Lesson Modell learned reaps Super reward

Sun Staff

UNTIL SUNDAY, the words Art Modell and the Vince Lombardi Trophy had notexactly fit together like pieces in the perfect joint. The trophy goes to theSuper Bowl winner. Mr. Modell's team, neither the original Cleveland Brownsnor its Baltimore Ravens incarnation, had been to a Super Bowl, much less wonone.

It wasn't so much the trophy that seemed incongruent in the same sentencewith the Ravens owner. It was the Lombardi name. In 40 years in the NFL, Mr.Modell had earned a reputation as what Paul Brown, the first and legendaryBrowns coach, called a "playing owner." Playing, as in meddling.

Before Vince Lombardi, Mr. Brown had been the NFL's greatest coach.(Arguably, he still is.) Mr. Modell fired him. The only Lombardi that Mr.Modell was associated with was Mike Lombardi, one of the many allegedpersonnel geniuses whom Mr. Modell persisted in helping.

It was Mr. Modell's team. He could run it anyway (or anywhere) he wanted.

On Sunday, after the Ravens had dismantled the New York Giants, it wasn'tthe Lombardi Trophy in Mr. Modell's hands that was the biggest change in ArtModell's life. It was two of the men who flanked him -- Ozzie Newsome andBrian Billick.

Mr. Modell, now 75, finally had surrounded himself with the right men andallowed them to do their jobs -- Mr. Newsome, the Browns' Hall of Fame tightend, in personnel, and Mr. Billick, the coach Cleveland had wanted.

It is hard not to be happy for a man who has learned a lesson before it istoo late and received the reward. It also is impossible not to wish he hadlearned it sooner, in Cleveland.

Had Mr. Modell done so, the city would have built not only a new stadiumfor him but also a pedestal and he might not have moved to Baltimore. An ironyof the Cleveland-Modell estrangement is that everyone wanted the same thing:to win The Big Enchilada.

New Browns owner Al Lerner has proved himself to be a "non-player," but themen he has allowed to run his team, Carmen Policy and Dwight Clark, seem benton repeating many of Mr. Modell's old management mistakes.

Maybe that is the final, Super irony.

This article appeared as an editorial Tuesday in the Akron Beacon Journal.

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