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Remembering Art Modell and the Old Cleveland Browns

September 7, 2012

On the day that another National Football League season opened, Art Modell ,a man very instrumental in the enormous growth of the league, died at the age of 87. Modell did so much in helping the NFL become a great attraction and an enormously compensated one on television. He negotiated many of the league’s important television contracts and favored Monday night football games. Those games have been a regular occurrence since September 21, 1970 When Modell’s Browns were victorious in the first regular Monday night game winning (31-21) vs the New York Jets. (That same day here in New York, music station WMCA switched to a talk radio format).

On the day Modell died, I happened to speak briefly with Ernie Accorsi, a truly bright man who among other things in a distinguished football career worked for Modell and the Cleveland Browns. Ernie mentioned that he left the Browns when he was 51 years old. They were still the Browns of Otto Graham, Jim Brown and Lou Groza; a proud franchise that I rooted for despite living in New York for 11 seasons (1963-1973) and did so with much intensity, too much at times.

Of course those Browns became the Baltimore Ravens with Modell as the owner and he was persona non grata after that in Cleveland. The Ravens handed the Giants their only Super Bowl loss. An expansion franchise team was awarded to Cleveland that has the Browns’ colors and their records. Cleveland got a new stadium but a great franchise left and there is no continuity. Blame can be dispensed by others but the franchise that won 3 NFL titles in the ’50’s and dominated the old All American Football Conference moved to Baltimore.

One great day December 27, 1964: (Oprah Winfrey calls it her most important day seeing Diana Ross perform on the Ed Sullivan show) and for me the Browns’ (27-0) Title game win vs the favored Baltimore Colts. Frank Ryan threw 3 touchdown passes to Gary Collins (once I heard Mr. Accorsi, a genuine historian, talk of the irony that the Browns with the great Jim Brown as a running back scored all their touchdowns via the pass that day.) Jim Brown had a big run to set up the first score. Lou Groza kicked 2 field goals, the defense which included Jim Kanicki, shutout the great John Unitas and the Colts. Blanton Collier was the coach. An upstart, (he supplanted the legendary Paul Brown to take over the team named for Brown) impeccably dressed, Art Modell was the owner. Memories!

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