A Reminder about Al Lerner, the Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Ravens

by Cleveland Frowns on December 6, 2011

Not to suggest that enough could ever be said about the singularly and unimaginably cruel plight of the Cleveland sports fan, but in the wake of one of the more depressing beatdowns in the thoroughly depressing history of the Browns/Ravens series, and with another such beatdown so close on the horizon, it’s an especially good time to remember: The Baltimore Ravens wouldn’t exist today — at least not in their current Cleveland-originated Ozzie Newsome-led “Real Browns” form* — if it wasn’t for Al Lerner, the late credit card billionaire whose son, of course, currently owns the Cleveland Browns and the wholly subsidized eight-figure lifetime annuity that comes with the privilege.

The only remotely credible accounts of the move hold that Lerner greased the skids for Art Modell’s deal to move the Real Browns to Baltimore, knowing that he was guaranteed ownership of a replacement Cleveland franchise; including this account from longtime Cleveland sports journalist Dan Coughlin** (via Eugene McCormick in the Cleveland Leader in October):

On Thursday, July 23, 1998, Cleveland mayor Mike White presided over a press conference at the Wyndham Hotel in downtown Cleveland where he introduced his choice to become the new owner of the Cleveland Browns — Al Lerner. Sitting with them on the dais were Bernie Kosar and Carmen Policy. There were four of them up there.

Lerner, fueled by a fortune of $8 billion, was a last-minute entry in the NFL’s auction for the expansion Browns. Lerner had been quietly sitting on the sidelines and for good reason. In a sense, he had driven the getaway car for his good friend Modell. It wasn’t a car, however. It was a plane. Lerner used his private plane to fly Modell to Baltimore. The secret knock was tapped out on the door of Lerner’s plane.

This is what I wrote in the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram at the time:

Five other candidates who had declared their intentions earlier felt as though they had been stabbed in the back.

Howard Milstein, for one, checked with Lerner before he made his application and was assured that Lerner would not be a candidate.

Incorrectly, the other applicants believed the mayor would not choose sides in the race.

But Mayor White is a political creature and politics is a game of deception and vengeance.

“It was an ambush. It was a double cross,” someone complained.

White’s candor that day was astonishing. Shortly after the Browns left town, White said, he began a secret relationship with Lerner.

“He and I began to have back-channel discussions,” White disclosed.

It led to the mayor’s endorsement of Lerner’s ownership, which clinched the deal. All that remained was for Lerner to write the biggest check, $535 million. Nobody else could top his bankroll. Lerner was the guy all along, but he needed the endorsement of the mayor and Kosar to soften his landing.

Which of course both explains and is explained by the fact that Modell and his supporters have never been able to start to make the case that Modell’s only choice was to skate to Baltimore with the Browns. And also, of course, how great it is that the Lerner family owns the franchise today, with Al’s initials still stitched on the uniforms.

Billionaire money lenders. What would Cleveland sports be without them?


*It was especially great to hear Ozzie making his Cleveland sports radio rounds last week, talking about how much of the Ravens’ success is due to what he learned working with Bill Belichick in Cleveland.

**Coughlin just wrote a book about his 45 years covering Cleveland sports.


In other news, there’s not much better than a good column about a press conference. Here’s one from Pat McManamon on Coach Shurmur’s yesterday. The mystery of the eye roller remains unsolved.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Craig Lyndall

    The older I get the less surprised I am by the prospect of things “working out” so that the NFL got more franchises and more stadiums and more tickets sold and more TV viewers, etc, etc, etc, etc…

    Must… fight… back… cynicism….

  • Believelander

    Apparently, Les Levine took credit for the eye roll, but so did a guy from Elyria whose name escapes me. Apparently Shurmur saw one or both of them.

    • Anonymous

      Self respecting members of the media should be falling all over themselves to take credit. It should be like terrorists on a tragedy, 10 guys all claiming to have rolled their eyes the longest and hardest.

      • Believelander

        They’d all be lying, cuz I rolled my eyes so hard it gave me glaucoma.

  • JB100

    Thank you for focusing on the ownership.

  • Zulads4

    That article from McManamon was pretty fair. He basically points to the serious deficiencies that each position of our offense has (except for o-line). Wr’s can’t catch. McCoy can’t throw, and our RB’s are unreliable.

    As for the run defense. How much does this defense miss TJ Ward? I know he is not the entire reason for the poor run defense, and I am not making an excuse, I am just trying to determine his value in this defense. I saw Mike Adams backpedaling way too much Sunday for my taste.

    As tough as it is, and as few and far between as they are, I am trying to focus on the positives. Jabaal Sheard continues to impress. He still has room to grow (not breaking contain, learning to tackle at the legs, not the shoulders), Haden still is an impressive player, despite the drops Little has been the most productive WR we have had in 3 years, the more playing time Norwood gets the more he impresses, and the O-line is gelling more and more.

    (Random thought – How much do you think it would silence Chuck Booms mouth breather crowd if Pat Shurmur simply looked different on the sidelines. If he crossed his arms more, and maybe chewed gum (ala Shawn Payton), or wore sunglasses (ala Tomlin), I think he would get less flak. Perception is everything, and the fact he simply does not look like a head coach makes people think he is not. )

    • Anonymous

      What about Fujita? Granted he is not having his best year, but it’s the 2nd year in a row where he goes down and the defense implodes. I never believed the D was as good as their ranking, but I think it helps to have a veteran leader who knows what is going on on the field.

      • Zulads4

        Honestly, I forgot about Fujita, but it is an interesting trend, especially since most think he is over the hill. It points to the experience factor. Everyone points to how much younger we got, but youth has come at a price, as shown by the crippling mental errors we have seen this year.

        • Anonymous

          Agreed. The youth factor does not get as much play as it probably deserves. I think we are the most inexperienced team in the league. This probably goes double at the top.

    • Anonymous

      Nothing will silence know-nothings, but what would personally silence me is if Pat Shurmur simply stopped acting, sounding, and coaching like a dummy. I can’t think of anything that bespeaks this better than the recent “you better not roll your eyes at me because I’m the Coach goddammit.” We’ve got an entitlement problem here.

      You’ve given up a fake FG TD, two blocked FG’s, essentially two punt return TD’s, and you’re own return game has done bupkis. What does this amount to for Pat? “Some things have happened during special teams.” I can’t think of a more passive, lazy way to explain what I think is the result of passive laziness. “Don’t worry, I’m not discouraged, I know if I sit here long enough nice things will fall in my lap. Nothing surprises me.” Hopefully at some point this dude will discover his shame and his pride and get off his corporate yes-man Holmgren-shaded ass. I think that would probably go a lot further than chewing gum. And the media can’t do enough eye-rolling to help speed this along.


      Also, Go Browns.

      • Zulads4

        Other than saying they will be looking for a new special teams coach this offseason, I don’t know what he could say. The acting part plays into my perception thought. He looks clueless on the sideline. If it acts like a duck, and all that jazz.

        Why we didn’t go after John Fox, I cannot answer. Why Shurmur does not do what John Fox is doing? Experience probably plays a significant factor in this. Shurmur is comfortable with his system, over time I think he will get more of an idea of his personnel. In addition, this was obviously an evaluation year. How do you evaluate when you are winning on smoke and mirrors. Also, who do we tailor our gameplan to maximize? Who has the skills to take over a game?

        Saying all of that, I do believe the playcalling is repetitive and unimaginative at times. The two screen pass in which Colt faked a throw to the other side of the field and then spins and throws to the back is a terrible play and killed two drives I can remember in the Balt. game. How that play, in which the Quarterback wastes more time by pump faking than was actually gained by the pump fake, then has to spin (with his back to the defense) and pass immediately to the other side of the field is just an awful play that takes way too long to develop.

        • Anonymous

          >>>Saying all of that, I do believe the playcalling is repetitive and unimaginative at times. >>>

          I’ve got no problem with repetitive if you are repeating success. Baltimore couldn’t have been more repetitive and less imaginative with their 18 left slants.

          Shurmur force feeds the short passing game that doesn’t work, without throwing in a single trend breaker. When you run three plays in a row where the DB jumps the route at 5-8 yards EACH TIME and gets their hands on the ball, that’s more than repetitive. It’s stupidity.

          I hope he learns and learns fast, but there appear to be personality issues here that may be hard to overcome.

          • Zulads4

            I see the exact same thing. I also see that when he attempts to deviate from the trend, he overcompensates by being too cute (ex. screen passes above). If you want to do a screen pass, just do the damn screen pass.

      • Bandit

        I think all questions are answered when we realize that maybe Shurmer acts, sounds and coaches like a dummy because he is Holmgrens Dummy running a system which has been long gone gone since the advent of 4.4 speed linebackers, none of whom play for the Browns.

  • http://twitter.com/EasyWFFW Paul Covert

    I still can’t believe I fell for this crap. Amazing really. How did I go from the rage of having fArt steal our team away to Baltimore with a huge assist by Lerner and then turn around and purchase season tickets with PSL!!! Good God man I cut my MBNA credit cards in half only to give the money right back to Lerner personally in the form of $8 beers and pay sin taxes on a crappy stadium.

    I shoulda know from the first time they put Kosar up on the dias and they said they would be running the west coast SF offense with a first time head coach and unproven general manager. Sound familiar. Ughsaid we

    • Anonymous

      but when you invested in your season tix – like i did – you invested in the brownie community, and in everyone that loves the browns as much as you do. when you show up everyone week you are supporting one another in a really real and important way. the fact that you are also putting money in lerner’s pockets does not negate the good you are doing.

      • http://twitter.com/cpmack Chris M

        “the fact that you are also putting money in lerner’s pockets does not negate the good you are doing.

        I’ll try to debate this point for a moment before you go all professional arguer on me and shoot me down.

        Some, if even just a miniscule amount, of that good is negated at least a little bit by stuffing Lerner’s pockets as an accomplice to Art Modell’s assholery. You are indirectly paying for the gas that flew Modell out of town.

        • http://twitter.com/cpmack Chris M

          As an aside, I have helped pay for the gas as well. I’m not claiming innocence.

        • Anonymous

          i’m in a super sweet mood today, so i’ll save the professional arguing for frowns. for you i’ll just say this:

          no one can ever negate the good you do, and that includes the lerners. when they do bad things – like misappropriating the good you do (when you pay money to support the browns) by using that money to steal the brownies out from under you – they and they alone have responsibility for that bad act, and for the fact that they have made the world a worse place. you can go ahead and stop buying tickets to the browns games, but that would just mean you are doing less good than you were doing before. i’d rather leave the doing less good (and affirmatively doing harm) stuff to the lerners, which is why i’m going to keep buying my tix.

          to sum that up: the brownie fans are a million times better than the lerners, and just because they are awful doesn’t mean we should be awful too.

          • http://twitter.com/cpmack Chris M

            I don’t completely agree here, but I’ll concede. I don’t have the wind to keep up. I just feel like we’re rewarding someone who aided and abetted a theft of the most heinous type, and as I said, I’m as guilty as anyone.

          • Anonymous

            you super did not aid and abet. i promise. aiding and abetting require *intent* to facilitate and/or commit the underlying offense.

            you super do, however, feel guilty even though you’ve done (and are doing) nothing wrong. you might be catholic, like i am. (and yes. i’m a supporter of and believer in that community, too.)

  • Anonymous

    I’m unconvinced there can be any karmic significance to taking the team out of foppish Randy’s hands only to hand it to a Dan Snyder or Dan Gilbert or you name it. It’s meaningless.

    There is no such thing as a good owner anymore. You can make an argument for some of the old guard that are able to maintain the lie more credibly, I guess like the family of honorable thieves to the east, but since the mid 80’s it’s been nothing but billionaire moneylenders playing a game they can’t lose. How you pick one over another is a mystery to me.

    Teams should be and could be owned by regional governments. And this will happen when Vishnu and Krishna and Jesus and Voodoo Man all arrive and dance a jig together.

    • St.Chem

      I have to admit that I was initially dismissive of government owned football until I realized that it is pervasive at every other level below the NFL. So why not?

    • Anonymous

      except – as you point out – the people. the people are good owners.

      also howard milstein has done as right by cleveland as any billionaire moneylender out there. i would’ve taken him in a heartbeat (actually i’ll trade for him in a heartbeat).

      here’s something he said back in ’08 about the foreclosure crisis – especially at that moment in history, it represented some fairly forward, clear-headed thinking (not a perfect solution and for sure it’s not the solution i would’ve picked and for sure you have to get past the awful title – but the sort of solution he offered here at least makes sense, isn’t totally inequitable, and had a chance of being effective). anyway, for sure it’s more enlightened thinking than anything that goes on at MBNA, that’s for sure. (and also more enlightened than anything that randy lerner has ever said publicly about anything.)


      • Anonymous

        Well, as I was talking to Paul O’Neil last night* he reminded me that over 30% of sub-prime mortgagees never made even the very first payment. So I’m not sure how much the total foreclosure rate could have been reduced by keeping in place teaser rates that no one ever had any intention of paying anyway. This whole thing really was much more scam on both the institutional and consumer side than people want to admit, I think.

        And if those guaranteed homes went to foreclosure as we can assume they would, under Millstein’s proposal the government would have been permanently responsible for the shortfall in principle between the original and short sale or sheriff sale price. TARP actually worked out much much better than this from the point of view of the taxpayer.

        * In an odd twist of fate, I really was talking to 72nd Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neil about this very topic about 14 hours ago. Seemingly a good guy, and, amazingly enough, borderline naive.

        • Anonymous

          as i said – really really not perfect. also not a solution i would have supported. and while i agree about scams on both sides, i think the institutional scamming was far more awful and happened far more often, and therefore i think that the total foreclosure rate actually would have been reduced by at least a noticeable amount if teaser rates stayed in place; also keeping teaser rates in place would have had the advantage of making it more clear which consumers were trying to scam and which were actually getting in under their heads. anyway, overall the milstein plan was not nearly as bury your head in the sand nothing to see here as most bankers were in 2008; not nearly terribly and brazenly inequitable as some of the plans that were offered.

          i don’t know if i feel better or worse about paul o’neil after your “borderdline naive” comment. i think probably worse why is he naive about any of it :/

          • Anonymous

            I don’t think there is a distinction to be made between institutional scamming and consumer scamming really. What you had in essence was banks going to consumers and saying sign this paper, don’t pay us a cent, and worst case scenario you will get 9-18 months of free rent.

            I mean clearly it’s the bank’s scam, but you need a certain amount of consumer collusion for it to work. If you got a no money down house, and didn’t even make the first payments, what was your intent really? Not to say that’s the majority of total foreclosures, but it’s a very large chunk.

            O’Neil is clearly a very sharp and impressive guy who understands exactly what is going on financially, but displays a complete lack of understanding that political differences have root causes emanating from actual differences in the interests of various polities. He has a businessman’s (or tyrant’s) naivete about how political problems get solved. He was very much “here’s the solution and once we all realize that and stop being irrational, we can do it no problem.”

            This despite the fact that literally every single one of his Washington insider anecdotes at dinner was a case study in how everyone acting rationally led 180 degrees away from the common interest solutions he proposes.

            I like the guy a lot.

          • Anonymous

            Dislike for “consumer collusion.”

        • Anonymous


      • Anonymous

        Peter Lewis too. Would trade for Peter Lewis in a heartbeat. He should own all three of the teams, actually, and be governor too.

        • Anonymous

          peter can be a bit prickley sometimes – remember back when he said he was going to withhold money from case and all things cleveland until he got his way w/r/t how case is governed? – but yeah for sure i’d still trade for him in a second, and for sure there are real advantages to him being “alienat[ed] from entrenched power in cleveland.”

          here: “Lewis, who donated $36.9 million for the business school building named for him, said the project has been mismanaged, and that he sees it as a sign of deeper troubles at CWRU. To drive this home, he announced in June that he would boycott all Cleveland charities until the university’s board of trustees is restructured. Later, he said he wanted the size of the board cut in half and its membership infused with new blood . . . The boycott is typical of Lewis’ style – a mix of controlled aggression, startling honesty, and a relentless desire to embrace risk and change. It’s also the latest expression of his alienation from entrenched power in Cleveland, a club he has never been able to join, despite being one of the most successful businessmen in the city’s history.”


          • Anonymous

            “The boycott is typical of Lewis’ style – a mix of controlled aggression, startling honesty, and a relentless desire to embrace risk and change. It’s also the latest expression of his alienation from entrenched power in Cleveland, a club he has never been able to join, despite being one of the most successful businessmen in the city’s history.”

            Sounds like a good kind of “prickly” to me.

            I have a better quote on Lewis from the man himself that I have to keep to myself for now.

          • Anonymous

            i mean – talk about namedroppin.

        • Bandit

          Just keep him away from Case Western and a big bag of weed

    • Dgeorge2844

      Not to be pedantic, but Krishna is an avatar of Vishnu 😉

      • thatsfine

        Thus making the proposed jig even more unlikely, much like expanded public ownership in the NFL.

  • Ronnie James Dio

    Meta question: Did you make purposefully change to a smaller font in the comment section, Frowns?

    Makes it harder than hell to read these comments.

    • Anonymous

      You have to hold the control button then scroll forward on your mouse. It is annoying, but it makes the comments readable. Otherwise, I agree with you. I don’t think Frowns had anything to do with the change.

      • Anonymous

        Yeah thanks Beej. Disqus did this to us. I dunno what the deal is. Sorry. I will see tomorrow if there’s anything I can do about it.

        • Anonymous

          Push your weight around Frowns. #wehavefaith

    • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

      for mac people, do cmd+ to increase browser zoom. cmd- to zoom out.

      • Anonymous

        New avatar…this is big.

  • jimkanicki

    jerry sherk facebook with 100s of photos.


    • Anonymous


  • http://twitter.com/musicman06 Chris Music

    Stumbled across this earlier today:


    The ground and air attack sections are on point.

  • Anonymous

    I was having a decent Tuesday until I read this. Now, I wanna cry in my puke.

  • Ess Eh

    Judging by the ground swell right now, could you have imagined what it would be like if Holmgren did the right thing and fired Mangini as soon as he got hired? We would now be 1.75 years into the Shurmur era. Most likely, last year would have been a 2-14 season. Plus this season at 4-8, and the calls for Shurmur’s head would be deafening. Easy to see why Holmgren toyed with Mangini.

    Btw, I wonder what it is going to be like next year when the Browns play the NFC East and the AFC West. That’s six losses out of those 8 games (wins against the chiefs and redskins, if we are lucky). Plus another 6 losses in the division. 3-13/4-12. woohoo.

    Ugh, waiting for next next year? I should probably be committed to a mental institution.

    The Browns need do something big in free agency and draft a real QB in the top 5 for me to get excited about this team. Watching the games this year has become a chore rather than a pleasure.

    • jimkanicki


      • Believelander

        So I was all like “lulz w/e Jimmy” and then I was sitting there pounding my Lerber/Holmgren/Shurmur/McCoy induced Strawberry-Banana MD 20/20 when, through the battery-acid flavored drunken haze, I was like “wait…”

    • kjn

      Holmgren has been quite deft at lining up scapegoats to explain away lost seasons.

      Year #1: It was Mangini’s fault.
      Year #2: It’s a new coach! Come on, how can you win with a new coach? Give us a year!
      Year #3: It’s a new offensive coordinator! Come on, we’ve got to learn that system. Or perhaps, we’ve got a rookie QB? Come on, rookie QBs can’t win in the NFL. Give us a year!

      • Anonymous

        If we don’t get the new QB next year, that will be the year 4 excuse. A new coordinator won’t be a good excuse next year because anyone they’ll bring in will be running the same system.

        • kjn

          I agree, but that doesn’t mean you won’t hear it.

      • Believelander

        Note how he’s easily got a long enough litany of excuses to carry him through 5 years, so he can pack up back to Seattle with his suitcase 1 giant whopping bottle of snake oil lighter, and 50 million bizzos heavier….

  • Jaceczko

    Speaking of Eric Wright, he’s in the news:

    (per Gregg Easterbrook)

    Single Worst Play of the Season — So Far: Everybody’s seen the highlight clip of Lions defensive back Eric Wright being turned inside-out for a 67-yard catch-and-run touchdown by Saints receiver Robert Meacham. When TMQ watches this clip, about a minute in here, I think — where’s the rest of the Lions team?

    Leading 10-0, New Orleans lined up in a power set with just one wide receiver, a fullback and an extra tight end. Detroit looked confused, bringing 10 men to the line of scrimmage or into the box. The extra tight end went in motion right, drawing the attention of defenders on that side. There was pointing and shouting on the Detroit side. At the snap, the motion tight end simply blocked. Only two New Orleans players, the wide receiver and the tight end in-line left, went downfield. The protection call was max protect, with eight back to block and Detroit rushing five. That meant Detroit had six defenders to cover two receivers — yet Robert Meacham was single-covered going deep. Watch Meacham and Wright dueling: Where is the rest of the Lions team? The safeties never appear in the picture. They are busy triple-covering a tight end short. Two Lions covered no one at all on the play. At least there was no personal-foul penalty.

    Sure, Detroit has injuries in the secondary — everyone in the NFL has injuries. Six defenders to cover two receivers and the speed receiver goes deep one-on-one: Detroit Lions, you are guilty of the single worst play of the season. So far.

    • Anonymous

      I tweeted during that game “why are the Lions expecting to win with the Browns’ corners from 2009?”

  • kjn

    Should I be sad that the Dolans are our least reprehensible owners?

  • Believelander

    Hey Petey, wanna go to the Stadium for week 17 again? I’m buying this year. Admittedly, the tix will be cheaper since we blow horribly unlike last year, so i’ll buy.you an $8 beer or 2…

    • Anonymous


      • Believelander

        Good stuff. Tell Cuuuuuuuuuuuuugs to acquire a local tavern at which to meet us when we have to ditch in the mid-3rd quarter.

        • Anonymous


      • Anonymous

        You are so easy.

        • Anonymous

          COOL IT!!!

        • Believelander

          Is there something wrong with that?

          • Anonymous

            Absolutely not.

    • http://twitter.com/cpmack Chris M

      I’ve already got tickets, I’ll see you fellas there.

  • Bandit

    Lets not forget that good old Al ran Cleveland Trust down the tubes so should we be surprised he ended up with the Browns?

  • humboldt

    Nice piece Pete. #OccupyLouGrozaBlvd?

  • http://twitter.com/byRiverBurns River Burns

    I almost forgot how horrible Mayor White was.

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