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Inside the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection meeting: How Art Modell came up short again

Feb 02, 2013 -- 8:09pm

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By Tony Grossi

Extra Points …

Closer than you’d think: I was surprised Art Modell didn’t advance past the first cut in the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection process on Saturday.

The support he received was eloquent and passionate, led off by Baltimore presenter Scott Garceau of WMAR-TV, who was flawless in articulating Modell’s career highlights. I followed Garceau and brought the high heat. Within minutes, I thought I set the wrong tone.

The discussion that followed was civil and fairly uncontentious. But it was certainly the most polarizing debate of the 17 nominees in the room.

It lasted about 32 minutes – second-longest to the 55-minute discussion on coach Bill Parcells.

My 6-minute talk narrowed the discussion to Modell’s contributions as owner of the Browns, climaxed by his move of the team in 1996. The emotions of the event were not as heavy as in 2002, when the move was still fresh and the experience was new to me.

My talk brought immediate questions about the reasons for the move, Cleveland’s slowness in addressing Modell’s stadium situation, etc.

There was a lot of support voiced for Modell.

His supporters minimized the move of the franchise as a business decision. Also, the appointment of Ozzie Newsome as the first African-American to an NFL general manager position weighed heavily in the discussion.

I counted 13 selectors, besides Garceau and me, who contributed to the discussion. Six spoke passionately in support of Modell, six were against and one was fairly neutral. I am not permitted to report specifics of the arguments or even identify who was on which side of the fence.  

But I will say that when the discussion wrapped up, I felt certain that Modell would advance past the first cut. He did not.

The nuts and bolts: The selection meeting began at 8 a.m. local time and let out at about 4:15 p.m. So that totaled over eight hours, counting breaks, instructions, the voting process and other Hall of Fame business matters.

I kept an unofficial clock on each discussion. Here are the results, starting from longest to shortest:

1. Bill Parcells, 55 minutes, 0 seconds. 2. Modell, 32:15. 3. Cris Carter, 30:30. 4. Jerome Bettis, 29:55. 5. Dave Robinson, 28:27. 6. Eddie DeBartolo Jr., 27:50. 7. Aeneas Williams, 22:45. 8. Andre Reed, 18:30. 9. Warren Sapp, 17:55. 10. Jonathan Ogden, 15:40. 11. Kevin Greene, 15:30. 12. Curley Culp, 13:21. 13. Michael Strahan, 13:13. 14. Charles Haley, 10:56. 15. Larry Allen, 9:02. 16. Will Shileds, 4:26. 17. Tim Brown, 3:45.

Ultimately, the Class of 2013 consisted of Allen, Carter, Culp, Ogden, Parcells, Robinson and Sapp.

Eliminated on the first cut besides Modell were Brown, DeBartolo, Greene and Shields. Eliminated on the second cut were Bettis, Haley, Reed, Strahan and Williams.

Will Modell get another chance?: Although Modell’s support was strong in the oral arguments, obviously he didn’t have the votes. The silent majority prevailed enough to block him from advancing past the first cut.

Does that mean this was Modell’s last best chance to gain induction? I don’t think so.

Last week, Tom Reed of The Plain Dealer reported that since 1970, 89 percent of candidates who have been multiple finalists, like Modell, eventually have made it to induction. And since 1970, 83 percent of all finalists have made it in.

I made the point in the week-long buildup to the meeting that I felt nothing had changed to affect Modell’s legacy in the 11 years since his last appearance as a finalist in 2002 – except that he had died in September. But each candidate each year is weighed against the finalists of that given year. The field of 15 is what changes. A candidate’s chances go up and down over time. But it’s very difficult for a “contributor” to advance – especially one with such obvious pock marks as Modell -- because there is such a backlog of deserving players.

After what I heard in the meeting on Saturday, I’m not convinced that Modell won’t have another shot as a finalist. And then the debate will start all over again.

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

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