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In Cleveland, anger remains

By ERNEST HOOPER

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 22, 2001


If you're looking for a get-rich quick scheme, here is a gold mine of an opportunity.

And it's simple. Gather as much Giants paraphernalia as you can, drive to Cleveland and open up shop on some street corner down in The Flats or next to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It's likely you will sell out before Super Bowl XXXV kicks off.

"I'm not trying to be flippant when I say this. There's going to be a lot of New York Giants fans in Cleveland on Sunday," said Bob Karlovec of WKNR-AM 1220, a sports-talk station.

Karlovec said the consensus in the lakefront city is that bitterness lingers about Art Modell's decision to move one of the NFL's most fabled franchises to Baltimore in 1995. The Cleveland Browns became the Baltimore Ravens that year, and, as part of a settlement with Mayor Michael White, Modell left the team's colors, nickname and history so Cleveland could get a new version of the Browns.

Now the team is in its second year and has a sparkling new stadium to go with those orange and brown uniforms and Jim Brown's records.

It's not enough to quell the disdain for Modell. A $6.4-million class action suit season ticket holders filed against Modell in 1995 remains in the courts.

"It's like if your wife leaves you for another guy, you hold a lot of resentment toward that guy," said Paul Rado, a producer at WTAM-AM 1100 in Cleveland. "And even if you get married, even though you might have a better-looking woman, you still have that resentment toward that other guy."

The resentment is heightened by the lack of success for the new team. The original Browns are one victory from a world championship, while the new Browns are coming off a 3-13 season. Who can blame them for being annoyed with the Ravens' victory in the AFC Championship Game?

"What we were really hoping is that they would get beat in the last minute," said Tampa's John Golak, a Cleveland native whose wife, Marie, is president of the Browns Backers of Tampa Bay. "Art's never been to the Super Bowl, so we wanted him to have a taste of it, and then in the last minute, they would take the game away."

Of course, the Ravens are hardly Cleveland's old team. Only three players from the Cleveland days are on the current Ravens roster: kicker Matt Stover, defensive tackle Larry Webster and defensive end Rob Burnett. Ozzie Newsome and Earnest Byner, former Browns standouts, are part of the administration, but the Ravens-Browns connections are not substantial.

Still, Karlovec said, Modell remains with the team and that's enough to draw the ire of Browns fans.

"It has nothing to do with Earnest Byner, Ozzie Newsome, Matt Stover or the other people who were with the Browns and are with the Ravens now," said Karlovec, who covers the Browns and serves as a senior reporter.

"This has to do with Mr. Modell and his son (David). I think it was difficult for people to watch that ceremony and see Art Modell holding the Lamar Hunt Trophy. They've seen that, but now they don't want to see him holding the Vince Lombardi Trophy. There's still a lot of hard feelings in this city."

Modell contends it would not have been fiscally possible for him to stay in Cleveland without getting a new stadium, and the city's reluctance to finance a facility left him no choice. In accepting the Hunt Trophy, Modell acknowledged Cleveland, but that seemed only to irk Browns fans even more.

"In addition to paying tribute, initially and primarily to Baltimore, their current enthusiasm, I thought I would be remiss if I didn't single out Cleveland as the birthplace of my football team," Modell said. "If it caused a storm, it's unfortunate. It shouldn't have caused a storm."

Jim Giles, president of the Dunedin Dawgs Club, reasons people may never know exactly what took place between Modell and the city. Giles admits he wouldn't mind seeing the Giants win but believes the bitterness is wasted energy.

"I just think it's going to be so much more enjoyable when we get there without Art Modell," Giles said.

John "Big Dawg" Thompson, who wears a rubber dog mask and leads the fans in Cleveland's Dawg Pound, is another Clevelander who has minimized his bitterness.

"I never really hated Art," Thompson said. "I felt that Art made a pretty poor decision to leave Cleveland. That's something that he's going to have to live with the rest of his life. When he left Cleveland, he definitely left an emptiness in all of our hearts. He did us wrong. At the same time, he knows that he did us wrong. He's going to have to deal with it down the road when it's time for him to check out. He's always going to have that in his heart.

"If he holds that trophy above his head, he's going to have that thought in his head that, 'Boy it would have been nice to do this in Cleveland.' He can never say that now. He can never, ever say that."

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