“There is an oft-used phrase in the annual Hall of Fame discussions — that one ‘cannot write the history of the league without including’ certain candidates — that might be appropriate to Modell.” – Len Pasquarelli, Sports Illustrated
“You can’t write the NFL history without Art.” – Ozzie Newsome
“He left a huge imprint on the game, and one can’t write the history of the league without mentioning him.” — Dan Pompei, Chicago Tribune
Rapists leave imprints, too. Indelible ones. And you simply can’t write the history of Germany, or Europe, or the world, really, without mentioning the N-evermind.
Jackie Robinson would have turned 94 yesterday, which reminds us that folks like to say the same thing about Robinson that we like to say (and like to hear Hall of Fame Selection Committee Members say) about Art Modell:
“If he hadn’t done it, someone else would have.”
Of course, in Modell’s case we’re talking about his having helped expand Pro Football’s presence on broadcast television. With Robinson, it’s him having broken Major League Baseball’s color barrier by becoming the first black person to play in the league. And if we keep going down this road, we’ll get to folks who’ll say that someone else surely would have freed the slaves had Lincoln not.
“But what if Lincoln hadn’t acted when he did?”
Of course. And he was assassinated two years later for it.
Jackie Robinson wasn’t assassinated, but you’ll never convince me that such an untimely death (he was 53) didn’t have at least something to do with his having heard as much as he did from people who wanted to kill him. And even Modell had to take much more than anyone should have from folks who spewed hate and fear in reaction to the Cleveland Browns’ having been owned by a a person of Jewish descent.
So the best question here — since Modell’s work with television has emerged as his supporters’ apparent best argument for his receiving Pro Football’s highest honor (He put football on TV on Mondays! Bronze him!) — is probably just: Who was ever trying to keep football off of TV, anyway?
The answer is surely, “nobody.” Nobody without whom the history of television can’t be written, anyway. After the smashing success of “Market Melodies” (remember, Modell rose to fortune on the revolutionary 1950s TV show that was posted in supermarkets to give housewives something else to stare at), football on TV couldn’t have been any more of a no-brainer.
Save for another day the argument about where fifties-era housewives rank on American history’s list of most exploited classes, because it’s enough here to note that Art was certainly never worried about breaking any glass ceilings.
Which not only goes a significant way in explaining why he was so comfortable doing what he did to Cleveland and the Browns, but also too perfectly accounts for why Sports Illustrated’s Len Pasquarelli, a Hall of Fame Selector himself, leads off the magazine’s definitive (and extremely disappointing) column on Modell’s candidacy with quotes from Dan Rooney and Mike Brown, the owners of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals, respectively.
“Art Modell was a good friend to our family and he will be sadly missed,” Pasquarelli quotes Steelers “chairman emeritus” Dan Rooney as having said. “He was instrumental in helping the National Football League become what it is today and he always had the league’s best interest at heart.”
“Art was one of a kind,” the writer adds from Bengals owner Mike Brown.
The idea here is supposed to be that Modell is an honorable man, because his closest rivals — “bitter foes,” Pasquarelli calls them — will say these things about him when he’s dead and up for an honor that they want, too, preferably before they’re in their graves.
And it’s this – the profound myopia that’s infected Pasquarelli with the idea that Rooney, Brown, and the Arthur B. Modell Family Trust could possibly be considered “foes” in today’s world – that encapsulates Modell’s legacy as well as anything. Because this is exactly the world that Modell’s efforts have brought us. He’s one of the few who figured it out first:
Take advantage of the latest that technology has to offer the human race by making everything okay for the ladies with Mornidine and Market Melodies, and for the men with football and lite beer. Once they’re hooked, make the biggest fortune you can by selling it to them, until you get so rich that you can rewrite the rules so much that you can even get away with taking the Browns out of Cleveland. By then you’ll have pulled the ladder so far up behind you that the last thing you have to worry about is any “rivals” anymore, let alone bitter ones.
What could be more ridiculous than the idea that the Modells would worry about “foes” from the Brown or Rooney family? What could there possibly be for any of these folks to worry about but convincing the lucky few who get to write about football for a living that they belong in the Hall of Fame — writers who want to think they’re Hall of Special too just because they’ve “made an imprint” in the spectacular national diversion that’s the NFL.
But Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco got it better than any of the above-quoted writers did.
“The reason [the NFL] is as popular as it is today and guys are making the money is a lot because of what [Modell did],” Flacco said. “And the vision that he had.”
It’s true that if anything can be said about Modell’s NFL legacy it’s that a few “guys are making the money because of what he did.” Whether or not anyone else had or would have had the same “vision” as Art’s had he not been there, these “guys making the money because of what he did” (it apparently doesn’t have to be at all as much as Flacco makes) are the only non-Ravens-fans on earth who are talking about putting him in the Hall of Fame.
So again, and hopefully for the last time, it’s really not about Cleveland being “bitter,” it’s not about Cleveland waging “a war” against Modell, and there’s nothing about what Cleveland should or shouldn’t “get over” that moves the needle a micrometer in favor of this candidacy. It’s just about right and wrong, fame vs. shame, good rules vs. bad ones. And Cleveland has the most useful view possible here: The bottom of the boot.
Raze Canton; What’s it for if Art Modell gets through those gates?