NEW ORLEANS - Art Modell won't be making that return trip to Ohio this year.
One of 15 finalists, the 76-year-old Ravens owner was not elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame yesterday. If selected, Modell would have attended the induction ceremonies in Canton, Ohio, marking his first steps in that state since moving the Cleveland Browns in 1996.
According to several Hall of Fame board members, that emotionally charged relocation represented the major stumbling block for Modell's election. He failed to make the first cut yesterday when the list was narrowed to 10 candidates.
"I'm not disappointed because I'm a realist," said Modell, who is eligible again next year. "I have no regrets over the move. I'm happy in Baltimore."
The class of 2002 consists of quarterback Jim Kelly, receiver John Stallworth, tight end Dave Casper, defensive lineman Dan Hampton and coach George Allen. Their inductions will be held Aug. 3.
Modell and coach Bill Parcells elicited the most lengthy debates during yesterday's meeting by the 38-man board of selectors.
Since Modell spent a majority of his career in Cleveland, his presentation to the board was submitted by Tony Grossi, a Browns beat writer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. According to a source, Grossi declined to state Modell's case because he didn't have anything positive to say.
After six other board members then offered reasons why Modell should be in the Hall of Fame, Grossi delivered the only negative viewpoint and talked about the Browns' move, the source added.
"Everything I said in there both Art and Ozzie [Newsome] have heard me say before," Grossi said. "That's all that I will say."
Grossi's passionate speech nearly brought him to tears, several board members said.
"The negatives were very eloquent, more so than the positives," said Sports Illustrated's Paul Zimmerman, a board member. "That's what swung it."
Some board members noted that Grossi may have a personal grudge against Modell.
In 1990, Grossi wrote a front-page story that said coach Bud Carson was going to be fired during the Browns' bye week. An editor asked Grossi to call Modell or executive vice president Ernie Accorsi and inserted into his story that "Efforts to reach Modell and Accorsi yesterday were unsuccessful." But Grossi never attempted to contact either one.
Grossi was suspended three days for insubordination and was removed temporarily from the Browns' beat. Four weeks later, Carson was fired during the bye week.
"It's been a long time since 1990," said Kevin Byrne, the Ravens' vice president of public relations who worked in the same capacity for the Browns. "It was not Art who suspended him. It was the Plain Dealer who suspended him. If that still upsets Tony, that's sad."
For Modell, this Super Bowl week was not as sweet as a year ago. But he would not trade winning a Super Bowl for a bust in Canton. "No award could ever replace that euphoria," Modell said.
Many believe that Modell, a first-time finalist this year, will have other chances to make the Hall.
"Art had thought people had forgotten about his accomplishments because of the move," Byrne said. "He thought there was a distorted view of the move but, in time, there would be a better perspective. Maybe more time is needed. I feel badly that Art is not in the Hall of Fame because he should be in there. But I feel he will be in the Hall of Fame someday."