Randy Lerner and Dante Lavelli (1923-2009): A Study in Contrasts in Orange and Brown

by Cleveland Frowns on January 22, 2009

Two Browns-related items today, starting with with Browns owner Randy Lerner and this incredible interview that he gave to the London Times almost exactly one year ago upon donating $10 million to the UK’s National Portrait Gallery, the largest donation that the Gallery has ever received.

Some excerpts from the Times interview by Tim Teeman:

[Lerner,] a tricky one: blunt but friendly, handsome and fit (he runs in Hyde Park)

[HE RUNS IN HYDE PARK]

with mournful grey eyes.. . .

At university he studied ‘mainly history’ and left his American alma mater to study at Cambridge. For the first time in our interview, his eyes dance. ‘I had no plan to go back to the States. I wanted to stay here, but it didn’t work out. Oh God, I loved being on a bicycle, not in a car.

[OH GOD, THE STATES. CARS.]

What excites Lerner most [about his bequest] is that the money is being used ‘within the current appetite for thinking very hard about contemporary portraiture, asking very difficult questions about portraiture and performance and the wider way portraiture is being interpreted by young painters and art-makers.’”

[GLAD ABOUT VERY DIFFICULT QUESTIONS ABOUT PORTRAITURE BUT WON'T ATTEND A BROWNS PRESS CONFERENCE EVER.]

Lerner didn’t grow up in an arty household in Cleveland, Ohio.

[ONLY BEEN TO CLEVELAND LIKE SIX TIMES.]

What kind of boy was he? ‘Oh God, completely nondescript,’ he scoffs. [NO.] What was your favourite subject? ‘Maths.’ Did you like sport? ‘Yeah, no, yeah, I loved it.’

[YEAH, NO, YEAH, NO, YEAH, IN FACT, I HATED IT.]

Did you play it a lot? ‘No, yeah, I was perfectly average.’

[NO, YEAH, NO, YEAH, NO, I NEVER ACTUALLY PLAYED A GAME OF SPORT. NOT REALLY EVEN ONCE.]

What did he want to be? Here he pauses and looks serious. ‘A teacher. My interests were around history.’

His father ‘wanted things handled properly’ after he passed away, which, disentangled, means he wanted Lerner to become head of his business empire.His fortune is estimated at $1.6 billion. It seems there is a tension between academic manqué and businessman, I say.

[BUSINESSMAN]

. . . So did he want to be an academic? ‘Yeah, I did yeah,’ he says forcefully. So what stopped him?

[INERTIA.]

‘I probably felt the influences suggesting more of a professional life seemed to be more persuasive than the influences suggesting an academic life …

[INERTIA]

… which begs the question, ‘Why can’t I make a decision for myself?’

[INERTIA]

… and the answer is ‘Personal weakness’. Absolutely.

[THERE'S THAT REFRESHINGLY BRUTAL BRITISH HONESTY. ARE WE SURE THIS GUY WAS BORN IN THE STATES?]

Lerner bought Aston Villa last year for nearly £63 million and relishes the business challenges of running two football teams.

[???]

The big difference between here and the States is that here you can get promoted and relegated (this makes his stomach “churn”).

[PAYS NO ATTENTION TO THE BROWNS BECAUSE THEY CAN'T BE RELEGATED.]

No, he isn’t a collector, he says, ‘I just own some pictures’ . . . ‘In this day and age you look, react and there you go. There are no strict rules for how to look at things. For me it’s about movement, motion, the amazing convergence over decades between easel painting in the traditional sense, and photography and film.’ And again, the passion button is suddenly on.

[PASSION BUTTON: SOMEWHERE BETWEEN THE EASEL AND THE VIDEO CAMERA.]

There is at the very least a frustrated academic inside you, I say. ‘That’s what you say,’ Lerner mugs, looking like a schoolkid who’s been busted.

[CHEEKY BUGGER.]

Are the football teams really satisfying him creatively, I wonder? ‘That’s a good question,’ he says with an expression that suggests the internal answer is another screaming and heartfelt ‘NO!’

[!!!]

It might actually be an excellent moment to send him a begging letter.”

[YES YOU SEND ONE TOO MY GOD PLEASE HELP]

On the bright side, it’s probably dispositive proof for our campaign to seize the Browns from Lerner’s clutches through eminent domain proceedings, and this will help, too: Memories of Dante “Gluefingers” Lavelli, Hall of Fame Browns receiver who passed away last Tuesday at the age of 85 via Bob Dolgan in the Plain Dealer:

“Lavelli was the Browns’ starting right end for 11 years, from 1946 until his retirement following the 1956 season. He caught 386 passes for 6,488 yards in the AAFC and the NFL, ranking second in club history in both departments to Ozzie Newsome. Lavelli’s 62 touchdown catches place him second to Gary Collins.

“In seven of Lavelli’s 11 seasons, the Browns won a league championship. In three others they won a conference title and lost the championship game.

[!!! . . .!!!!!!!!! . . . !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!]

“Lavelli was knocked out by an opponent when the Browns defeated the Yankees, 34-21, on Nov. 21, 1948, on the way to becoming the only team in football history to win three games in a week.

“‘Jack Russell hit me with his fist,’ Lavelli recalled. ‘That was before face masks. They always tried to KO me and Speedie.

[WE USED TO HAVE A GUY CALLED MAC SPEEDIE.]

My eye hurt so much when we got on the plane I was lying on the floor during the flight to Los Angeles. When we got to the Hotel Green, I sat by the pool and the sun took away the swelling. But I had the discoloration for five months.’

“Lavelli caught a TD pass as the Browns beat the tough Los Angeles Dons [BRING BACK THE L.A. DONS.], 31-14, on Thanksgiving Day, four days after winning in New York. Then they played the tough San Francisco 49ers the following Sunday, with only a two-day rest after the Dons game.

“‘We didn’t practice at all,’ recalled Lavelli. ‘We just sat around and healed our bumps and bruises …

[DRANK SHIT-TONS OF WHISKEY]

“Lavelli, who always interacted well with other players, helped unionize NFL athletes when he met with Cleveland lawyer Creighton Miller in 1956, his last year as a player. The first meeting was held in the recreation room of Lavelli’s house in Rocky River. . . The union’s goals at that time were modest. It asked for meal money on trips, minimum pay and a pension plan.

[SOME WHISKEY MONEY IS ALL WE ASK FOR.]

That led to the current NFL Players Association.

“Lavelli’s mission in his last years was to get the NFL to recognize AAFC records and statistics. After the AAFC folded, the NFL behaved as though it never existed, although it absorbed three of the league’s teams. In contrast, the NFL counts the stats of the old American Football League, which also became part of the NFL.

“Paul Zimmerman, veteran football writer for Sports Illustrated, was [an ally in this cause]. ‘The NFL had no problem bringing in AFL records and stats,’ he said. ‘In my opinion, the AAFC was a better league than the AFL.’

“‘We were the best team in football when we were in the AAFC,’ [Lavelli] said. ‘We proved it when we went into the NFL and won the title in our first year.’”

R.I.P. Dante Lavelli. Heaven help the Cleveland Browns.

  • coachie

    wow, one of your most proper posts ever. eminent domain the bugger. what a tosser.

    p.s. the L.A. Dons had a most proper logo.

    http://www.logoserver.com/football/LADonsAAFC.GIF

  • TresAmigos

    I concur. Nice post!

  • Bryan

    Yes, this is excellent work.

  • Fred Coupon

    This entry should be linked on the upper right.

    “The big difference between here and the States is that here you can get promoted and relegated (this makes his stomach “churn”). [HE PAYS NO ATTENTION TO THE BROWNS BECAUSE THEY CAN'T BE RELEGATED.]“

    Classic.

    I know the Cleveland media is not as sensitive or invasive as New York’s, but it’ll probably take another week or two for Mangini’s attitude and clandestine management to grate local reporters. And do you know what one of the clinchers for his ouster was? Owner Woody Johnson (bad, but not as bad as Lerner) scanning the Jet sidelines during the season finale against Miami and seeing comatose players in a tight 4th quarter game as if they were down 30. Mangini drove their morale to the ground.

  • Biz

    LA Don Flamencos.

    If Lavelli tried that ill move today- grabbing the goalposts- it’d be illegal procedure and excessive celebration.

  • d

    I think the Jets were dumb to have fired Mangini. That said, I think Det.’s new coach would have been better for the Browns. I think Mangini will do far better with that roster than Romeo did, thus he is an upgrade. Sometimes a flawed process can yield a good result. As for the owner, your post was fantastic. Same thing there for me though, I don’t mind too much if the owner is hands-off as long as she puts talented smart people in charge and continues to sign the checks. That of course has been Lerner’s biggest problem, although I think Savage (other than the whole DA mess and rewarding Romeo too quickly) did a good job. For years the Browns weren’t even talented, now they are, they just haven’t figured out how to keep the pieces together.

  • Fred Coupon

    Why was firing Mangini a bad thing? You know what the 2008 Broncos, Buccaneers and Jets had in common? The Cowboys could join them soon too.

  • Scott

    Hey CRYBABY Douche,

    How much money has Randy Lerner invested in the Browns? Or, reinvested the money he has made since taking the team over.

    LOTTTTTTTTTTTTSSSSSSSSSSSSS of it.

    Some people do love ART and other things rather then football, not to say football isn't one of the coolest sports in the whole world.

    But as someone who has been in the presence of Randy Lerner and has seen what this man does with the time not devoted to shitty fans like yourself.

    I say,

    F off & Do something positive

  • Cleveland Frowns

    It's nice that Randy at least has friends who will stop by here to defend him, however unpersuasively.

    FWIW, Scott, we love art too.

    http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/search/label/Cleveland%20Frowns%20Art%20Gallery

    And throwing money at something is not the same as tender loving care. At least some of Randy's friends must understand this on a deep level.

  • Brecksville Blogger

    Lavelli came from my home town. He inherited nothing but toughness and the will to win from his dad, who worked with iron and immigrated from Italy. Lavelli was devoted, intensely competitive,and consistently reliable ("Glue Fingers Lavelli"). He worked to win and refused to lose. Lerner inherited ownership of an NFL team. Otherwise, Lerner is not in the same league as Lavelli. WWWjr.

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