The best laid plans...
I had gotten myself ready to write the first Browns post of the season, anxious to espouse my thoughts on the upcoming campaign and maybe even lay down a prediction or two.
But then an old ghost paid his last visit.
I was travelling to work when, while listening to the Kiley & Booms show on The Fan, I heard the news that Art Modell has passed on.
Art F*&$#^g Modell ...
I have to admit my very first, knee-jerk reaction, was joy. I felt like one of the munchkins in "Wizard of Oz" when the wicked witch of the West had dissolved into a puddle. An invisible, self-made weight had been lifted from my shoulders.
But then I started to feel guilty about feeling joy at the death of another human being. Speaking ill of the dead--no matter who died--is just weird, as well as bad karma.
I read reactions--local and nationwide--and my mind went back to those bad old days. Images of fans ripping out seats in the final game, Modell and Maryland governor Parris Glendenning at the dais, announcing the new team in Baltimore and grown men weeping.
Such a polarizing figure. The same man who brought the NFL to TV, spear-headed the AFL-NFL merger and gave so much to local charities, was the same man who stubbornly refused to sell his team to local buyers and keep the Browns in Cleveland. How can a man presumably so smart not see that moving such an iconic (and at the time, largely successful) franchise would rip apart this community? No choice? And what happened was better than the other alternatives?
But that's history--and so is Modell. What does his death mean to the current Browns? On the surface, nothing. But in a cosmic sense, this could be a significant event. More than a few people have suggested that whatever "curse" that's been on this team and this town has been lifted because Modell has gone to the hereafter. Normally I don't believe in that sort of thing, but in case of the Browns, I'm grasping at any straw these days. Can it be that a God that supposedly hates Cleveland sports can be appeased by the soul of Arthur Modell?
What I do know is that for the first time since you know who was in charge, the Browns have a successul, engaged owner who seemingly wants to win as badly as fans do. There's a new energy to make a new, successful identity that has eluded the "new" Browns since they came back. Can that, along with the severing two main ties to the old days--Modell and Lerner--lift the black cloud that has taken residence here for nearly fifty years?
Hard to say, but I know it won't happen this year. One of the youngest teams coming out of camp, the Browns have so many unknowns: Will Brandon Weeden be any good? Can TRich stay healthy? Can this defense make any progress stopping the run? And just where does Joe Haden get Adderall?
No matter what you think of Art Modell, you have to admit he was one of the most interesting people the NFL ever knew. He was one of the last of the old guard, a schmoozer who got by more on guile and charm than business acumen. For a while, he was the King of Cleveland, but blew it by making bad choices.
The biggest one nearly ruined him and a community. A tragedy worthy of Shakespeare.
As a Browns fan, I'll never forget or forgive him for moving my football team but a part of me is a little sad as one of the last links to the "Old" Browns has passed. Hopefully, the venom and hard feelings I've been carrying around for nearly 20 years can pass on as well.
It's time to embrace the "New" Browns of Jimmy Haslem. The past is dead. Long live the future.