When former Cleveland Browns/Baltimore Ravens owner Art Modell died last week, much of the press coverage was devoted to reporting on how he moved his team from Cleveland to Baltimore after his longtime hometown refused to build him a new stadium with public money. With the result, among other things, that a planned memorial at a home game of the revived Browns was cancelled at the request of the Modell family, who were afraid the fans would boo. (Or cheer, maybe. Really, either is inappropriate at a memorial, right?)
Anyway, Modell demanded a new stadium, Cleveland said no, Modell absconded to Charm City, and Cleveland ended up building a new stadium anyway to get a team back. Right? Maybe not, it turns out:
Today, the consciences of a couple of old-guard Cleveland politicians give us a long-hidden fact about Modell’s departure. Specifically, when Modell claimed he would have stayed if city leaders had offered to build him a stadium, he was lying…
George Forbes, who was Cleveland’s council president during the late 1980s and a key player in negotiations with team owners during planning for Gateway, said he and others asked Modell to be a part of the project.
Forbes said leaders proposed building a third Gateway sports facility for the Browns, just south of the Inner Belt a couple of blocks from what is now Progressive Field…
I called [former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Tim] Hagan, who championed the Gateway complex and suffered great criticism about its cost to taxpayers. He confirmed Forbes’ account. He described the offer as informal but honest.
“There is no question we made an effort,” Hagan said.
That’s Mark Naymik in yesterday’s Cleveland Plain Dealer, which set off another round of hating on Modell from PD readers, though with a hefty side of hating on Cleveland politicians as well. In the end, it probably doesn’t matter much whether some Cleveland pols made a last-ditch offer to build a stadium for Modell before he skipped town. But it does, as one PD commenter notes, make the owner’s famous words on moving the team — “I had no choice” — even more of an overreach.