Saturday, February 02, 2002

SULLIVAN: Art Modell

He deserves heckling, not Hall

By Tim Sullivan
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        There's a part of me that wants to see Art Modell in Canton. It's my sadistic side.

        I want to hear a man try to speak when he's being heckled by hundreds. I want to see how well the tomato can be thrown. I want to smell the melted tar and molted feathers.

        I want to know if Modell would show his face at a Pro Football Hall of Fame induction so close to Cleveland, or appear only by proxy.

        Forgive me. I'm a glutton for farce.

        Modell's candidacy for the pigskin pantheon will be considered again this morning in New Orleans. Improbable as it seems, grating as it is, the owner who deserted Cleveland to seek sanctuary and solvency in Baltimore enjoys stronger support than either Bengals quarterback Ken Anderson, four times the league's passing champion, or Minnesota's Mick Tinglehoff, a six-time Pro Bowl center.

        It is as if Mike Tyson were in the running for a Nobel Prize. It is as if Dude, Where's My Car? were up for an Oscar. It is as if the Hall of Fame electorate had the attention span of a sponge.        

Lacking credentials
Baltimore Ravens owner Art Modell dances with Ray Lewis following last year's Super Bowl.
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
               Modell will be hard-pressed to gain the necessary votes this morning. His competition includes such luminaries as Ray Guy, Lester Hayes, Jim Kelly, James Lofton, Art Monk, John Stallworth and Bill Parcells, and no more than six modern-era candidates can be elected in any given year. (Additionally, one “senior” candidate can be considered; this year's is George Allen.)

        Yet even in making the cut from 71 candidates to 15 finalists, Modell has managed more consideration than his mediocre career merits.

        During four decades of unrivaled prosperity in the NFL, Modell's mismanagement left the Browns in such severe financial straits that their move to Maryland was as much a reflection of desperation as desire.

        Losing money in the NFL requires a peculiar talent. However lousy your team, however modest your market, the league's lucrative television contracts and socialist revenue-sharing policies provide a financial safety net only the most reckless owner could overspend.

        Because Modell's recklessness was nearly ruinous, his case for Canton hinges on matters other than franchise management.        

Points and counterpoints
               Proponents point to his involvement in the league's television bargaining, and the resulting rights fees that enabled pro football to attain its enormous profitability and undisputed prominence. Modell chaired the NFL's television committee during 31 years of sustained growth and remarkable ratings.

        Detractors insist the league's TV strategy was shaped largely by the late commissioner, Pete Rozelle, and that the game needed no more selling than did the polio vaccine.

        Modell's acolytes argue that Raiders owner Al Davis is in the Hall of Fame despite several franchise shifts. Modell's adversaries point out that Davis' difficult personality does not detract from his dazzling record.

        Modell has won two championships. The first, in 1964, was achieved by a Cleveland team built by Paul Brown, whom Modell fired in a fit of ego. The second title, won by last year's Baltimore Ravens, served to resuscitate Modell's campaign for Canton.

        Part of me wants him to make it. It's not, however, the part that would vote.

        Contact Tim Sullivan at 768-8456 or e-mail:

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