7:15 PM EST, February 1, 2013
NEW ORLEANS —
By most accounts, the odds are long.
Late Ravens owner Art Modell will be among the 17 finalists (15 modern era candidates and two from the seniors committee) on Saturday when voters determine which NFL greats will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It is the second time he has gotten this far in the three-tiered selection process, but the roster is heavy with terrific candidates — including all-everything Ravens offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden — and the selection committee can only send five of them to Canton.
So, it'll have to come down to sentiment. The voters will have to take Modell's recent passing into consideration and recognize just how special this Super Bowl Week would be if Modell and Ogden were elected in advance of the Ravens' showdown with the San Francisco 49ers.
It may also have to come down to forgiveness, since Modell's prospects for being named on 80 percent of the final Hall of Fame ballots may also depend on voters who have previously ignored him because he uprooted the Cleveland Browns and moved them to Baltimore.
If the vote were left up to anyone in Baltimore, of course, it would be a no-brainer.
"The National Football League wouldn't be the same,'' said Ravens coach John Harbaugh. "Isn't that the measurement — how much better they made our game and the National Football League? By any measurement, it wouldn't be the same and it wouldn't be as good as it is right now. He changed football. He changed the way it was perceived. He helped make it the popular game it is today."
Modell's accomplishments are well-known. He was the point man for the NFL's foray into prime time television. He helped grease the rails for the watershed NFL/AFL merger by agreeing to move his team to the newly created American Football Conference. He saw the future when a lot of other owners didn't.
"You can't write the history of the NFL without including him in major, major decisions,'' said Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti. "That fact that he agreed to move his team to balance out the leagues? That was something that present-day people understand what a huge risk that was to his franchise to say, 'I'll go with the upstarts.''
Bisciotti is well aware of the debate that has been going on over the past few weeks in the Baltimore and Cleveland media, but he obviously thinks that the issue is not that complicated.
"I read a dissenting article," Bisciotti said, "and they basically said he had very little to do with Monday Night Football. He had very little to with the TV contracts. So how I do reconcile that? I'm no more qualified to say 'Yes he was, yes he was' than the writer from Cleveland who's saying, 'Oh no, he was fringe player in basically every single thing he gets credit for.' If it wasn't for the move I don't think we'd be sitting here and saying, 'Let's dissect what he did and how responsible he was for all those advancements for the NFL.' I don't think we'd have to. I think he would have been in."
Modell would not be the only Hall of Fame owner to have moved a franchise. The first was Dan Reeves, who moved the Cleveland Rams to Los Angeles in 1946. The most notorious was the dislikeable Al Davis, who moved from Oakland to Los Angeles and from Los Angeles back to Oakland and shook down the tiny Southern California city of Irwindale for $10 million along the way.
Both Reeves and Davis were football pioneers and so was Modell. It's popular in Cleveland to diminish his contribution and to point to the competitive and business failures of the Browns to make a case against his induction. That's largely spite, of course. If Modell was such a bad owner and the Browns were such a mediocre franchise, then why all the angst about their departure? Cleveland got to keep the Browns' colors and got a new franchise in short order, but petty grudges die hard in provincial towns. We can certainly identify with that in Baltimore.
Ravens superstar Ray Lewis had a special relationship with Modell, so his feelings already are well known. He decribed his friend and former boss as "a true legend in his own way, a real visionary who changed thousands and thousands of lives."
"For the impact he's had on this business and what he's done for so many in this business, for me — I am a little biased — I would say, 'Why wouldn't he be in the Hall of Fame?"
It's really a question of balance. The people of Cleveland have chosen to focus on Modell's decision to move his struggling franchise into a better economic environment rather than credit him for the 35 years he spent there and the good things he did in the community. They have that right, but carrying this grudge past Modell's grave just seems wrong.
"I would hope people would find it in their hearts to do the right thing and vote Art Modell into the Hall of Fame,'' Harbaugh said. "There's no question he belongs there. There's no question he's going to be in the Hall of Fame. Why wait? Let's just do it right now. Let's do the right thing."
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.Orioles Insider | Live scores | Photos | Baseball app