When the Cleveland Browns report for work in the morning at their gleaming $13 million training center, they can hand an intern a grocery list and drop off their dry cleaning; the groceries will be in the player's refrigerator at home that afternoon, and the dry cleaning will be back in 24 hours. Players can go to the cafeteria for fresh carrot juice, hand-rolled granola, a scone and eight kinds of fresh fruit. By October, when they want to warm up on an exercise bike, they'll be able to watch tape of that week's foe—on a nine-inch video screen mounted between the handlebars.
On game days, when the players drive to their $292 million granite-and-glass palace on Lake Erie, uniformed valets will park their cars for them. They can drop their kids off inside the stadium at the Puppy Pound, a day-care center staffed by three nannies. They'll dress in the largest locker room in American sports, an 11,000-square-foot expanse with recessed lighting and oversized lockers. They shouldn't have to worry about overaggressive fans: Four holding cells are located in the bowels of the stadium, and a year ago the facility's director of security was running the U.S. Secret Service.
This is not your father's football team. Or organization. Built in 11 months, the Browns could serve as a blueprint for the state-of-the-art sports franchise in the 21st century. Here's how the Browns, dormant since Art Modell picked up and took his team to Baltimore after the 1995 season, were reborn.
SEPT. 8, 1998: ROSEMONT, ILL.
Four ballots have been taken in the Grand Ballroom of the O'Hare Hilton to decide who will be the Browns' new owner. Four ballots have failed to produce the required three-quarters majority (23 votes) for the leading vote-getter, credit-card magnate Al Lerner. A cadre of old-guard owners, led by Modell, wants the group led by Charles Dolan to get the team, but the majority won't budge. Prodded by imminent defectors, Modell finally gives up.
"Even though I'm profoundly disappointed Dolan didn't get a fair shake," Modell says wearily, "this has gone on long enough. We ought to come out unanimously for Lerner." Lerner's $530 million bid is approved. Modell sits down and cries.
How ironic that Modell has become the prince of peace. Three years earlier he had flown to Baltimore in his good friend Lerner's plane to sign the deal—with Lerner as an adviser—that moved the Browns to Maryland. But Modell and Lerner split bitterly after Lerner, faced with a firestorm of criticism in Cleveland, said he had merely allowed his plane to be used. "Whether I had a greater role, a lesser role or a kaiser roll is irrelevant," Lerner said. "Art made the decision to move."
At this point no one cares much anymore, not even in Cleveland. What matters now is that the new Browns have a megarich owner in the 66-year-old Lerner and an architect with a get-it-done reputation in Carmen Policy, the former San Francisco 49ers president. This is the biggest news to hit the city since Modell split. To the rest of America, it is buried on page 4. Seventy-three minutes after the NFL awards Lerner the franchise, Mark McGwire breaks Roger Maris's single-season homer record.
"I didn't know," recalls Lerner, "or care."
SEPT. 18: BEACHWOOD, OHIO