An NFL Giant falls like a tree in the forest

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When a tree falls in the forest there is silence. Today, I am going to tell you a story about a man I knew who in his day made a great deal of noise while making the NFL the power it is today.

You know, when you are growing up you have no idea where life's paths may lead you.  You have no idea who will emerge as a giant in your time, or who might fall by the wayside.  

For example, growing up in Cambridge through my early teens I never dreamed that when my cousin Burton and I played touch football on the Cambridge Common, that Teddy Kennedy who usually played End on our side would become a Senator. Or that Sheldon Adelson would become one of the wealthiest men in America.  

That's why when I first met Art Modell (we came to work in Cleveland on the same day in the same year), I thought he was abrasive, loud and did a lot of bragging. However, I was soon to learn, he was capable of backing up whatever he said he would do.

I had joined WJWTV, the CBS affiliate which carried all the Browns games. It was the only TV Football available. There was no other Football TV deal nationally. We carried the Browns games.

Together, we did a great many promotions to enhance both Browns attendance and TV viewership. One of the original things we did together was to create the first ever Senior Citizens promotion. We called it the "Golden Agers" club. Thanks to Arthur, we were way ahead of our time. Our "Golden Agers" club became a national prototype. Among the things we offered were half-price hotdogs and tickets. Arthur soon established himself as a pillar of the community with his many charitable endeavors.

His first foray into the NFL was as an advertising executive. He wanted his client's beer sold exclusively in Cleveland's Municipal Stadium. Through Arthur, the client Schaeffer Beer, America's oldest beer company, bought an interest in the Browns. Arthur was named operations overseer.  He immediately took to the task.

Some of you might remember the slogan Arthur created "Schaeffer the one Beer to have when you are having more than one beer." Eventually in 1961, he borrowed $250,000 and led an investment group purchasing the Browns for $4,000,000.

He immediately was at loggerheads with the legendary coach and team namesake Paul Brown. Arthur fired Brown in 1961. This led to the first of many confrontations with the fans of Cleveland.  Arthur never backed away from a fight.

No one was more instrumental in bringing about the AFL/NFL merger. To expedite things, he voluntarily made his Browns the first team to join the American Conference.

In all  TV contract negotiations, ranting and raving, he sat alongside Commissioner Rozelle. Calmly Rozelle would explain what the NFL wanted. They proved to be the winning combination making the NFL the wealthiest sports league in the world.

 In Cleveland he was a recognized philanthropist. In 1996, however, he became a pariah.  Ohio did not know that without the move to Baltimore, he was facing Bankruptcy. Baltimore's financial backing rescued Art. So much so, that when he finally sold the Ravens in 2004, it was worth almost $600 million. Not a bad return on a borrowed $250,000.

Right now,  he is probably negotiating with the celestial powers for a better seat at the table. But one thing is missing!  Art should be enshrined in Canton.

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Sports Scrapbook
Shelly Saltman has been in the sports world as an executive, TV producer, broadcaster and event creator for more than 50 years. Among his credentials are his work with Muhammad Ali and Evel Knievel, the numerous network TV shows he produced and created, NBA/NHL management roles, co-creator of the Amgen Tour of California and as the first president of Fox Sports. He lives in Ventura County.