Pro Football Hall fumbles in shunning of Modell

THE ABSENCE OF Ravens owner Art Modell's name from the list of 15 finalists for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2003 was expected. There is still too much passion and, in some cases, disdain when his name is mentioned.

It's a shame.

Modell should have a bust of himself in Canton, Ohio, along with George Halas, Lamar Hunt, Art Rooney, Wellington Mara and other contributors who have made pro football the nation's top sport.

Instead, Modell, 77, probably won't be a finalist again for a few more years.

"I wasn't surprised [Modell wasn't a finalist] because he was addressed in last year's meeting, and it was a thorough and comprehensible discussion," said Charles Chandler, a Hall of Fame voter from the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer.

"Art Modell has done a great deal for the league, but the move out of Cleveland was high-voltage. There are still some hot issues. If the voters thought there might be a change in attitude from a year ago, they would have voted differently. Time will tell, but it might be five or six years. That's not good if you're an Art Modell supporter, but you just have to hope he is active when his day comes."

That's the plain truth.

As one who serves on the board of selectors, I can tell you the debate over Modell became intense last year. Modell had firm support, but there are still a lot of board members who feel that Modell's move from Cleveland to Baltimore for the 1996 season outweighs his numerous league contributions.

It's no secret that a lot of them were persuaded by the Cleveland representative, who spoke passionately against Modell last year. Modell reportedly played a major role in the reporter being suspended for three days and later taken off the Browns beat in 1990 for insubordination.

"Art is so deserving, and is deserving of more consideration in the future," said Jarrett Bell, a voter from USA Today. "But after last year, I don't think a lot of committee members wanted to go down that road again. They wanted to give someone else in the room a shot.

"In Art's case, it's kind of an aberration," Bell said of the hometown presentation. "Last year, he got into the room for discussion, and he got slammed so badly by the guy. It really does come down to what happens in that presentation, because that person supposedly has the best relationship with that player, coach or whoever."

It happened here in Baltimore.

John Steadman, the late News American and Sun columnist, didn't endorse John Mackey until 1992, the year the tight end got into the Hall of Fame. Mackey played in the NFL from 1963 to 1972.

It's unfortunate that one person has so much power, because most of the board members are intelligent and have been longtime observers of the game.

Also, let's be realistic: Most beat reporters have had some serious disagreements with players or front-office personnel over the years.

Some of us have agendas, some of us don't.

There have been other arguments against Modell, such as him firing legendary coach Paul Brown, forcing running back Jim Brown to retire and getting rid of two of the most popular players in Cleveland history, receiver Paul Warfield and quarterback Bernie Kosar.

But let's take a closer look at some of these: Jim Brown wanted to hold out of training camp and part of the regular season to finish the production of The Dirty Dozen in Europe. Modell said no, and Brown, under contract, retired.

That was Brown's fault more than Modell's. Brown was replaced that year by former Morgan State running back Leroy Kelly, who went on to become a Hall of Famer. While some people haven't gotten over the Brown situation, Modell and Brown remain the best of friends.

In the case of Warfield, Modell traded him to the Miami Dolphins in 1970 for a first-round pick that the Browns used to select quarterback Mike Phipps. Eight years later, the Browns traded Phipps to the Chicago Bears via the Los Angeles Rams to get an eventual Hall of Fame tight end named Ozzie Newsome.

As for Kosar, Cleveland's equivalent of Cal Ripken, he lasted about two more years in both Dallas and Miami as a backup after Model cut him in 1993.

Some loss, huh?

Combine those with The Move, and those are the arguments to keep Modell out of the Hall of Fame.

It's not enough.

As Monday Night Football celebrates its 34th season this year, give thanks to Modell, also a pioneer for NFL Films. He also was a strong advocate for profit-sharing, which is why the league now has parity. Before retiring as chairman of the NFL's television committee for 32 years in 1993, Modell was a key figure, along with late commissioner Pete Rozelle, in bringing more than $10 billion to the league office.

The list goes on and on. From breaking the NFL-AFL impasse by agreeing to be one of the three teams to move the AFC along with the Colts and Steelers, to recently naming Newsome the league's first African-American general manager.

Modell's record on hiring minorities is unprecedented. He has been one of the league's top guys.

"I try to let the athlete's statistics and what he accomplished sway me," said Chick Ludwig, a voter from the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News. "That is first and foremost; not let the emotions persuade me. But you've got to deal with perceptions. Art Modell has the move. I've got the Cincinnati Bengals, perennial losers. Art had a real good chance last year, but he has been put on the back burner. It's like the guy disappeared."

Modell will resurface. But it's going to take another strong effort to promote him as well as some political arm-twisting. He'll have his day, sooner or later. It just appears to be years away.