers entry into the end zone after four attempts from the 2-yard line. It was late in the game, and the Browns were trailing only 7-3.

“Aha,” I said to anyone who would listen, “now we’re going to score and win, 10-7.” Never happened.

Meanwhile, Modell has sold almost all his interest in the Ravens and has never returned to Cleveland, not even to visit his beautiful Waite Hill home.

He didn’t dare return, lest he be captured, wandering somewhere near the fairway on the 14th hole at Kirtland Country Club (he lived right across the road), be lashed to a nearby tree and subsequently drawn and quartered and his body left for the buzzards to devour.

That’s how popular he was in these parts. He was despised, hated, vilified and accorded the status of a common criminal.

Everybody loathed him. I didn’t say almost everybody. I said everybody.

It was a rush to judgment the likes of which had not been seen since the kidnapping of the Lindberg baby.

But wait! Was there more to the story? Was there more than Art’s terse, “I had no choice?”

Could there have been financial considerations far beyond Modell’s control?

You bet there could. And they are all told, in a meticulously detailed book titled “Fumble,” written by Michael G. Poplar.

Poplar was closer to the situation than any other individual. He is a CPA. His book is subtitled, “An Insider’s Story.”

He first met Modell in 1965, when he was one of the outside auditors of the Browns’ books, and became a full-time employee as vice president and treasurer of Art’s Cleveland Stadium Corp. on March 1, 1975.

The Stadium Corp. eventually became an enormous drain on Art’s finances. There were entanglements with governors, mayors, city council members, county commissioners and dozens of others.

Poplar was a true insider. He was a party to everything that went on. Yes, Modell did make some terrible mistakes in judgment. And he chose some of his supporting cast members poorly. (Think Jim Bailey.)

But if you read this book, as I did, you will realize there were myriad compelling factors involved in the team’s departure.

I am indebted to an attorney friend, Rich Spotz, for lending me “Fumble” to read.

I learned a lot about Art Modell that I never knew, more, in fact, than anyone knows who hasn’t read this book.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home