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Art Modell sure doesn’t look like Satan.
That’s among the first thoughts that come to mind as the former owner of the Cleveland Browns tools past me on a golf cart on the campus of Western Maryland College (WMC) in Westminster, Md. “It’s a wonderful day, isn’t it?” he bubbles, looking up from his team’s practice field toward a cloudless sky every bit as blue as the home jerseys of the once-beloved Baltimore Colts. At least on this afternoon, the smiling, friendly Modell seems to have little in common with the heartless, greed-driven beast that ripped the now once-beloved Browns from their faithful fans.
Ohioans have already made up their minds about which is the real Modell. Now it’s Maryland’s turn.
The euphoria generated by Marylanders upon the announcement of the Browns’ migration to Baltimore has given way to palpable amounts of guilt and bitterness, as more is learned about what precipitated the move, and exactly who stands to benefit most from the Glendening-Modell deal. And rather than take steps to cast off the piss-poor image he has with Cleveland fans, Modell has taken great strides toward proving that the scorned Ohioans have it right.
In fairness, some nice things have happened along the way: Modell agreed, albeit under duress, to leave the Browns’ name and colors in Cleveland, which led to his redubbing the team the Ravens in tribute to Charm City icon Edgar Allan Poe. And he was rightly hailed for the decision to hold the Ravens’ inaugural training camp at the WMC campus, located about 80 minutes from D.C. in the heart of Maryland’s horse country in Carroll County. The site selection was important because the Colts of Unitas and Matte and Donovan used to hold their training camps in the scenic burg, too.
Westminster businesses greeted the camp announcement with understandable glee, which is why Ravens paraphernalia now decorates darn near every storefront on Main Street. A business association even organized a “Welcome to Westminster” parade for the team that was to run through the center of town.
But since the Poe Boys arrived in Westminster (pop. 14,000) last week and convened camp, the goodwill tank of indigenes has been slowly but surely draining, to the point where the descriptions of Modell being offered up around town are startlingly similar to those volunteered by Clevelanders.
The recent trouble started when the Ravens decided at a very late hour that neither players nor coaches nor Modell would be participating in the welcome parade.
“That parade didn’t fit into our schedule,” Modell tells me.
Merchants contend that the bad vibes that grew out of the parade cancellation were compounded when Ravens officials told them in no uncertain terms that they should not expect any players to patronize Main Street businesses at any time during training camp, which runs through Aug. 15.
“The Ravens have just showed everybody on Main Street a complete lack of respect for everything we’ve done,” railed a woman behind the counter of Mathers, a clothing store patronized by camping Colts decades ago. “How much trouble would it be for them? We make all sorts of accommodations to make them feel at home, and they make a point of telling us they won’t even take a few minutes to walk a few blocks down the street? That’s sad, really.”
Tony D’Eugenio, proprietor of Giulianova Groceria, an Italian food store on Main Street, isn’t holding back anything regarding the behavior of the town’s well-heeled guests, either. A former member of the Colts marching band, D’Eugenio constructed and hung a huge welcome banner for the Ravens that was particularly welcoming to Vinny Testaverde, the team’s rebounding quarterback and the closest thing to a household name on the roster. When training sessions opened last week, D’Eugenio hoped to have a special salute ready for his paisan. Testaverde, however, declined to cooperate.
“I’m Italian, Vinny’s Italian, he must like food, right? So I figure I’ll make him a sandwich, slide him some free food,” booms D’Eugenio, accompanying the words with an appropriate assortment of hand gestures. “I’m the kind of guy who gets involved—that’s just me. So I call the team, over and over, to try to find out what Vinny likes, but I got nothing from the team or Vinny. No call back, nothing.”
D’Eugenio shakes his head and looks toward his ignored banner, yells, “Hey, Vinny! I’ve got something for you!” and offers up a fingers-to-the-chin Italian salute that means, well, something dirty.
“I’ve got a bad taste, you know?” D’Eugenio adds, almost apologetically.
There’s plenty of the bad taste going around. Ask Eric Henry.
“I don’t like what’s going on here, and I don’t know anybody else here on Main Street who does,” rails Henry from the sidewalk in front of Bobby’s Hobby Lobby, a shop his family owns just down the block from D’Eugenio’s store. “People here on Main Street aren’t rich like those players are, and every bit of help they could give us would be nice. But they’re not going to do anything.”
Back on campus, I ask Modell to comment on how Westminster feels about his team. From his response, it’s clear that he’s utterly oblivious to all the negativity swirling on Main Street since he canceled the parade. Or he’s a great, great actor.
“Oh, the people here couldn’t be happier,” he says. “The town has just been great, fabulous. It is very reminiscent of the wonderful situation we had up in Hiram, Ohio, from what I’ve heard from the people I’ve run into in the drug stores and shopping malls here. I couldn’t have asked for a better reception. We’ve got a great relationship.”
Not 30 yards from where Modell issues that glowing assessment of the locals’ affinity for his team, a horde of several dozen pen-and-paper-wielding kids hangs by a staircase outside the Ravens locker room. The players must pass by the group to get to the practice field. Despite very vocal pleas, not one Ravens player stops to sign an autograph. A very large security guard stationed nearby is left to explain the rude behavior to the youngsters.
“These players are here to do a job, not sign autographs, so you should just let ’em do what they’ve gotta do,” the big guard counsels.
Shortly after the frowning gang breaks up, Modell scoots past in his golf cart, smiling like nobody’s business.—Dave McKenna