Ex-NFL owner Art Modell was an innovator

Former NFL owner Art Modell. (AFP file photo)

Former NFL owner Art Modell. (AFP file photo)

RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:50 AM ET

Art Modell, one of the most polarizing owners in NFL history and perhaps the only sporting figure less popular in Cleveland than LeBron James, has died.

Modell’s sons David and John said they were at his side when he died of natural causes at the age of 87 on Thursday.

Modell helped move the league from a small organization to the megapower it is today during his 43 years as an owner, mainly through his visionary work in building the NFL’s television brand.

He will forever be reviled in Cleveland though for moving the beloved Browns to Baltimore in 1996 after clandestine negotiations with the State of Maryland, despite earlier criticizing the move of Baltimore to Indianapolis.

The Browns returned to the NFL in 1999, but resentment lingered and increased when the Ravens won the Super Bowl in January of 2001.

While long platitudes flew in following the news of Modell’s death, the Browns organization issued only a brief statement:

“The Cleveland Browns would like to extend their deepest condolences to the entire Modell family.”

Still, despite the Cleveland-to-Baltimore debacle, one which Modell explained as an option he had “no choice” but to take because of all the money he was losing, Modell was one of the league’s most crucial builders and was beloved in Baltimore.

“I believe very strongly that Art Modell is one of the most important figures in the history of the modern NFL,” former NBC-TV president Dick Ebersol said.

“He and Pete Rozelle developed the magic formula that married the potential of television to the game.”

Added commissioner Roger Goodell:

“Art Modell’s leadership was an important part of the NFL’s success during the league’s explosive growth during the 1960s and beyond. As the longtime chairman of the league’s Broadcast Committee, Art was a visionary who understood the critical role that mass viewing of NFL games on broadcast television could play in growing the league.”

RODGERS BACKS SMITH

The best quarterback in the NFL stuck up for one of his much-maligned peers this week.

Aaron Rodgers doesn’t believe San Francisco’s Alex Smith deserves all the criticism he gets.

Smith was the No. 1 overall pick of the 2005 draft, Rodgers went 24th, but Rodgers has become an unstoppable force, while Smith has been cited as one of San Francisco’s few weak links.

“I don’t think he’s a game manager,” Rodgers told USA Today, saying he felt the term was condescending.

“I think he’s a guy who takes care of the football and makes a lot of plays. I don’t think he got the respect that he deserves. I’ve been friends with him since we were 21 and I’ve followed his career. I definitely pull for him and enjoy watching him play.”

The teams will meet this week.

QUICK HITS

Giants head coach Tom Coughlin said Victor Cruz has “concentration lapses” which he has to work on, after the wide receiver dropped three passes on Wednesday … Two sources told ESPN free agent Kellen Winslow did not in fact fail a physical with the New England Patriots this week as had been previously reported … Oakland has signed wide receiver Derek Hagan, who played for the team for six games last season before being released this year … The opener between Dallas and New York outdrew the Democratic National Convention, including a big speech by Bill Clinton, by about four million viewers, according to Nielsen … Philadelphia has added a year to quarterback Trent Edwards’ deal, according to CSNPhilly.com … Atlanta has re-signed cornerback Dominique Franks after cutting him a week ago … Arizona has signed inside linebacker Daryl Washington to a six-year contract … Detroit defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch has agreed to restructure his contract, saving the team $3 million, according to the Detroit Free Press … Dallas linebacker DeMarcus Ware picked up his 100th career sack on Wednesday, becoming the 28th player ever to do so. Only Reggie White (96 games) got there faster than Ware, who has played in 113 games.

SCHWARTZ MEETS HIS MENTOR

One of the interesting Week 1 subplots involves Detroit head coach Jim Schwartz matching up for the first time against his mentor, new St. Louis boss Jeff Fisher.

Schwartz worked under Fisher for a decade in Tennessee, mostly as defensive coordinator and the team was perennially successful.

Stephen Tulloch, the excellent Detroit linebacker, previously played under both men for the Titans and said he is sure Schwartz isn’t overly concerned about that aspect of the matchup, even if others are.

“Coach would never talk about stuff like that,” Tulloch told the Detroit Free Press.

“He just wants to win.”

Fisher echoed those sentiments — “this is about the players on the field, not about Jim and I,” but added he remains a fan of his former protégé.

“Jim is very, very talented, and I knew from Day 1 when he walked in the door that he was going to be successful,” Fisher told reporters earlier this week.

Schwartz credited Fisher and Bill Belichick for having faith in him and helping him eventually become a head coach.

The fiery Schwartz had Fisher at Lions camp last year after he had left the Titans. His son, Brandon, was a Lions defensive assistant last season, but has since joined the St. Louis Rams.


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