After Art Modell, the former owner of the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens, bought the Browns in 1961, he became a hands-on boss. Back then, owners rarely chimed in on draft picks. Modell, who died of natural causes at 87 on Sept. 6, was different. He often clashed with coach Paul Brown, for whom the franchise was named, and fired him after two seasons. “You cannot just show up on Sunday with scotch in your hand and say, ‘I’m an owner,’” Modell once told NFL Films. “You’ve got to work the business.”
Thanks in part to Modell’s moxie, football is the most popular — and profitable — sport in the U.S. He negotiated the NFL’s first national TV contract and pushed the idea of a Monday-night game. He championed revenue sharing, which let teams from smaller markets stay competitive. He was a pioneer.
And yet he died a pariah. When Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore after the 1995 season to play in a shinier stadium, Cleveland turned against him. He had stolen its team. More than 15 years later, the trauma is fresh: the Browns had planned to recognize Modell’s passing at a game but then canceled at his family’s request. They knew it would get ugly.
This text originally appeared in the Sept. 24, 2012 issue of TIME magazine.
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