UNTIL SUNDAY, the words Art Modell and the Vince Lombardi Trophy had not exactly fit together like pieces in the perfect joint. The trophy goes to the Super Bowl winner. Mr. Modell's team, neither the original Cleveland Browns nor its Baltimore Ravens incarnation, had been to a Super Bowl, much less won one.
It wasn't so much the trophy that seemed incongruent in the same sentence
with the Ravens owner. It was the Lombardi name. In 40 years in the NFL, Mr.
Modell had earned a reputation as what Paul Brown, the first and legendary
Browns coach, called a "playing owner." Playing, as in meddling.
Before Vince Lombardi, Mr. Brown had been the NFL's greatest coach.
(Arguably, he still is.) Mr. Modell fired him. The only Lombardi that Mr.
Modell was associated with was Mike Lombardi, one of the many alleged
personnel geniuses whom Mr. Modell persisted in helping.
It was Mr. Modell's team. He could run it anyway (or anywhere) he wanted.
On Sunday, after the Ravens had dismantled the New York Giants, it wasn't
the Lombardi Trophy in Mr. Modell's hands that was the biggest change in Art
Modell's life. It was two of the men who flanked him -- Ozzie Newsome and
Mr. Modell, now 75, finally had surrounded himself with the right men and
allowed them to do their jobs -- Mr. Newsome, the Browns' Hall of Fame tight
end, in personnel, and Mr. Billick, the coach Cleveland had wanted.
It is hard not to be happy for a man who has learned a lesson before it is
too late and received the reward. It also is impossible not to wish he had
learned it sooner, in Cleveland.
Had Mr. Modell done so, the city would have built not only a new stadium
for him but also a pedestal and he might not have moved to Baltimore. An irony
of the Cleveland-Modell estrangement is that everyone wanted the same thing:
to win The Big Enchilada.
New Browns owner Al Lerner has proved himself to be a "non-player," but the
men he has allowed to run his team, Carmen Policy and Dwight Clark, seem bent
on repeating many of Mr. Modell's old management mistakes.
Maybe that is the final, Super irony.
This article appeared as an editorial Tuesday in the Akron Beacon Journal.