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ART MODELL was one of the architects of today's National Football League, yet, because of one sin, he is not in the sport's Hall of Fame. Perhaps that omission can be corrected now that he has died at age 87.
Mr. Modell spent 43 years as an NFL owner and helped shape the league into what it is today: a multi-billion-dollar industry with a presence on multiple major networks and a fan base that transcends race, origin, gender, and political affiliation. Owner of the Cleveland Browns from 1961 until he moved the team to Baltimore in 1996, Mr. Modell was part of Commissioner Pete Rozelle's "Kitchen Cabinet," a group of football's finest who directed the league back in the '60's and '70's. A visionary who recognized the value of enticing massive segments of the American public to watch football on TV, Mr. Modell was the genius behind Sunday Night, Monday Night, and Thursday Night football. He had a strong role in negotiating lucrative contracts with the networks and also had a hand in the first collective bargaining agreement with players.
Mr. Modell's scarlet transgression was absconding with his team from Cleveland after negotiations with city officials over a new stadium broke down and Maryland made him a sweet offer. Browns fans never forgave him, though to his credit he was instrumental in helping that city get an expansion franchise. He even allowed the new team to retain the Browns' colors and history. In Baltimore, Mr. Modell quickly established himself as an owner with a heart. "It was a joy to come to work for him," said Brian Billick, coach of the Ravens' 2001 Super Bowl-winning team.
That heart has now given out. Cleveland should let bygones be bygones. It's time for football to recognize one of the pillars of the mighty structure that is today's NFL.