Lerner, the Mayor, and everyone's happy but the fan The Loss of an institution


The Return of an Institution

Here's a little known story of the return of the Browns in 1999:

After owner Art Modell announced the move to Baltimore in 1995, politicians, business owners, and fans took on Modell and the NFL. A well-organized effort was formed to keep the Browns in Cleveland and block the impending move to Baltimore. The city sued the Browns and the NFL in this attempt, saying that the team was bound by it's contract with Cleveland Stadium through the 1999 season. While the case was being deliberated, Art Modell expressed to his staff that the Browns would be moving anyway. Modell said that the team headquarters were already established in Baltimore, and if the courts managed to make his team play in Cleveland for the duration of the contract, then the team would practice in Baltimore, fly to Cleveland on game day, and fly back out that night. Then when the contract was fulfilled, the team would move to Baltimore anyway.
Many Clevelanders were never aware of this information, so they continued the fight to keep their beloved team. The city was hopeful that if they could get the team to stay for 4 more years, and the stadium was renovated, then maybe Modell would change his mind. This wasn't to be, however. Cleveland lost their court case, as well as an appeal to Congress. It didn't matter though, as the city and the fans continued to fight the NFL.
The league finally conceded to this effort, and they granted the team colors, heritage, and history to the city of Cleveland in the form of a trust. They also guaranteed the city another NFL franchise by the end of the century, provided a new stadium was built.
Well, now the city all of a sudden had money to tear down the old Lady by the Lake and build up a bran new stadium. (Editor's note - I still have a brick from the old stadium).
Once this new stadium was on its way, the NFL began seeking a new ownership group for the Browns. Many applications were put in, and the eventual winner was Alfred Lerner. Lerner had won over the city with his ties to hometown hero Bernie Kosar, and had won over the NFL with his $530 Million. Lerner, along with team president Carmen Policy, began to reform the Browns, hiring a coach (Chris Palmer) and putting together a roster.
This made Lerner a hero in Cleveland. But it turns out that Mr. Lerner may not have been dealing on the level after all. If you read my column about the Browns move to Baltimore, you know that Modell's relations with the city of Cleveland had deteriorated in the 1980's. What you don't know is that part of the reason that this occurred was that Al Lerner had made a secret offer to Modell to buy the Browns in the '80's. Modell, not wanting to sell the team, refused. Well, Al Lerner, who had good relations with Cleveland Mayor Michael White, called his buddy. They then had a meeting, in which Lerner expressed that he thought that Modell may not be the best thing for the city. White, who may have been influenced by this, refused to work with Modell in the future, which ultimately led to the Baltimore move.
That's not where the story ends, though. When Modell decided to move the team in 1995, his friend Al Lerner was there to support his decision. Modell even made the press conference in Baltimore, right outside of the plane he flew there in (which, incidentally, belonged to Lerner). It seems as though the city had no money to give Modell, even for stadium renovations, but when Modell moved, there was all of a sudden enough money not only to renovate, but to tear down the old one and replace it with a new one. Lerner supported the move because he had enough money to pay the NFL for a new team, he knew he had the support of the Mayor, and he knew that if he got Berine Kosar in on it, the fans would support him too.
Meanwhile, Art Modell was so vilified, that he couldn't even attend Lou Groza's funeral, or Ozzie Newsome's induction ceremony at the Hall of Fame. (Editor's Note: I'm not saying that I'm in love with Art Modell, simply stating that he felt his life was threatened).
The end result looked fantastic for Browns fans. Not only did they get the bran new stadium they desired, but they also got rid of Art Modell for good. But if you scratch the surface, it may not be so appealing. With the new stadium comes Personal Seating Licenses. This pretty much takes the blue collar fan out of the stadium. The team went on to commercialize the Dawg Pound. Now, it may be just me, but the thing that was so special about the Dawg Pound was that it was formed by players and continued by fans. Now, though, it's just another gimmick created by a front office. And, though I hate to admit it, the magic (at least for this fan) hasn't come back yet. They just don't seem like the Browns to me. I sincerely hope that the feeling will come back when they start winning, but as it stands right now, Bernie, Otto, the Toe, Hanford, and the Kardiac Kids all played on a different team than Couch and Courtney.

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