CHICAGO -- Ravens owner Art Modell let bygones be bygones and helped his former friend and business partner, Al Lerner, win the bidding war for the Cleveland Browns to become the 31st NFL owner last night.
Even though there was a major rift between the two men after Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore, Modell helped break the logjam when Lerner was stalled at 21 votes, two shy of the 23 votes necessary to get his bid approved by the other owners.
In a move reminiscent of the way the league deprived Baltimore of an expansion team, the league had the process wired for Lerner.
He had the high bid of $530 million and the committee recommended him by a 7-0 vote over the group headed by the Dolan brothers, Charles and Larry. The Dolans bid $500 million. New York real estate developer Howard Milstein bid about $450 million and was eliminated by the committee.
But the owners didn't rubber stamp the Lerner bid the way they did when Carolina and Jacksonville were awarded the 1993 expansion teams.
Instead, a bloc of nine owners either voted for the Dolans or abstained, leaving Lerner two votes shy of approval during four ballots.
Joining Modell in voting for the Dolans were the two New York teams, Buffalo, Tampa Bay, Chicago and Cincinnati. St. Louis and Oakland were abstaining.
Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said that's when Modell made a short speech suggesting they unanimously vote for Lerner.
Lerner was then approved by a 29-0-1 vote. Only Raiders' owner Al Davis, who abstained, refused to join the majority.
The actual purchase price was $476 million -- the highest price for a franchise in any sport -- because $54 million will go back to the league to repay stadium funds the league had advanced Cleveland.
Several owners had talked about a price in the $1 billion range, but an NFL team simply doesn't produce enough revenue to justify that kind of price.
Although Modell conceded he had the votes to block Lerner, he said he made the move "for the good of the league."
"I look forward to playing the Browns twice a year," Modell added. "That's all I want to say."
Modell's gesture was surprising because Lerner distanced himself from Modell after the move and then talked as if he had little to do with the move, even though he negotiated much of the deal and it was signed on his plane.
On the other hand, Modell's trademark before his move was supporting league policies.
John Moag, the head of the Maryland Stadium Authority, was quoted this week by the Cleveland Plain Dealer as saying that Modell felt "incredibly betrayed" by Lerner and "permanently scarred" by the move.
When Lerner was asked what he thought about Modell's support last night, he said, "It sounds like the kind of thing he would do."
When Lerner was asked to describe his current relationship with Modell, he stumbled.
"I don't. I don't. I have , " he started out. He then added, "It's fine. It's fine."
Several owners saluted Modell for helping to break the deadlock. Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, said to Cleveland fans, "Be sensitive in your memories of Art Modell. I know there have been some rough times there. Remember him for his positives."
Dan Rooney, the Steeler owner who voted against Modell's move from Cleveland, although they have been friends for a long time, said, "He was excellent."
When a Cleveland reporter asked Rooney if it was true that Modell played a key role, Rooney said, "Wipe that smirk off your face. When he did that, it hadn't passed. We didn't have 23
votes. It was meaningful when he said that. That's what I'm trying to get across."
Rooney, a member of the seven-man committee that recommended Lerner, said, "He'll run a good ship. I think Carmen Policy is very capable. I liked them both [Lerner and the Dolans]. I could have been with Dolan, but he didn't have the high bid."
Policy is the former San Francisco 49ers president who will run the team for Lerner.
When Lerner was asked how the fans in the Dawg Pound would react to him, considering his role in moving the team in the first place, he said, "I certainly hope that's not an issue. I guess that's up to them to decide how they want to react. Our job is give them the best team we can."
Davis said he didn't think the difference between the Lerner and Dolan bids was significant.
"I thought they were close. Sure. You're talking about 28 teams, about $1 million per team and when you pay the 20 percent capital gains tax, yeah, I thought it was close," Davis said.
The $476 million will be divided 28 ways. Neither the Ravens nor the St. Louis Rams will get a share of the expansion fee because they gave it up when they made their deals to move.
Davis also said he thought that former Baltimore and Miami coach Don Shula, who would have run the team for the Dolans, should have gotten more consideration.
Davis, who usually disagrees with the league on most policies, took a shot at the way the league set it up for Lerner.
"I'm not sure yet what the process was," Davis said.
Lerner even had the endorsement of Mayor Michael White, apparently because Lerner had supported the mayor when he was a young politician.
Former Browns Calvin Hill and Paul Warfield, who were members of the Milstein group, complained that minorities weren't being given much consideration in the process.
White, who is black, said, "We are focused on minority involvement in the entire stadium operation. Those conversations are ongoing and I feel confident we're going to yield significant results in that area."
When Lerner was asked if he expected to have a good rivalry with the Ravens, he said, "I think that's a reasonable prediction."
Facts about Alfred Lerner, 65, named owner of the Cleveland Browns yesterday:
Got his start in business in Baltimore, selling furniture for $75 a week.
Amassed much of his wealth in Baltimore, first in real estate, then in banking.
Ran Maryland National Bank before selling it to NationsBank.
Chairman and chief executive of MBNA Corp., nation's second-largest credit card lender.
Chairman of Town & Country Trust, a Baltimore real estate firm.
Owned 9 percent of the Browns at the time they moved to Baltimore.
One of the prospective owners of a Baltimore NFL expansion team.
In 1996, ranked by Fortune as one of America's leading lTC philanthropists, with gifts totaling $27 million.
Pub Date: 9/09/98