It's not hard to understand Browns fan's passion, however misguided

The Baltimore Sun

When I was growing up, my grandpops sometimes took me for lunch at John Unitas’ Golden Arm restaurant out on York Road.

Beyond tales of the Colts’ glory days, those meals always featured a singular pleasure — going to the men’s room. You see, at the Golden Arm, the sign on the lavatory door didn’t say “restroom.” It was the “Bob Irsay Room.”

Somehow, urinating on the legacy of the owner who stole the Colts tickled my elementary school brain.  

I thought of this Wednesday when news emerged that a Cleveland Browns fan had urinated on Art Modell’s grave and posted video of the desecration.

This understandably upset the family of the late Ravens owner. It’s an action that’s immature at best, unhinged at worst. And it will become an entry — albeit a mild one — in our long roll call of excessive fan behavior, a list that includes assaults at Oakland Raiders games,  the poisoning of historic oak trees at Auburn University’s Toomer’s Corner and the fires around College Park in the wake of heated Maryland basketball games.

Yet the incident prompts little urge to scold because, if we’re being truthful, we — and I mean team officials, writers and many others — want sports to stir the kind of passion that sometimes boils over. It’s an inseparable element of the whole dance.

We often hear that sports aren’t truly important, not compared to war or Wall Street or the business of government.


Sports bind nations, cities and families. They distract us in dark times and help us talk to strangers. They teach us of beauty, disappointment, perseverance, joy and loss. Just in the last few weeks, we saw the moods of countries rise and fall with the exploits of their World Cup teams. We saw Cleveland break into a citywide party over the return of LeBron James, who had left fans weeping and burning jerseys when he fled to Miami four years earlier.

Baltimore fans know well the polar extremes of this passion. And it’s always been an uncomfortable truth that we did to Cleveland what Indianapolis did to us. Art Modell to a Browns fan is Bob Irsay to a Baltimorean. It’s really that simple.

That’s not to suggest Modell presented the same cantankerous, irrational persona Colts fans associated with Irsay. I’ll never forget Jonathan Ogden’s words at Modell’s public memorial. Ogden was the first player Modell drafted after moving his NFL franchise from Cleveland. And the Hall of Famer remembered the way Modell treated him as a man, never as an asset. Fans who flocked to the memorial at M&T Bank Stadium recalled Modell’s philanthropy and blessed him for bringing football back to Baltimore.

Imagine a world without Purple Fridays, without Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, without one of our greatest civic rallying points. Yes, it’s safe to say we’d repeat, without hesitation, the dirty business of lifting the Browns from Cleveland.

But don’t forget the hole left in another community, one that’s been kicked around just as much as Baltimore by the economic and social trends that haunt so many American cities.

No, I don’t condone defiling a man’s grave. But I understand.

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