Any day now, we will move forward. The loss of the Colts, the indecency of expansion, the uproar over the Browns' move -- it will all be behind us. Any day now, we will have a new football team, with a new name and new colors. Peace is nearly at hand.
Cleveland Mayor Michael White is toning down his rhetoric. The NFL owners are preparing to vote. The scheduled Feb. 12 trial pitting the city of Cleveland against Browns owner Art Modell almost certainly will never take place.
Any day now, there will be a team in Baltimore, a promise of a new team for Cleveland, a settlement, a resolution, a conclusion -- 12 years after the Colts bolted town, setting this entire distasteful process in motion.
No one will ever know the truth, whether Cleveland lost the Browns, whether Modell turned his back on the city, or both. "It's amazing to me how both sides of the story can be so different," Broncos owner Pat Bowlen said yesterday. "They are absolutely opposite."
Frankly, no one cares anymore. Just work out the settlement, and be done with it. Work out the settlement, get the team in
Memorial Stadium next season and start building our latest monument to greed, Son of Camden Yards.
We will move forward, but we will never forget. Modell might be getting a free stadium and sweetheart lease, but he also will inherit a special responsibility in a city scarred by a league that never wanted it, and by owners as shameless as Jim Speros and mean-spirited as Robert Irsay.
Modell broke promises in Cleveland, and now he must earn our trust. It won't be enough for him to spend money -- he must spend wisely. It won't be enough for him to talk about reviving Baltimore's football tradition -- he must build a new one.
Any day now, we start anew. The NFL didn't care about Baltimore's problems in 1984, and it doesn't care about Cleveland's now. The only language it understands is the bottom line. Baltimore needed to build a new stadium to get back into the league. So, apparently, will Cleveland.
History repeats, but cities never learn -- it costs far more to replace a team than it does to keep one. Baltimore discovered that after failing to satisfy Irsay. And Cleveland is about to discover it after failing to satisfy Modell.
The city probably won't get a team right away -- no self-respecting NFL owner wants to play in even a renovated Cleveland Stadium. It might not get a team at all unless it figures out a way to finance a new stadium after splurging for the Gateway complex and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
A new stadium, that's what the owners want, and at Cleveland's expense, not their own. Remember how they lined up like children at a candy store when the state of Maryland threatened to revoke funding for a Baltimore stadium? Take heart, Cleveland -- if you build it, they will come.
But, as was the case in Baltimore, it will cost money and time. Ticket prices will increase. The new owner will demand permanent seat license money. And the economic impact of a stadium that plays host to eight regular-season games a year will be dubious, at best.
It will be interesting to see how White comes out of this politically. Will he be blamed for losing the Browns and getting Cleveland into this mess? Or will he be hailed for securing the promise of a new team faster than any mayor who ever lost one?
For all its troubles, Cleveland is in an enviable position, as these -- things go. Cleveland has three years left on its lease with the Browns. Cleveland took legal action before the team moved, rather than wait as Baltimore did until after the Colts left town.
No one, but no one, wants a court fight. Even White seems to be saying that he doesn't expect one to occur. Still, he pressed his leverage to the limit, and his relentless public-relations campaign figures to end in some measure of success.
White had a doomsday scenario -- the Browns staying in Cleveland until 1998. It terrified everyone. Modell would have lost millions. Cleveland would have lost its reputation. And the NFL would have suffered further embarrassment with a lame-duck team playing before sparse crowds.
Too bad Baltimore never mounted such a threat after the Colts left, but at such a pivotal moment in our football history, there's no sense fretting what might have been. It is time, once and for all, to bury the past.
Any day now, we will move forward.
Forward, to Sundays in autumn.
Forward, at last.