In Cleveland, ripping Modell is an acquired art
CLEVELAND (AP) -- Art Modell is the feel-good story of the Super Bowl. Who couldn't feel happy for the 75-year-old grandfather and NFL patriarch as he finally sees his Baltimore Ravens play in the sport's biggest game after waiting all these years?
Oh, just about 2 million Clevelanders.
Football fans here still can't excuse Modell for moving the city's beloved Browns to Baltimore in 1995, and that's certainly not going to change Sunday.
"I don't think I'll ever forgive him," said John Thompson, aka "Big Dawg," the dog-mask-wearing pack leader of Cleveland's rabid Dawg Pound. "And I really don't care about him being in the Super Bowl. At least I keep telling myself that."
Thompson's not alone. Most of Cleveland is in denial. Once again, Browns fans have the Modell Blues.
Modell. The mere mention of his name a couple years ago could have started a fistfight. Nowadays, Modell's name would more likely trigger someone rolling their eyes or shrugging their shoulders than throwing a haymaker.
You can still buy a "Modell Still [Stinks]" T-shirt downtown, but at least people aren't wearing them to work anymore.
It's safe to say Cleveland doesn't hate Modell as much as it used to.
After all, this football-mad town did get back in the NFL and built a 70,000-seat stadium, while keeping the old Browns' colors, uniforms and history.
Modell, though, is the talk of the town. His picture is in the newspaper nearly every day, and he's the topic of conversation in coffee shops, bars and on radio call-in shows.
On Monday, The Plain Dealer ran a sampling of e-mails it received after posing the question: "Are you ready to let go of old grudges and wish Modell well in his bid to win the Super Bowl?"
Needless to say, the well-wishers were outnumbered.
"I wish him nothing but nightmares, belly cramps, diarrhea, insomnia and headaches for the rest of his life," one said.
"Am I ready to let go? I hope the old coot loses, 50-0," read another.
And finally, "This town was sucker-punched."
Now, the sight of Modell in the Super Bowl is one Clevelanders are having a hard time stomaching. Five years have only slightly eased the pain of having your heart ripped out and punted 300 miles -- as the crow flies, or in this case, the raven -- to Baltimore.
Those painful memories of '95 when Modell, financially strapped and unable to convince city officials to give him a new stadium, bolted for Baltimore are being relived.
"He didn't have to do what he did," Thompson said. "But I can't worry about him anymore. I'm more concerned about how my team is doing now."
Modell's Super Bowl appearance is doubly painful in a town that hasn't celebrated a major sports championship since 1964. Cleveland is one of only three established franchises never to play on Super Sunday.
Sadly, the vilified Modell is as close as Browns fans have come to getting in the big game.
"He could have sold the Browns five years ago to [current owner] Al Lerner," said Michael Saltzman, a season-ticket holder for 29 years, who had 40-yard line seats when Modell left. "He could have had his stadium. It's a shame. It's a sin that can't be righted."
Saltzman was in a Cleveland courtroom last week for a hearing to decide if Modell should be tried in a lawsuit brought by Browns 1995 season-ticket holders who claim the former owner lied.
"He may never admit it, but he realizes what he did was wrong," Saltzman said.
Not everyone is spewing hatred toward Modell.
"Mr. Modell was very nice to me and my family," said Brian Brennan, a wide receiver from 1984-91 who played on three Browns teams that lost in AFC title games. "We banged on the door many times with him, so I'm happy to see him make it."
Does that mean Brennan won't be taking a swing at a Modell pinata or throwing a dart at Modell's image Sunday, as some are planning.
"I'm pulling for the Giants," Brennan said. "But only because my younger brother Charlie is married to [New York owner] Wellington Mara's daughter, Meghan."
When the Ravens beat Oakland to win the AFC championship and earn Modell a Super Bowl berth, the Monday morning headline read: "Modell's moment in sun is one dark day."
It won't be any brighter on the shores of Lake Erie this Sunday.
"I'm going to a Super Bowl party where the price of admission is not rooting for the Ravens," Saltzman said. "If you're rooting for the Ravens, go to another party."
Thompson, too, said he'll watch the game and promises he won't be rooting for the team in purple.
It was tough enough watching Modell accept the AFC title trophy. Thompson can't imagine seeing Modell raising the Vince Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl victory.
"Oh, man," Big Dawg moaned, "That's a pretty ugly picture. I can't even stand to think about that."