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Published: 1/20/2001

Ex-Browns owner Modell should win with the Ravens nevermore

The year has just begun but already it's all wrong. I'm not just talking about the reins of power being handed to one of the more shallow pretenders to the throne to sit in the White House in a long time.

California experienced no brain drain when Ronald Reagan moved east, but at least the man could communicate. No, as unsettling and utterly disturbing as it was to watch George W. Bush raise his hand all serious like over the Bible and accept his dubious place in history, there was something else that went terribly wrong in 2001 that troubles many in the Midwest.

The natural and man-made calamities around the globe, as heart-wrenching as they are to observe from afar, are bad news in any year but not - ashamedly - as distressing to many in Ohio as what happened last Sunday and what could well happen a week from now. I know the results of Super Bowl XXXV may seem inconsequential to those who could take or leave anything pigskin-related, but the event has already stirred great bitterness among those inclined to follow such events.

For the uninitiated, next Sunday's game featuring the New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens has been a punch in the midsection to every diehard Cleveland Browns' fan from here to Poughkeepsie. In simplest terms, it's because Ravens owner Art Modell could die a happy man. Picture the most obnoxious snake-in-the-grass boss you've ever known getting not his just rewards but just the biggest reward ever. Someone should write a book about why good things happen to bad people.

Is it way harsh for Browns' fans to wish that the Super Bowl ring Mr. Modell has coveted for 40 years is snatched from his outstretched grasp with mere seconds remaining in the fourth quarter? Heck no. The man ripped the hearts out of the most loyal football fans in the country. May his awesome Baltimore defense have a Trent Dilfer kind of day - not great, and good would be wishful thinking with the Ravens quarterback. Is it sour grapes coming off a pathetic 5-27 Browns record to whine about Boris Badenov of Baltimore bringing home the bacon? Heck yes, but it works for frustrated fans who wish the colors brown and orange were flashing in Tampa instead of foundering coach-less in Cleveland.

Can it be that the football gods are actually smiling down on the Grinch who, in the dead of night, stole a treasured team from under the noses of sleeping dawgs? The Ravens are 2-point favorites in this year's Super Bowl - you figure it out. Modell and Son may at last have their moment in the sun but the image of Art hoisting the Lombardi Trophy will sear the sensibilities of long-suffering Browns loyalists. The reality that the Artful Dodger got there first and can rub it in leaves Cleveland fans who filled his stadium, no matter how unforgiving the weather or how uninspiring the play, inconsolable.

When the sniffy Browns owner took all his marbles and left town in a huff more than five years ago, stunned fans stumbled to regain their footing and eventually an expansion football team. They've tried mightily to get over the Modell move and rally faithfully behind the new Browns and even the new team owner, an old pal of Art's who cleared the way for his one-way ticket to Baltimore. They've rallied behind unproven players with the promise of potential and an unproven NFL coach, but losing to losers like the Cardinals and handing back-to-back blowouts to Baltimore and Jacksonville is painful to watch.

And yet, Browns' backers remain steadfast in their belief of someday witnessing a winning season and, before they're too old, a trip to the Super Bowl. Patience is a virtue Cleveland football fans work hard to keep. But the prospect of a gloating Art Modell basking in the national limelight after achieving a storybook finish to a long and forever-tarnished career, is more than most Browns fans can bear. One sportswriter urged fans to pull a Modell and declare a moratorium on watching the Super Bowl.

But if you're a glutton for punishment as I am, you'll root for New York - just this once - and pray hard that something goes right in a year that began badly.

Marilou Johanek is a Blade editorial writer. E-mail her at mjohanek@theblade.com.



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