On This Date in Sports March 11, 1996: The Cleveland Compromise
In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
Art Modell announces that he has selected the name Baltimore Ravens as his team's new name. Modell was forced to choose a new name after reaching a deal with the City of Cleveland, in which he left the Browns history, logos, and uniforms behind for a future expansion team. The name Ravens was chosen from a fan contest in honor of author Edgar Allen Poe who lived in Baltimore when he penned "The Raven."
The City of Cleveland was rocked to its core when Art Modell announced plans to move the Browns to Baltimore on November 6, 1995. The Browns had been the heart of Cleveland since 1946. Modell had purchased the Browns in 1961. He angered fans when he fired coach Paul Brown in 1963. Paul Brown had been the coach of the Browns since1946, when the team was named after him. Art Modell had been dissatisfied with Cleveland for years. The team played in the decrepit Municipal Stadium, dubbed "The Mistake by the Lake" after it was built in 1933. In 1975, Modell purchased the stadium and began drawing rent for the Cleveland Indians of MLB, signing a 25-year lease with the city in the process.
The rent money helped Art Modell overcome the operating costs from the cavernous stadium that was well past its prime. Those rent payments ended in 1993 when the Cleveland Indians moved into a new downtown stadium. The Cleveland Cavaliers of the NBA also got a new arena at the same time as part of the Gateway Project. These new buildings angered Modell, who was growing increasingly unhappy with his decaying stadium.
Art Modell had a history of opposing team relocations, having harsh words when Robert Irsay moved the Baltimore Colts to Indianapolis in 1984. He also was critical when Al Davis moved the Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles in 1982, testifying on the NFL's behalf during the long legal battle to allow the move. Now Modell, unhappy with Cleveland, was facing the option to move, breaking his lease as he felt that Cleveland had not dealt with him properly. Feeling that he deserved a new stadium before the Indians and Cavaliers.
When rumors of the move leaked out, the Browns coming off a playoff appearance were 4-4 for coach Bill Belichick. They would win just one game the remainder of the season, finishing 5-11. Belichick would be fired as some dismissed his ability to be a head coach as he was unable to handle the relocation crisis.
After Art Modell had his press conference in Baltimore, the City of Cleveland began seeking legal ways to block the move. Modell had five years left on his lease, and forcing Modell to abide by the lease was an option. However, such action would lead to a protracted legal battle. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue stepped in and offered a compromise. Art Modell would be permitted to move but would have to a new name, leaving the Browns' name, colors, logo, uniforms, and history behind in Cleveland. Cleveland would get an expansion team that would take up the Browns history and legacy, getting a new stadium in the process that would be ready in 1999.