Art Modell is dead. Ralph Wilson is out of the hospital. The wheels of time grind on.
Modell’s corpse had barely reached room temperature before Clevelanders — and Baltimorians, for that matter — came for their pound of flesh. His legacy as owner and killer of the Cleveland Browns is well known, as is his value to the league.
It’s safe to say that Modell’s legacy is a complicated one, full of ill will and civic pride. Now that the stadium boom is over, people are starting to realize the cost of all those tons of concrete as well as what owners gained at taxpayer expense. When a franchise leaves town because the construction doesn’t come, however, it hurts much worse. In Cleveland, they got stuck with both pains.
Ralph Wilson, though, is alive and well. He’s alive enough to release a statement about Art Modell’s death, which featured a few more chuckles than the new Browns’ terse collective “meh.” Modell and Wilson helped build this league, after all. They know what the game is all about.
Modell’s past crimes against Cleveland are years behind us, which means his death brings an era to a close. While some “Go to hell” sentiment seems like a bit much, an old owner kicking the bucket is an opportunity for catharsis for those who feel wronged by a rich man’s calculating. Maybe they can even get a bit of closure from his death. Franchise relocation may give way to expansion, but nothing can undo being flung from this mortal coil.
Art Modell, dead at 87, can no longer hurt a city on the shores of Lake Erie.
However Ralph Wilson, 93, is still a big part of the Buffalo Bills, and so his every hospital visit is covered with bated breath. “Could this be the one?” we ask, “The one that finally kills the old man?” It’s a morbid thought that has very real consequences. While Modell’s saga has played out, Wilson’s demise only sets the machine in motion.
This means that his legacy is yet to be decided. When Wilson finally goes, his death will be complicated not because of what he did, but what hasn’t been done. Not yet, at least. It’s a frustrating thing, then, to see people talk with such conviction about an owner who has died. To have an opinion set in stone.
What should we think of $200 million in renovations to an aging stadium, if only to sustain the life support of a stadium lease with Erie County? With none of this decided, it’s hard to know what to think about the nonagenarian who spends his days in Detroit, unable to find safe (non-life threatening) passage to Western New York for Bills games.
There is no envying Browns fans, that’s not the point. Quite frankly, there is little feeling between the Browns and Bills and Bengals of the world beyond a sad brotherhood of shortcomings and emptiness.
Modell dying now, long-removed from both the city he abandoned and the team he moved, does seem a bit cleaner than the impending disaster waiting for Buffalo when Wilson expires.
When it’s over for Wilson, the important part starts for the rest of us.