Art Modell deserves to be in Hall of Fame

Art Modell won NFL championships as owner of the Browns (1964) and the Ravens (2000). AP Photo/Ricky Carioti

NEW ORLEANS -- Former owner Art Modell is one of the finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but I don't see him getting voted in Saturday.

Of the three league contributors on the list, Modell and former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo likely will split votes, opening the way for Bill Parcells to get in this year. Nevertheless, Modell, who passed away in September, eventually will make the Hall, and he undoubtedly deserves to be there.

Modell won NFL titles in Cleveland and Baltimore. He was chairman of the owners' labor committee in 1968 when it negotiated the NFL's first collective bargaining agreement. He enriched fellow owners with his three decades of service on the league's broadcast committee. He hired the first minority general manager, Ozzie Newsome.

There is no debate that Modell contributed enormously to the sport's popularity and growth. You simply can't write the history of pro football without Modell, which is the best reason anyone can give as to why his legacy should be honored in Canton.

"When you look at the body of work that Art did, then why shouldn’t he be in [the Hall of Fame]?" Newsome said. "If this game is as good as it is today --and we all think we have a very good game -- then Art was an architect of the game. He helped build the game for what it is. That’s why I think he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.”

What has kept Modell from getting into the Hall of Fame was his decision to move the Browns in 1996 instead of selling the team to someone who would've kept the franchise in Cleveland. Although fans will never see any justification for uprooting a team, history says that shouldn't block Modell from going into the Hall of Fame.

Al Davis was inducted into the Hall in 1992, 10 years after he relocated the Raiders to Los Angeles. A better argument is Dan Reeves, a member of the Hall of Fame class of 1967 who moved the Cleveland Rams to Los Angeles in 1946 less than a month after that team had won the NFL championship.

It's unfair for Hall of Fame voters to hold Modell to a different set of rules than Davis and Reeves.

“The reason [the NFL] is as popular as it is today and guys are making the money is a lot because of what he’s done and the vision that he had,’’ Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. “That’s my thing. He should be in it. But if he’s not in it, what’s that say about the Hall of Fame?”

Although Modell remains a villain in Cleveland, he will always be beloved by those who played for him. When former Browns Don Fleming and Ernie Davis died, Modell pitched in to cover funeral costs. When another Brown, Eddie Johnson, struggled with cancer, Modell quietly sent a $15,000 check to help handle medical bills. And when Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis was charged with murder, it was Modell who flew to Atlanta to be a character witness at his bail hearing. Modell also created the Inner Circle in Cleveland, making the Browns one of the first franchises to offer a drug and alcohol abuse center to players.

Modell wasn't the perfect owner. He overspent for wide receiver Andre Rison, writing the future free-agent bust a $17 million check. He also fired Paul Brown and Bill Belichick as coaches.

But nothing has tarnished his candidacy more than moving the Browns to Baltimore. Isn't it time to move on now? Of course, I know the answer from Browns fans. Modell, though, has paid his debt. He died without seeing his contributions and service recognized in the place where many of his friends and peers have been enshrined.

“Art Modell was one of the greatest owners in the history of the NFL," New York Giants owner John Mara said. "He contributed in so many ways to the success of this league, and he deserves a place in Canton."

Said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell: "His skills as an owner and league contributor were matched only by his great sense of humor."

This has the makings of a magical weekend for the Ravens. Offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, the team's first draft pick, is expected to get voted into the Hall of Fame on Saturday. The Ravens are playing the 49ers in the Super Bowl on Sunday in what will be Ray Lewis' final game.

Although Modell might not make the Hall of Fame this week, he will be part of the Ravens' festivities in spirit. There is a black "Art" patch on the uniform of every player, just above the heart.

"What [voters] have to do, like in any decisions you have to make, you have to look at the positives and the negatives," Newsome said. "With him, I think the positives outweigh the negative of the move. That’s how I go about making decisions, and that’s how I hope the voters do it."