Why did the Browns leave Cleveland?
The 1995 announcement of the Cleveland Browns’ relocation to Baltimore was a shock that sent waves through the NFL, the country, and Ohio in particular.
Though the Browns eventually resurfaced in Cleveland, they have never been quite the same.
So why did owner Art Modell decide to move the team and break the heart of a city where he’d lived over 30 years?
Art Modell’s History of Problematic Decisions
When Art Modell bought the Cleveland Browns in 1961, they were riding high on some of the highest successes in football history.
Under previous ownership and with the help of coach of Paul E. Brown, Cleveland had won multiple championships, innovated the league, broke the color barrier, and set high standards of play.
They also had the best running back in the history of the game at that point, Jim Brown.
And Modell was a very active and excited owner, in contrast to previous hands-off owners.
Modell actively promoted the Browns as much as possible and worked hard to recruit exceptional talent.
However, this approach did not wear well with coach Brown.
Brown – was known as a very strict disciplinarian with his team – had been given carte blanche to run the team for years.
As a result, he picked players, chose plays, and helped train everyone to be the best team on the field.
However, Modell took a more active role that angered Brown and which created friction between them immediately.
Modell started doing things like second-guessing Brown, trading players without talking to him and becoming friends with Jim Brown.
As a result of these difficulties, Modell was forced to fire Brown in 1963, even though they owed him money on an eight-year contract.
This move shocked and angered many fans and was just the first time Modell upset Cleveland.
In 1966, Jim Brown was still the best running back in the game and held the then-record of 12,312 rushing yards.
However, Brown had ventured out into acting and was on the set of “The Dirty Dozen” when he got a call from Modell demanding that he get to training camp.
Brown instead retired because he had been bristling under Modell’s control for years.
And his departure put a considerable hole in Cleveland’s lineup that caused a fallow period of minimal success.
The Big Sale
By the time 1995 rolled around, most fans had forgiven Modell for these errors.
Though the Browns weren’t the best team in the NFL under his ownership, they remained competitive.
However, Modell then shocked the city – which truly loved the Browns – by declaring, on November 6 of that year, that he was forced to move the team to Baltimore after he had made a deal for relocation.
His reasons for the move hinged on Cleveland being in a tough financial situation at the time and being unable to build a new stadium for the team.
The city had started building Progressive Field at the time and the Quicken Loans Arena as well as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
They gave Modell a promise to help renovate the stadium after these were finished, but Modell was in a tight financial situation at the time and couldn’t wait.
These issues occurred because Modell was also involved with the Cleveland Stadium, which the Indians had used for years.
This income helped him stay afloat, but when the team moved out, Modell found himself struggling for the first time in his career.
Without having the money to build a stadium on his own, Modell instead received cash from Baltimore to relocate the team.
The bitter irony of the situation occurred not long after Modell made the announcement – the public referendum to extend the sin tax – which would have helped improve the stadium for Modell – passed.
By then, Modell had already committed to the move.
Fans were outraged, and radio stations spoke out against Modell.
The city even sued him for breach of contract because he had agreed to play home games at the stadium beyond 1995.
A Way to Bring the Team Back
Though Modell is often still spoken of angrily in Cleveland, he didn’t leave the city without any hope.
After the announcement, Modell, Cleveland, and the NFL came up with a unique strategy that would open up the chance for keeping the Browns in Cleveland even after the team had moved.
Rather than keep the team name – as happened when the Raiders moved to Oakland and then to Los Angeles – Modell’s team would be renamed the Ravens and become an expansion team with new records and new logos and colors.
And Cleveland would get the rights to the name, colors, and team records of the Browns in case another owner wanted to invest in the team.
The NFL even contributed money to build a new stadium for the potential team.
And in 1998, Al Lerner – a friend of Modell’s – bought the team and started up a new Cleveland Browns team.