Saturday, September 15, 2012

“Modell Memories”

c. 2012 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Art Modell.

Owner and nemesis. Hero and goat. Leader and betrayer.

Even today, simply repeating his name can spur instant debate and disagreement. No other name in Cleveland history can evoke such passion. Mike Junkin? Earnest Byner? Albert Belle? Jose Mesa? Butch Davis?

King Asterisk, LeBron James, is a footnote, by contrast.

Modell was destined to become a lightning rod of sorts in local, and league history – especially when he fired legendary coach Paul Brown in January, 1963.

The Browns won their final NFL Championship under Blanton Collier, in 1964. Ironically, they did so by defeating the Baltimore Colts. This victory seemed to indicate that greater things were ahead for the franchise. Yet it was a fleeting moment of glory.

Modell served as league president from 1967-1969. He helped shape the first collective bargaining agreement with players in 1968, and negotiated television contracts that earned billions in revenue. He supported the 1970 AFL-NFL merger that produced pro football as we know it today. And he offered his Browns to participate in the first Monday Night Football game, where they beat the New York Jets.

But at home, his record was less spectacular.

The franchise stumbled and staggered through successive seasons of mediocrity. Eventually, the ‘Kardiac Kids’ came close, as did the ‘Dawgs.’ Yet there were no more titles for his team. Despite enduring fan loyalty, he lost money and fell out of favor after quarterback Bernie Kosar was released in 1993.

When Gateway brought new facilities for the Indians and Cavaliers, in 1994, Modell was patient. The next year, a plan was announced to fund refurbishing the tired and overworked Cleveland Municipal Stadium. But in early November, news leaked out of a secret deal to move the franchise to Baltimore.

Modell’s explanation was brief and unapologetic. “I had no choice.”

Mayor Mike White appeared on NBC’s venerable ‘Today’ show and was skewered for his incompetence in losing the city’s premiere sports franchise, by host Bryant Gumbel.

What followed has become part of the fabric of NFL history.

Fans exploded in angry protest. The result was a league decision unlike any other, made with the wisdom of King Solomon. The team name, colors and history remained here in Ohio, while the organization, players and assets moved to Maryland.

Only a few years after leaving the shore of Lake Erie, Modell was able to hoist a Superbowl trophy with his Ravens. Conspiracy theorists wondered aloud if pro football had become a scripted affair like TV wrestling. Meanwhile, the reborn Browns finished that regular season with a record of 3-13.

All these things were in my mind when I received a cell-phone text from my sister, on a recent Thursday morning.

“Art Modell died,” she wrote. “He was 87.”

After reading the message, I slipped into a deep mood of reflection.

WTAM radio personality Mike Trivisonno had interviewed Modell in the years that followed, providing useful historical documentation of the events that precipitated his move out of Cleveland.

But in personal terms, I recalled writing a poem of protest at the time, while watching news reports about the team.

Now, I wanted to read it again.

A search for the manuscript took longer than expected. I had to look through several folders of material stashed in my original four-drawer cabinet. The bitter rhyme was penned on a piece of notebook paper, which had been placed in a section marked ‘fragments.’

Reading the page, I realized it had been written on the day before Maryland Governor Parris Glendening introduced “the owner of the Baltimore Browns” to America.

My face reddened with a bit of embarrassment from the opening verse:

Modell Farewell
Nov. 5, 1995

Art Modell can go to Hell
He’s a sleazy, lowlife putz
If he wants to score with Baltimore
He can kiss my Buckeye butt!

Bill must go, this I know
But do not take the Dawgs
It’s butthead Art that should depart
Before our team is lost

Just say no, please don’t go
Keep the Browns at home
Let Modell hang himself
Leave our team alone!

Modell sold out, there is no doubt
This traitor deserves to fry
The mighty Browns are leaving town
Tell us why, oh why?

Paul Brown’s ghost is on the ropes
The Dawgs no longer bark
The legacy, the proud history
Trashed by a fool like Art

For an owner’s greed, we lose our team
What else is there to say?
Art and Bill cease to thrill
When the Browns are moving away

Art Modell found great success after leaving Cleveland, as did his unloved protégé Bill Belichick. These achievements only deepened the sorrow of Browns fans. Many chose to take a bandwagon leap into the camp of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Yet we had kept our team.

Former Browns coach Sam Rutigliano urged fans to forgive his erstwhile boss, in retrospect. He observed that Modell would have given his lone Superbowl trophy to Cleveland, were that possible.

Seeing his obituary caused me to bow my head, silently. Rage over his professional exit was long, long gone. I felt nostalgic. And humbled.

It was impossible not to ponder the emptiness he must have felt upon becoming so reviled in the city where he spent most of his career.

An old adage says: “Actions have consequences.” Clearly, the legacy of this iconic figure has been shaped by such forces, both good and bad.

But the time for debate and dissent has passed.

Rest in peace, Mr. Modell.

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

“Douglass, Discovered”

c. 2012 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Internet research has provided lots of material and inspiration for this column. But recently, an unexpected detour from my work occurred while searching for information about erstwhile friends in New York State.

A link appeared for the Federal Communications Commission website. There, I found citizen comments that had been filed on the issue of ‘net neutrality.’ Several posts had been written by Douglass B., a fellow I knew while studying television broadcasting through a Cornell University program, between 1978 and 1980.

A street address included with his user profile confirmed that he was indeed my one-time compadre from Ithaca.

Douglass had been a librarian for many years, and also collected vinyl records and comic books. We were from opposite ends of the social and political spectrum. But in yonder days, we co-hosted a show about local music. As time passed, our paths went in different directions. Yet suddenly, here he was, again:

July 3, 2009

(To) Ms. Marlene H. Dortch, Secretary
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street SW
Washington, DC 20554

Re: A National Broadband Plan for Our Future, GN Docket No. 09-51

“Dear Ms. Dortch, An open and accessible Internet is essential to America's future. It will help revitalize our economy, improve our education and health care, engage millions more people in our democracy and give new meaning to freedom of speech. In crafting the national broadband plan, the Federal Communications Commission must protect Internet users from corporate gatekeepers who seek to keep prices high and speeds slow, limit access to content and stifle innovation and market choice. Net Neutrality must be a basic and enforceable rule of the Internet. The plan must also ensure that every American -- regardless of race, income or location -- can connect to broadband at prices everyone can afford. Allowing powerful corporate interests to dictate the future of modern communications is a mistake that cannot be repeated. Our nation’s health in the 21st century requires that the FCC puts a people-powered Internet first.”

January 6, 2010

Proceeding No. 09-191

“Note that I am writing to you, the Federal COMMUNICATIONS Commission.
And the fact that the FCC is involved means that COMMUNICATION is involved. Last time I checked we, as Americans, have the right to free speech, and a main component of speech is COMMUNICATION. Some companies are trying to set up a system where they may not allow you to access certain websites, and most likely some of those websites may very well be their competitors. As the FCC well knows, back in the days of radio, there were companies that both owned networks and manufactured hardware. A prime example of this would be RCA, whom for many years both manufactured radios, and owned the NBC radio network. I don't ever recall hearing that RCA radios were unable to pick up radio stations owned by CBS, Mutual, of any other stations competing with NBC. In a similar way, at the same time, both CBS and RCA owned record companies, and made record players. The 78 RPM discs that Columbia (CBS) released were playable on Victrolas (RCA), and Victor 78s were playable on Columbia record players. In the same way nowadays, one can buy a Sony DVD player, and it will not just play DVDs released by Sony Pictures, anymore than a Sony TV set would not allow you to watch TV shows or movies produced by Paramount, Warner Bros., or any other company. The idea that some companies are putting forth would essentially reverse this situation. It might mean that if I happen to have Internet service from Time Warner, they may make it hard for me to access content from sites owned by Comcast, another ISP. They might make the sites slow to load, or maybe not load all aspects of the site (for example media players that might be owned or sponsored by one of the ISPs). To look at it another way, say that Comcast someday takes control of NBC (something that I am against, by the way, but for the purposes of this argument, we will assume has passed
regulatory hurdles). Time Warner might make it hard to access websites from NBC, making it hard to watch TV shows online. Similarly, Comcast may make it hard to legally download movies from Warner Bros. Both of these ideas are unethical, if not immoral. Since so much communication is now done through the internet, it has become our de facto radio, TV and movie theatre all wrapped up into one. We cannot allow these corporations to make our decisions as to what we watch to hear and watch, what we want to read about, and how we want to COMMUNICATE. COMMUNICTAION - it's right there is the middle of your name. Please allow us to continue to have net neutrality, so that the United States can continue to have unfettered COMMUNICATION...”

January 14, 2010

Proceeding 09-191

“More than 1.7 million Americans have already called on Washington to protect Net Neutrality, the rule that keeps control over the Internet in the hands of the people who use it. The FCC must now act decisively in the public interest by enacting strong rules that keep the Internet free from blocking, censorship and discrimination... Stand with us in support of a strong Net Neutrality rule.”

I hadn’t corresponded with Douglass in almost a year. But reading these official comments brought a sense that somewhere, in the vastness of cyberspace, my old friend was still very much hard at work.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2012


Grilling out... an authentic part of life in America!

Sunday, September 02, 2012