March 21, 1961: Art Modell buys the Browns for $3,925,000. The Cleveland Browns are an American football team created when taxicab magnate Arthur B. McBride got a franchise in the new formed All-American Football Conference (AAFC) in 1944. Paul Brown was the first coach and the team’s namesake. Brown has been called the “father of modern football” and he worked with the Browns from their inception until 1963. The new team was a great success and won the four AAFC championship games before it was dissolved in 1949. At that point, the Browns became part of the National Football League. Between 1950 and 1955 the team reached the NFL championship game and won three times.
In 1953 McBride sold the team to a group of Cleveland businessmen for the ungodly sum of $600,000 (~$5,237,000 in today’s money). Eight years later, the team was once again sold, this time to Art Modell for almost $4 million or $30,695,000 today. Modell fired Paul Brown before the beginning of the 1963 season. The team was still able to make it to the championship game with the strong field presence of Jim Brown, brought to Cleveland as a first draft pick in 1956. The team made it to the playoffs three times in the 1960s after Modell arrived but never made it to the Super Bowl. In 1995, Modell announced he was moving the team to Baltimore. The franchise moved, but Cleveland was permitted to keep the name. After a three-year suspension and while the old stadium was torn down and a new one built, the Cleveland Browns were once again able to be the Home Team for Cleveland in 1999.
Modell was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1925. His father was a wine sales manager who went bankrupt in the crash of 1929. Art was left fatherless at the age of 14 and left high school at the age of 16 to help support the family. His first job was cleaning the hulls of ships. In 1943 he joined the US Army Air Corps and after World War II enrolled in a New York City television school. In 1947 he founded his own production company and in 1949 produced one of the first daytime TV shows in the country, Market Melodies, which was about cooking and decorating. His business acumen was astounding and by 1954 he was hired as a senior account executive by an advertising agency and eventually became a partner.
For two decades, the young man had worked in advertising and public relations but on this day he entered the sports arena. He used $250,000 of his own money and borrowed $2.7 million to fund the purchase of the Browns. He found partners willing to invest to fund the remainder. He was an active member of the team and when he fired Paul Brown, he immediately instated his assistant, Blanton Collier as the new coach. In the next season, the Browns came back from three consecutive years of no playoffs to a 10-3-1 record and played against the Baltimore Colts and Coach Don Shula’s quarterback, Johnny Unitas. With the Colts favored to win, the Browns victory of 27-0 was remarkable. The City of Cleveland and Art Modell had a falling out over the stadium in which the Browns played and so, Modell took his team and moved to Baltimore. Except the Browns remain to this day, Cleveland’s team.
I have a great legacy, tarnished somewhat by the move.
I never give up on my players, and I’ll never give up on people.
I want to be remembered as a guy who tried his best and did his best.
The pride and presence of a professional football team is far more important than 30 libraries. – all from Art Modell
Also on this day: Who shot JR? – In 1980, the cliffhanger ending to the season for Dallas.
Think Outside the Bun – In 1962, Taco Bell opened for business.
I Dig Rock and Roll – In 1952, the first Moondog Coronation Ball was held.
Equality – In 1960, the Sharpeville massacre took place.