Somewhat lost in the shuffle of Rod Woodson’s ridiculously long (seriously–who didn’t he thank?) induction speech yesterday was his stumping for Art Modell’s candidacy to get into the HOF. Here is the full quote:
“Without Art Modell, old school owner. And I hope the voters get this right — by putting Art Modell in the Hall of Fame, he belongs there. (Some mixed boos). You can boo him because you disagree with him moving them but you can’t disagree with he did as an owner.”
Even as Modell’s chances of getting into the HOF wane, I find it remarkable that there is still a contingent that feel that he deserves a nod. But Rod is certainly right about one thing–you can’t disagree with what he did as an owner. So, I would like to ask the obvious question; what exactly did he do as an owner to deserve getting elected to the Hall of Fame in the first place?
I really can find very few compelling arguments that highlight what he did as an owner that deserve enshrinement. The usual arguments are usually loosely constructed, and go something along the lines of “first monday night game, part of the first Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations, and was on a committee that negotiated TV deals during the NFL expansion.” His proponents (more about them later) make it seem as though he was a shoe-in if it weren’t for the fact that he moved the Browns. So really what part of what he accomplished on it’s own is HOF worthy?
The guy didn’t invent MNF, he just volunteered the Browns to host the first game (and he did so under the stipulation that they played the Jets to ensure they would get the large NY TV market). If it wasn’t the Browns, it would have been another team.
The collective bargaining thing perplexes me a bit, because wasn’t that really a coup for the players and not the league? What business owner has ever trumpeted the fact that his workers just unionized? The slice of the pie that the owners get has steadily decreased thanks in large part to the players collectively bargaining through their union. Somehow I find this “accomplishment” routinely and carelessly referenced in the case for Modell but it’s unclear exactly what his contribution was, or why this is even considered at positive at all.
Perhaps his greatest contributions were helping the negotiations for the NFL’s increasingly lucrative TV contracts. Obviously this was huge for the NFL, but does negotiating contracts really merit getting into the Pro Football HOF? The NFL was growing in popularity, and certainly their viewership became more attractive to tv networks, so it kind of stands to reason that those contracts would have soared anyway doesn’t it?
Even if he really fleeced the networks and got the NFL big money, it doesn’t seem like they have any problems hauling in huge TV dollars now without him. Do we even know the guy’s name who negotiates those contracts now? Shouldn’t we be looking it up now so we can consider him for the HOF in the future?
When I was doing some research for this post I noticed that a vast majority of the articles supporting him for the hall came from Baltimore area writers. Indeed if you google keywords together such as “Art Modell Hall of Fame” you will mostly get a bunch of articles the Baltimore Sun has written over the years, and several Baltimore area media types opining on why he should get in. Here, the arguments get even stranger and weaker. Here are some of the best:
1) Al Davis moved his team twice, and he’s in the hall. True, but he did a hell of a lot more in his career than Art did. He was a coach, GM, Owner, and even Commissioner of the AFL. He was even named the AFL Coach of the Year when turned the Raiders from a doormat into a winning team in a short period.
2) Art Modell isn’t in because of the HOF’s proximity to Cleveland. Really? so when the 40-odd voters are sitting weighing the merits of Modell’s career, they really consider the possibility that there might be people in Ohio upset about his induction? So the writer from Arizona, or Seattle, or Miami really considers this when making their vote?
3) Unlike when Robert Irsay moved the Colts (which should really be enough for someone in Baltimore to understand why Modell shouldn’t be in) Art Modell was classy enough to let the Browns keep their name and colors in Cleveland. This one is just patently false, and it gets thrown around all the time. The fact is, Art agreed to do this in deal made between him, the NFL, and the city of Cleveland in order to, among other things, avoid a lawsuit that was filed by the City of Cleveland to stop the move of the Browns. Art himself makes claims that he ‘allowed’ this to happen, but the reality is that it was something that he gave up in order to move the team free and clear without further wrangling.
4) You can’t write the story of the NFL, and not include Art Modell. I see this one everywhere, and it is my favorite. Many people use this as some sort of litmus test for HOF worthiness, but it proves nothing. In reality this might be true (and in this case I would say it is a stretch), but even so what does that mean? You couldn’t write the story of the NFL without mentioning Scott Norwood’s famous missed FG in Super Bowl XXV, but that doesn’t mean he’s making the hall of fame.
I could go on and on and list the weak arguments that I have found out there by seemingly reputable sources. But, the bottom line is that the voting commitee, which is made up of a writer from every NFL city plus a handful of ‘at-large’ voters, has shown decreasing interest in putting Art into the hall and the reasons are clear. The Browns were the premier franchise in the NFL when Art Modell bought the team in 1961 (3 NFL Titles in the 50’s, and just 1 in the 34 years he owned the team), so it’s not as if he rescued a struggling franchised and lead it to the promised land on his back. The one championship he did win was with the team that Paul Brown had assembled anyway.
He may have been an great business man for the NFL, but if that’s the case how come he had such a hard time making money himself in the NFL? It was many of his own decisions (like taking control of Stadium Corp.) that lead to his poor financial position in a league where most of the owners were flush with cash.
The bottom line is that Rod Woodson is very deserved of his induction to Pro Football’s HOF, but he should have kept his comments about Modell to himself. In fact, i’ve spent the better part of 1000 words outlining why his so-called accomplishments don’t make him HOF worthy without even bringing up the main reason why people don’t vote him in–the move. And I know that there will no doubt be a sentiment that the crowd was ‘classless’ because they booed Rod when he made those comments. But let’s be honest, if the ceremony were held in Columbia, MD and Bruce Smith said that he thought Robert Irsay should be in the hall don’t you think there would be a chorus of boos? Of course there would. But it’s even more classless of a guy to bring up Art Modell in a region where he is public enemy #1 in a speech that was supposed to be about his own career, and was already twice as long as anyone else’s that night.