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The HOF Battle Over Art

Posted Feb 6, 2010

Owner Steve Bisciotti says its a 'disgrace' that Art Modell still isn't in the Hall of Fame.

In what has essentially become a yearly tradition, another class of NFL Hall of Famers will be announced Saturday and owner Art Modell won't be one of the names called.
 
Modell, who moved his Cleveland franchise to Baltimore in 1996 and was the Ravens' majority owner until 2004, was a Hall of Fame finalist in 2001 and semifinalist in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010.
 
Ravens management is making a strong push to put that ritual to an end. And it cranked up its get-Art-in-the-Hall argument once again Wednesday during the State of the Ravens press conference.
 
When asked what could be done to remove the "Cleveland blockade" on Modell, Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti said General Manager Ozzie Newsome better field the question because it makes him too angry.
 
"I think there is a movement in the city of Cleveland that is changing what people think of Mr. Modell," Newsome said. "There have been former players that have called me personally and wanted me to address Mr. Modell about a willingness to do anything that they could do to help in promoting him to get to the Hall of Fame. I don't know what it is going to take. If I knew, I would have had it done five years ago."
 
Newsome then reached out to Baltimore reporters in the room, asking them to try to convince their peers on the 44-person Selection Committee and "bridge that gap to honor a man that needs to be honored in Canton."
 
After the press conference was over, Bisciotti couldn't hold his tongue any longer.
 
"I think it's a disgrace," said Bisciotti, who also called Modell's absence from Canton a terrible injustice. "The whole thing with Art just galls me to no end. To me, there's no credibility with that group of writers [who don't vote for him].
 
"They have completely singled him out and there's no reason for it. I don't understand how the writers can, with a clear conscious say, 'No, I love this power that I have to hold this guy out of the Hall of Fame.'"
 
The Selection Committee's votes are anonymous, so there's no way to know who is denying Modell. But Tony Grossi, the Browns beat writer at Cleveland's largest newspaper, The Plain-Dealer, spoke out against Modell's candidacy when he was a finalist in 2001. Bisciotti called Grossi "the ringleader" of those voters who vote against Modell.
 
"I'm one vote of the 44 for the Hall of Fame," Grossi told BR.com Friday. "The idea that I spend my time continuing against Modell is a delusion of the people of Baltimore.
 
Asked why he spoke out against Modell in 2001, Grossi said, "It was my responsibility as the representative of Cleveland to do that because it's been made clearly aware to me that the fans of the Browns do not want this man in the Hall of Fame."
 
Pursued to give his argument against Modell, Grossi declined comment, saying, "I don't want to get into a debate."
 
Modell's contributions to the league cannot be denied. In 1968, he was Chairman of the Owners Labor Committee, which negotiated the NFL's first players' collective bargaining agreement. In 1970, he served on the NFL-AFL Merger Committee, breaking the deadlock for realignment of the two leagues by moving the Browns to the AFC. Modell was also a key negotiator with ABC to launch Monday Night Football.
 
"You can read 10 different books on the history of the NFL and Art's just going to keep popping up," Bisciotti said. "Art Modell is one of the greatest owners of all time. One of the greatest!"
 
The case against Modell is that he moved the Browns to Baltimore. Bisciotti makes a compelling argument why the relocation was justified and said, "I don't feel sorry for them one bit." Clevelanders feel they were sucker punched and still maliciously condemn Modell.
 
But the bottom line is that the Hall of Fame has admitted other owners who relocated their teams. Among the 15 owners in Canton is Lamar Hunt, who moved the Dallas Texans to Kansas City in 1963, and Dan Reeves, who moved the Cleveland Rams to Los Angeles. Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, who has long been one of the league's most controversial owners, is also in.
 
"To load up on one singular thing and take one of the most prominent five owners in the history of the NFL and say, 'No, you can't do it because you moved your team,' [doesn't make sense] to me," Bisciotti said. "There's precedence on both sides. They allow other owners in who moved their team and they allow talented football players that have a checkered past in."

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