SI Vault
Peter King
February 19, 1996
Without Grace or Glory
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February 19, 1996

The Nfl

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Without Grace or Glory

Modell gets Baltimore, loses the Browns
The shameful firing of Marchibroda
Free agents and hot prospects

A half hour earlier, Art Modell had made his uneasy peace with the NFL and with the city of Cleveland, but back in his suite at Chicago's O'Hare Hilton late last Friday afternoon, he was determined to have the last word. "Cleveland got a hell of a deal, a hell of a deal," he said. "If I had gotten half of that deal a year ago, I'd have stayed in Cleveland. That's how outrageous it is."

Modell had started the fight in November, when he announced that he would be moving his Browns to Baltimore after the 1995 season. The settlement reached last Friday allows Modell to leave immediately, but the terms have made him bitter. For years he had sought to have Cleveland build him a new stadium; now the league will lend the city as much as $48 million to help finance a new facility for someone else's team. He had wanted private businesses to fill the luxury boxes at crumbling Cleveland Stadium, but they were canceling their leases; now the businessmen will be lining up to buy suites in the new place. And in the end, Modell was forced to pay his way out of the city that he had called home for 35 years. The negotiations were on the verge of collapse until Modell agreed last Thursday night to pay $9.3 million in damages to the city plus another $2.25 million in lease fees for breaking his Cleveland Stadium lease, which was not due to expire until after the 1998 season.

Modell must leave behind the franchise's hallowed colors and nickname, while Cleveland will be without a pro football team for three years, but both Modell and the city's mayor, Michael White, knew that the deal was the best that they could have realistically hoped for. White recognized that forcing Modell, who is now anathema to Clevelanders, to keep his team in that city through the three years left on the stadium lease was vindictive and counterproductive. Says Fred Nance, a lawyer for the city of Cleveland, "The league made it known to us that we could have three years of lame-duck football and that would be it, or we could have a future with football."

Last week's accord settled the question of where the Team Formerly Known as the Browns will be playing next season—and, remarkably, given the league's recent history, it was accomplished without the parties having to go to trial. Still, it was little more than a bandage over the gaping wound in the NFL's image. Ahead lie still more franchise shifts that the league may not want, yet may ultimately be powerless to stop.

And still more teams could desert their homes if the NFL is unable to redress a yawning gap in revenue between the haves and the have-nots. According to figures obtained by SI from a league source, in 1994 the league's wealthiest team, the Cowboys, earned $48 million more than the poorest, the Bengals. Modell says that the '95 figures will show the gulf is now $58 million. "Our economic system is flawed," he says, "and we have to get that fixed."

Adding at least some skybox and sponsorship income to the shared revenue pool will help the poorer teams. But to remain competitive in the NFL of the '90s, owners will have to take their cue from Jerry Jones, who has created a new Cowboys dynasty by aggressively marketing his team.

Colt-Hearted Decision

Colts coach Ted Marchibroda, in the final year of a four-year contract, entered last season making $600,000. His Colts beat Don Shula's Dolphins twice. They beat Bill Parcells's Patriots twice. They beat George Seifert's defending Super Bowl champion 49ers and, in the playoffs, Bobby Ross's defending AFC champion Chargers. Then, in last month's AFC title game, the Colts came within a dropped Hail Mary pass of going to the Super Bowl. What was Marchibroda's reward for engineering the success of this band of overachievers? Vice president Bill Tobin offered him a one-year contract at $600,000. No multiyear deal. No raise.

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