I know he was a pariah in Cleveland, and deservedly so. But let's not forget that he was key to the NFL-TV relationships, and especially the creation of "Monday Night Football," which ran 36 seasons in broadcast-network prime time before moving to ESPN.
Back in 1995, as the Browns were about to exit Cleveland, I talked with my colleague Marc Gunther about Howard Cosell, Modell and "MNF." From that column:
Veteran Cosell watcher Marc Gunther pondered the Browns' move to Baltimore and said: "Can you imagine Howard on this topic? I'd pay to watch Cosell talk about this."
It would indeed have been fun to hear Cosell, who died last spring, tee off on Browns owner Art Modell. And the pleasure would have been greater because Modell helped to make Cosell a star.
Gunther, who writes about television for Knight-Ridder, also is co-author of Monday Night Mayhem, a 1988 history of Monday Night Football. The book begins with these words: "Art Modell."
Modell, after all, was a key player in the NFL's deal with ABC to broadcast Monday night games.
"The other owners were very skeptical that they could draw a crowd for a Monday night game," Gunther said. So Modell volunteered Cleveland as the initial site. The game not only drew 85,703 people to the Stadium, but was a ratings success.
Although Cosell's abrasive style put him at risk for a few weeks, the series was on its way. Even with changes in the announcing booth -- from the original trio of Cosell, Keith Jackson and Don Meredith to the current lineup of Al Michaels, Frank Gifford and Canton native Dan Dierdorf -- the show goes on.
Cleveland got other showcases on Monday night (Gunther says it was Monday night games that made the Dawg Pound a national phenomenon), but it also was clear, in that first game, that Cleveland helped MNF.
The New York Jets represented a new wave in the NFL as one of the former AFL teams that just been merged into the older league. The Browns, with decades of glory behind them, represented football tradition.
Tradition, of course, that Modell has since tossed aside.
Also, ESPN.com noted:
During his four decades as an NFL owner, Modell helped negotiate the league's lucrative contracts with television networks, served as president of the NFL from 1967 to 1969, and chaired the negotiations for the first the collective bargaining agreement with the players in 1968.
And it offered this from a tweet by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell: "Art was a visionary who understood the critical role that mass viewing of NFL games on broadcast television could play in growing the NFL."