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‘Afraid’ Modell won’t return

The Associated Press

BEREA – Art Modell is afraid to come back to Cleveland, and swears he’ll never again set foot in the city he once called home.

Thursday, September 23, 1999

BEREA – Art Modell is afraid to come back to Cleveland, and swears he’ll never again set foot in the city he once called home.

”I think that’s wise of him,” Browns offensive right tackle Orlando Brown said Tuesday.

This week, Cleveland is coming to Modell as the expansion Browns visit Modell’s Baltimore Ravens.

The last time the Browns left on a trip to Baltimore they never returned.

That was three years ago. Modell, upset with Cleveland city officials over their reluctance to build the former Browns owner a new stadium, made good on his threat and moved his team to Maryland.

Once there, Modell got everything he wanted. His team got a new nickname, the Ravens, who got new purple and black colors. Baltimore built him a new stadium, and before his team even played one game, Modell had a new rival – the entire city of Cleveland.

It’s Ravens Week in Cleveland. Actually, it’s been Ravens Week in Cleveland since 1996.

Ever since the NFL announced that Cleveland would be getting an expansion team this season, Browns fans began dreaming about the day the new Browns would get a shot at Modell. And this week the Browns play at Baltimore.

One game ordinarily does not make a rivalry, but this rivalry was born before the game was even scheduled.

”We know Cleveland has a hatred for Art Modell,” Browns defensive tackle John Jurkovic said. ”So our fans will be in a frenzy. I don’t know if Cleveland hates Baltimore as much as it hates Modell. I don’t know if people in Baltimore hate Cleveland.

”But I do know that since I’ve been here I’ve heard a lot of fans say they knew we would have a tough season, but as long as we beat Baltimore, we’ll be in good shape. Needless to say, it would be nice to get our first win in Baltimore.”

Aside from Modell, there are other subplots to Browns-Ravens I.

Five former Browns remain from the team Modell took with him – safeties Benny Thompson and Stevon Moore, kicker Matt Stover and defensive linemen Lenny Webster and Rob Burnett. There are two former Browns, cornerback Antonio Langham and Brown, who are now former Ravens back in Cleveland.

And then there are the coaches. Ravens coach Brian Billick appeared to be the front-runner for the Cleveland job before rankling Browns officials by saying he wanted to go on other interviews.

”I thought everyone was a candidate for that job,” joked Chris Palmer, who wound up as Cleveland’s coach after interviewing with Modell in Baltimore.

From the moment he arrived back in Cleveland, Brown said he has heard one thing over and over from Browns fans.

”Y’all have got to get Baltimore, you’ve got to get Baltimore,” said Brown, who was building a new home in Cleveland when Modell announced he was moving the team.

”I’ve heard that from 100 fans since I got here. I’m pumped to play against my old teammates and my old boss. I’ve got a new boss now.”

Brown said he understood Modell’s decision and why Cleveland fans felt heartbroken.

”I didn’t want to move,” Brown said. ”A lot of the other guys didn’t want to move. But you got to go where your job takes you. But, like I said, if he was moving the team to Alaska, then I was going to Alaska. I had to get a paycheck. It was a business decision for him, I guess.”

Brown said he has no animosity for Modell or the Ravens. After signing with the Browns as a free agent, he said he stopped by to thank his old boss and wish him luck.

”Maybe he should have handled it more professionally, but I don’t have anything to do with that. I had no problem with him,” he said. ”He gave me my first chance to play.”

Brown said Modell asked him what the mood was like in Cleveland. After all, Modell figured, it had been three years and football was back.

”I told him that when I interviewed (in Cleveland) all I heard was your name,” he said. ”And it wasn’t good.”