For Browns fans, memories of 'The Move' came rushing back this past week following the death of David Modell. He’s remembered in Cleveland for his part in his father’s decision to relocate the Browns to Baltimore in 1996.
WKSU commentator Terry Pluto says this remains a very painful chapter of Browns history:
Art Modell bought the Browns in 1961. But as the years went on, he began losing money.
“I remember in 1995, he came out and said he had to five different banks to get a loan to put together a contract offer to a free agent receiver named Andre Rison,” Pluto says. “It was a huge red flag that the Browns were in financial trouble.”
No new stadium deal
Pluto says Modell became upset watching the Indians and Cavs get new facilities.
“Modell felt that he was left out. He owned the old Cleveland stadium where the Indians were a tenant. He wanted the Indians stay with him or go in together with him on a project.”
The Indians declined.
A friend in Al Lerner
Pluto says Modell had an ally and friend in Al Lerner, who had a minority stake in the Browns.
“The best way would have been to sell the team to Lerner. But Art Modell told me and others, he wanted to keep the team in his family and have David Modell run it.”
But Pluto says Modell argued he couldn’t make this work in Cleveland.
Pluto says Lerner had a lot of financial connections in Baltimore, so he helped orchestrate the deal to move the team.
“I asked Lerner one day, ‘Why did you do this?’ He said, ‘Well I thought was helping a friend.’ And I said, ‘Al, didn’t you see the backlash?’ And he just said, ‘I didn’t think it would be like this,’ with people picketing.”
Pluto says Modell's financial problems followed him to Baltimore. "By 2004, he sold out most of the team to Steve Biscotti. So, David Modell never did get to take over the Ravens.”
Meanwhile, in Cleveland, Al Lerner became owner of the Browns when they returned as an expansion team in 1999. He died in 2002 and his son, Randy, took over. “And Randy never wanted to be owner of the Browns,” Pluto says.
Pluto mentions that in the span since ‘The Move’, the Ravens have gone to two Super Bowls and Cleveland none.
A painful sports memory
“To me, this is one of the saddest stories in Cleveland Browns history. For sports fans, to see the Browns ripped out and come back a shell of its former self and everything that’s happened since because these two families had a chance to make one good decision and they made a bad one.”
And, Pluto says several recent moves among NFL teams underscores the pain.
“The Chargers are no longer in San Diego; the L.A. Raiders are thinking about moving to Las Vegas.
You’re ripping the hearts right out of fan bases and I would argue, why? Why can’t you make this work? If you can’t make it work in San Diego, there’s some rich guy in San Diego who could!”