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Under the purple you'll find Brown
By MARC TOPKIN
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 26, 2001
TAMPA -- Playing in Cleveland provided standout defensive end Rob Burnett with plenty of good moments, exciting times and warm memories.
The cold showers, though, he could have done without.
Burnett, kicker Matt Stover and defensive lineman Larry Webster are the Ravens' link to their unofficial past, the only three active players still with the team from the days it played in Cleveland.
The move to Baltimore after the 1995 season was a business decision for owner Art Modell, who felt he no longer could be competitive financially by operating the team in Cleveland. In addition to revenue streams, Baltimore had exuberant fans, an impressive football pedigree and the promise of a state-of-the-art stadium.
But the players knew there were some things about Cleveland -- besides Drew Carey -- they were going to miss.
"The fans, I thought, were probably some of the best in the league," Burnett said. "They were just real loyal, real knowledgeable, true, true football fans."
Stover talked reverently about the Dawg Pound, the end-zone section where the most hardy of Browns fans gathered. "What an intimidating factor to have on our side," he said.
The problem, however, was the stadium. Stover tries to make a convincing case that there was some sort of mental home-field advantage in old and cold Memorial Stadium, but others saw it for what it was -- a dump.
There was the wind that whipped in off the lake. The painted dirt that was passed off as a field. The undersized and antiquated locker room.
And the showers.
"They were cold," Burnett said. "And they backed up all the time. After the first 15 minutes, they clogged up and the water would come out of the shower and be all in the hallway and stuff. It was a dinosaur facility from the 1920s."
After years of wrangling, Modell decided he had enough -- stunning league officials, fans and his players, who had to pack up and move like any employees being relocated by their company.
"I never expected the Cleveland Browns to move out of Cleveland, did you? No," Stover said. "I think that was a major shock for all of us. But when I really found out what had happened, why Mr. Modell had to make the decision, I totally understood it.
"After the Gateway project (which included Jacobs Field for the Indians), and Gund Arena (a new home for the NBA Cavaliers), the science center and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we (still) have this 1920s stadium. Art Modell's only business is football. He had no influx of cash coming in and he needed to get some cash and that stadium wasn't going to get the job done. He had to go out and borrow money to pay for signing bonuses. How are you going to be competitive when you can't do it?"
Modell still is vilified by some for moving the Browns, though his supporters point out that Cleveland fans eventually came out okay -- they got a beautiful modern stadium and a new team to put in it and got to keep the old name and history.
So did the players who survived the disruption of the move, the so-called "old Browns" who became key parts of the new Ravens.
"We were on the last team that left out of Cleveland, so we do have that special bond," Webster said. "We know what we went through that year, with a 4-12 record and knowing that after the last game we were gone."
Was it worth it?
"We're in the Super Bowl," Webster said, "so we can't really complain."
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