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The Browns and their fans should do the right thing Sunday and respectfully acknowledge the passing of Art Modell

Sep 07, 2012 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi


The Morning Kickoff …

What to do?: Part of what makes the NFL unique among pro sports leagues is that each game is an event unto itself.

There are only 16 games. Each one counts the same as 10 games in a Major League Baseball season, or five in an NBA season. So the opening game of an NFL season is that much more special, too.

You want to kick off a season with a celebration. In Cleveland, you want a marquee Ohio college marching band on hand – Ohio State’s Best Damn Band in the Land or Ohio University’s Marching 110.

You want to signify that this is the most important game of the year – until further notice.

You want to be 1-0 because, since 1978 when the NFL expanded to a 16-game schedule, teams that won their first game have gone to the playoffs 258 times compared to 111 that lost their first game.

And if you are the Browns and you lug a 1-12 opening-game record into Cleveland Browns Stadium on Sunday, you want to create all the positive vibe you can muster.

But now there is a problem.

Art Modell, the dominant personality in Cleveland Browns history for 34 of the franchise’s 63 years and the No. 1 villain in Cleveland history, died on Thursday.

Do you commemorate his passing out of respect to his family and his profound impact – positively and negatively -- on the franchise and the city? Or do you ignore it?

Pros and cons: The Browns are grappling with what truly is a potentially volatile situation, one that is unfortunately unique to Cleveland. They have had hours of internal discussion about the right way to handle it. As of Thursday, they have not reached a conclusion.

The last thing the Browns want is to provide an opportunity for their fans to voice their lasting outrage over Modell’s act at the time his family is grieving his death. And yet, to ignore Modell’s passing altogether would be a sign of disrespect from the franchise whose history cannot be told without the Modell story.

I asked a man whom I respect greatly how he would handle the situation. His name is withheld, but his knowledge of the Cleveland experience is stronger than anyone’s in the Browns’ headquarters and his credentials are impeccable.

“That’s a tough one because you don’t want him to be booed,” he said. “But I think it has to be recognized. He was too much part of the history. There are people in Brooklyn (N.Y.) who never forgave Walter O’Malley (for moving the Dodgers to Los Angeles). I understand. But I do think you have to take the chance.

“I wouldn’t make it a big deal, put Art’s name on the scoreboard with the dates 1925-2012, and ask for a moment of silence. He did deliver a championship to Cleveland and some great teams. And I totally understand the feelings.

“I just think historically that you have to. I think he deserves it. People might boo him. But I think if it happens, they’ll be drowned out. It’s not asking them to cheer, but to have a moment of silence.”

Do the right thing: When Paul Brown died in 1991, Modell initially intended not to attend his funeral service in Massillon. He feared his presence would offend the Brown family and detract from the solemn day.

Modell, of course, was the man who broke Brown’s heart by firing him as Browns coach in 1963. Imagine the Terminal Tower suddenly toppling. That was the gravity of Modell’s firing back then.

Modell eventually was talked into attending. He kept a low profile. It was a difficult day for him. But it was the right thing to do.

The same can be said about the Browns on Sunday. The right thing to do is to acknowledge Modell’s passing with a moment of silence. The right thing for the fans to do would be to respect the moment and his family with quiet. But if they choose not to, it is a reflection on them, not on the Browns.

I believe that the NFL will take the decision out of the hands of the Browns and instruct each home team at this weekend’s game to acknowledge Modell’s passing with a moment of silence. The announcement is likely to come on Friday.

And so, this will be a national story on Sunday. Fans should remember that. National network cameras will be focused on Cleveland. Stay classy.

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 44 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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