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Emotions swirled 20 years ago today, when NFL returned to Baltimore

Gov. Parris Glendening talks with Art Modell at press conference on Camden Yards parking lot announcing Cleveland Browns' move to Baltimore on Nov. 6, 1995.
Gov. Parris Glendening talks with Art Modell at press conference on Camden Yards parking lot announcing Cleveland Browns' move to Baltimore on Nov. 6, 1995.(Jed Kirschbaum / Baltimore Sun)

Art Modell was glum.

Baltimore football fans felt a bit guilty.

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Maryland Stadium Authority chairman John Moag was relieved.

Those were among the most prominent emotions that swirled around the news conference on Nov. 6, 1995, during which it was announced that the Cleveland Browns — one of the NFL's cornerstone franchises — had agreed to relocate to Baltimore.

It certainly doesn't seem like it has been 20 years since the controversial move that spawned the Baltimore Ravens, and that day is still fresh in the mind of the man who negotiated the deal that also included the construction of the state-of-the-art football stadium that completed the sparkling Camden Yards sports complex.

Moag got up that morning in the dark and went for a run. When he returned home, local sportscaster Scott Garceau was waiting on his front yard with a cameraman.

"I saw Scott outside my house," Moag said on Thursday, "and I thought, 'Oh, God, here we go.'"

The news conference took place in the parking lot at Camden Yards and featured a host of local and state dignitaries. It was also witnessed by a crowd with mixed feelings about the idea of an NFL team doing to Cleveland what the Colts did to Baltimore with their heartbreaking midnight ride to Indianapolis in 1984.

If it was a moment of triumph after a decade-long battle to replace the Colts with another NFL franchise. Moag said he could remember mostly a feeling of relief that the deal was done and that he had successfully completed his mission.

"Simply because it was really, really intense," he said. "For me, personally, it was very lonely. I didn't have anybody to talk to about it, other than my wife. … It was a lonely, very intense period of time. So when the announcement came, I would say more relief than triumph."

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One of the things Moag remembers most about that watershed day was the look on Modell's face as they prepared to meet the media and make an announcement that would turn Modell into a villain in the city he had loved and patronized for more than three decades.

"He was really quiet … kind of glum," Moag said. "He didn't know Baltimore. You really have to put into perspective what happened. The day of the announcement, he and his family packed up and left Cleveland and never went back. ... He literally never went back. He's literally arriving in a new city with nothing — no furniture, a few clothes and no idea of what he's getting into in terms of the city that he has adopted, and having abandoned the city that he spent the greater part of his life in."

Modell apologized to the city of Cleveland that day, but that didn't change anything. He had been a pillar of that community since buying the Browns in 1961, but he would be forever vilified as the Grinch who stole football, even though he eventually agreed to leave behind the Browns legacy and his departure led to the construction of the new Browns stadium he could never pry out of the city.

Largely because of that unrelenting civic enmity, Modell has been passed over several times for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in spite of his tremendous impact on the evolution of the NFL.

The deal wasn't actually finalized that day exactly 20 years ago. The contract was signed by Modell and then-governor Parris N. Glendening 10 days earlier. The process obviously took much longer and it originally involved several potential NFL relocation candidates.

"There's a certain irony in that I had options,'' Moag said. "There were three other teams in addition to the Browns I was actively engaged in speaking with. There was no question in my mind that the Browns were the team that I wanted to nail down and I had to pursue them a lot harder because initially Art wouldn't even talk to me.

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"It took months longer to establish contact with them, and meanwhile I was going down the road with three other teams. But they were the one I had my eye on. They had Ozzie Newsome. They had a storied history. There were clearly teams in there that would have worked, but not worked nearly as well as this one has."

The Ravens would not be called the Ravens for another five months, but they would be Super Bowl champions in just five years and remain one of the most consistently successful franchises in the NFL.

Modell would come to love Baltimore and he would become a beloved figure among Ravens fans until his death at age 87 in 2012.

Cleveland fans, who wasted no time forgiving NBA superstar LeBron James for deserting and dissing the city when he returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers 16 months ago, still carry a grudge, as do many Baltimore sports fans do toward late Colts owner Robert Irsay.

Moag said he didn't share the mixed emotions that greeted the Browns upon their arrival here.

"Once I came to understand how the business really worked — what the issues were and the complications were — I personally did not feel remorse,'' Moag said. "I think there was a lot of remorse in the community about it, but I didn't feel remorse because I came to the very quick conclusion in analyzing the Cleveland situation that they were not going to do anything for Art. They had really stuck it to him good and he had given it his all.

"I also felt strongly that after it happened, they would turn around and build a stadium and fix their situation like we did and St. Louis did."

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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