WITHOUT GRACE OR GLORY
A half hour earlier, Art Modell had made his uneasy peace with
the NFL and with the city of Cleveland, but back in his suite at
Chicago's O'Hare Hilton late last Friday afternoon, he was
determined to have the last word. "Cleveland got a hell of a
deal, a hell of a deal," he said. "If I had gotten half of that
deal a year ago, I'd have stayed in Cleveland. That's how
outrageous it is."
Modell had started the fight in November, when he announced that
he would be moving his Browns to Baltimore after the 1995
season. The settlement reached last Friday allows Modell to
leave immediately, but the terms have made him bitter. For years
he had sought to have Cleveland build him a new stadium; now the
league will lend the city as much as $48 million to help finance
a new facility for someone else's team. He had wanted private
businesses to fill the luxury boxes at crumbling Cleveland
Stadium, but they were canceling their leases; now the
businessmen will be lining up to buy suites in the new place.
And in the end, Modell was forced to pay his way out of the city
that he had called home for 35 years. The negotiations were on
the verge of collapse until Modell agreed last Thursday night to
pay $9.3 million in damages to the city plus another $2.25
million in lease fees for breaking his Cleveland Stadium lease,
which was not due to expire until after the 1998 season.
Modell must leave behind the franchise's hallowed colors and
nickname, while Cleveland will be without a pro football team
for three years, but both Modell and the city's mayor, Michael
White, knew that the deal was the best that they could have
realistically hoped for. White recognized that forcing Modell,
who is now anathema to Clevelanders, to keep his team in that
city through the three years left on the stadium lease was
vindictive and counterproductive. Says Fred Nance, a lawyer for
the city of Cleveland, "The league made it known to us that we
could have three years of lame-duck football and that would be
it, or we could have a future with football."
Last week's accord settled the question of where the Team
Formerly Known as the Browns will be playing next season--and,
remarkably, given the league's recent history, it was
accomplished without the parties having to go to trial. Still,
it was little more than a bandage over the gaping wound in the
NFL's image. Ahead lie still more franchise shifts that the
league may not want, yet may ultimately be powerless to stop.
And still more teams could desert their homes if the NFL is
unable to redress a yawning gap in revenue between the haves and
the have-nots. According to figures obtained by SI from a
league source, in 1994 the league's wealthiest team, the
Cowboys, earned $48 million more than the poorest, the Bengals.
Modell says that the '95 figures will show the gulf is now $58
million. "Our economic system is flawed," he says, "and we have
to get that fixed."
Adding at least some skybox and sponsorship income to the shared
revenue pool will help the poorer teams. But to remain
competitive in the NFL of the '90s, owners will have to take
their cue from Jerry Jones, who has created a new Cowboys
dynasty by aggressively marketing his team.
Colts coach Ted Marchibroda, in the final year of a four-year
contract, entered last season making $600,000. His Colts beat
Don Shula's Dolphins twice. They beat Bill Parcells's Patriots
twice. They beat George Seifert's defending Super Bowl champion
49ers and, in the playoffs, Bobby Ross's defending AFC champion
Chargers. Then, in last month's AFC title game, the Colts came
within a dropped Hail Mary pass of going to the Super Bowl. What
was Marchibroda's reward for engineering the success of this
band of overachievers? Vice president Bill Tobin offered him a
one-year contract at $600,000. No multiyear deal. No raise.
No way, said Marchibroda. Last Friday, Tobin called Marchibroda
into his office, bade him farewell and told him he hoped there
would be no hard feelings. "I was in there about 15 seconds,"
Marchibroda said afterward, stunned that Tobin had not budged
from his miserly final offer. "I thought you got rewarded for
the kind of season we just had." Apparently, Tobin hadn't
trusted Marchibroda since the coach's decision in training camp
to start Craig Erickson at quarterback over Jim Harbaugh. After
Erickson put together two poor games, Marchibroda yanked him in
favor of Harbaugh, who went on to lead the NFL in passing.
When the news about Marchibroda came on a television in the Omni
Severin Hotel bar in Indianapolis Friday night, a bunch of NFL
coaches and personnel people attending the scouting combine
watched silently, disgusted that a good man like Marchibroda
could get booted after an 11-win season. "Used to be winning
counted for something in this league," one personnel director
The Steelers' accusation last week that the Jets jumped the Feb.
16 date for approaching free agents and tampered with
quarterback Neil O'Donnell is specious. Pittsburgh is nudging
O'Donnell out the door with the three-year offer it made him
last week, which would pay him an average of $3.1 million per
season: not bad, but little more than what he made this season.
At least one team--possibly the Jets--will offer O'Donnell $4
million--plus a year....The 49ers will come out of the
free-agent signing period with a pass rusher, and it will
probably be Leslie O'Neal (12.5 sacks last year for the
Chargers) or Chris Doleman (nine sacks for the Falcons)
depending on who is less expensive....San Diego general manager
Bobby Beathard will put on a full-court press to sign linebacker
Bryan Cox, a free agent after five stormy seasons with the
Dolphins, and pair him with Junior Seau.
NOTES FROM THE COMBINE
Pass rushers Kevin Hardy and Simeon Rice of Illinois were
expected to be the best defensive teammates on display at last
weekend's scouting combine in Indianapolis. But they encountered
strong competition from Cal defensive end Regan Upshaw and
linebacker Duane Clemons, both of whom are leaving school a year
early and will be drafted in the top 20. The 6'41/2", 255-pound
Upshaw was quicker and stronger than scouts had predicted. "He
might have moved himself ahead of Rice this weekend," said
Chargers director of player personnel Billy Devaney....Nebraska
running back Lawrence Phillips, suspended from the team in
September after he beat his ex-girlfriend, says he heard the
same question in each of his interviews with coaches and general
managers: "Everyone's asking me about my anger problem."
Surprise! Phillips had other run-ins with police during his
Nebraska years, and if he isn't picked in the top 10, his
questionable character will clearly be the reason....Chris
Villarrial, a 6'5", 295-pound guard from Indiana of
Pennsylvania, a Division II school, had scouts marveling at his
strength. He bench-pressed 225 pounds 37 times and shot up from
being a late-round prospect to a likely second- or third-rounder.
THE END ZONE
While flying last Thursday from Dallas to owners meetings in
Chicago on American Airlines flight 2330, millionaire Cowboys
owner Jerry Jones sat in first class while billionaire Chiefs
owner Lamar Hunt parked himself in coach.
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT ROGERS O'Donnell could soon be passing as a Jet, and Cox (51) may be another hard Charger to go with Seau. [Neil O'Donnell]
COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES [See caption above--Bryan Cox]