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Schmuck: If Art Modell couldn’t get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year, he probably never will | COMMENTARY

Every year, when the Pro Football Hall of Fame committee gets together to choose the new class of inductees, we get another reminder that life is not fair.

Case in point: Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who scoffed at Baltimore’s burning desire to get an expansion franchise in 1993, will be honored in Canton this summer. Art Modell, whose contributions to the growth of the NFL are well known and annually disregarded because he moved the Browns out of Cleveland on Tagliabue’s watch, will not.

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Case in point: The late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, who sued the NFL and moved the Raiders out of Oakland after league owners voted 22-0 (with five abstentions) to prevent relocation — then moved it back 13 years later — is in the Hall of Fame. Modell, whose good works in the Cleveland area spanned decades and have long been disregarded in evaluating his legacy, is not.

Case in point: O.J. Simpson is in the Hall of Fame. Well, that’s a whole different conversation, but you get the idea.

Modell is not in the Hall of Fame because of a determined and successful effort by advocates for the abandoned Browns fans who had to wait three years to get a new owner, a new franchise and a brand-new stadium.

The issue here is not whether those faithful Browns fans were wronged, but whether the totality of Modell’s life — and the role he played in the exploding popularity of the NFL during the second half of the 20th century — should be overshadowed by the single fact that he chose to move his financially beleaguered team out of Cleveland rather than sell it.

Obviously, enough people think so, because Modell has been repeatedly passed over despite his undeniable impact on professional football.

When he died in September 2012, four days before the Ravens would begin their second Super Bowl championship season, I had the honor of writing a tribute column here in The Baltimore Sun, which pretty well summed up the whole situation:

If you believe that pro football has superceded Major League Baseball as the most popular and entertaining team sport in North America, and you're happy about that, you can thank Modell for pushing to expand the NFL and negotiating a series of national television deals that turned it into an economic powerhouse.

If “Monday Night Football” takes the edge off the beginning of your work week, you can thank Modell, who helped engineer that watershed move into prime time in 1970 and also the NFL-AFL merger that turned pro football into must-see TV.

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If you're a Ravens fan, of course, you can thank Modell for bringing NFL football back to Baltimore after the Colts skipped town, though that particular accomplishment it viewed very differently in northern Ohio.

Apparently, that will always be so. This clearly was Modell’s best chance to overcome all those years of resistance, because this year’s Hall of Fame selection process was expanded to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the league.

Modell was among a group of league contributors that were evaluated by a diverse group of voters that included media members, former players and league officials. They chose Tagliabue, Baltimore native and longtime general manager of the New York Giants George Young and NFL Films guru Steve Sabol.

They are all deserving, even if Baltimore sports fans won’t let Tagliabue forget his infamous “build a museum” comment after the 1993 expansion snub, but so was Modell. And you’d think that the passage of time would allow for a broader perspective of his life and his four-plus decades as one of the NFL’s most progressive owners.

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