On day of Modell's death, news anchor remembers Art Modell's first TV interview about leaving city

In '95, Modell said moving Browns was 'agonizing'

CLEVELAND - When the phone rang, the voice I heard was unmistakably that of Art Modell, owner of the Cleveland Browns.

The word had leaked out that Modell was trying to move the team to Baltimore and that there had been secret talks ongoing between the owner of the franchise and the political powers in Baltimore. The date was Saturday, Nov. 4, 1995.

"This is Art Modell," said the voice. It was resonate and seemed untroubled. When I identified myself and said we were recording the conversation to put it on television, Modell agreed. I immediately jumped to the subject at hand.

"It's a long process and I prefer not go get into the details of it," said Modell as I asked the question of if the team ownership, indeed, was making moves to move the National Football League franchise from Cleveland to Baltimore. "Suffice it to say a lot of thought has been given to it," he added.

As Modell spoke, his voice was recorded and my voice and image were recorded in our studio for playback on the broadcast I was hosting, "The Weekend Exchange" on WEWS-TV in Cleveland.

He talked about the financial problems of the Cleveland Browns. The team was playing in the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium and there had been stalled talks between the city and the Browns over the facility.

"The communitychose to go into a different direction," said Modell. "They built Gateway (the Cleveland Indians baseball ballpark and the Cleveland Cavs basketball arena), the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the science museum; spent a half a billion dollars in the process and they made their choice and seemed to ignore the needs of the Browns," he lamented.

We spoke for several minutes in his first televised interview, verifying the speculation that talks were ongoing with Baltimore on gaining a football franchise at the expense of Cleveland. Though Modell said he could not go in great detail, what he said resounded through the phone and through Cleveland when the interview aired that morning. It would air several times over the next few days.

When news of Art Modell's death was announced Thursday, my mind flashed back to 1995 and that interview over the telephone with the man who became such a hated figure in Cleveland sports and civic circles. Eventually, Cleveland would fight to maintain the name and history of the Browns as the NFL agreed to put another football franchise in Cleveland.

Still the name Art Modell raised the eyebrows of many Clevelanders. When he died Thursday, it marked the end of an era and the end of a shaky relationship between the owner of a professional football team and the city the team had called home for decades.

No doubt, Clevelanders will debate the issues that led to the team leaving Cleveland. With every sentence spoken, the name Modell will probably arise. He played a significant part in the city's development and in Cleveland's sports scene. Whatever people may feel about Modell, there is one thing which is certain. He played a vital role in the way we were and probably in the way we are today.

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