Updated: 5:30 p.m.
With the death of former Browns and Ravens owner Art Modell at the age of 87, the first chapter in Bengals history closed Thursday.
As Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham mused, if it hadn't been for Modell the Bengals and the Ravens never would have been, and as if by script those two teams open their seasons Monday (7 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) in Baltimore.
Modell's decision to fire Paul Brown as head coach of the team named after him in Cleveland after 17 legendary seasons ignited one of the NFL's most famous feuds and gave rise to the Bengals. After Brown founded the AFL franchise in 1967 and coached the first club in 1968, the Bengals joined the Browns in the merged NFL in 1970 as members of the AFC Central Division. The rivalry, already hot with history, fueled up right away when the Bengals won that first Central title by a game over the Browns.
"There was no love loss between Paul and Art Modell," said Lapham, whose first two seasons in the NFL in 1974 and 1975 were Brown's last two as coach. "You could tell Cleveland week was special for Paul. There'd be an extra bounce in his step. His walk would quicken."
Once when the Bengals buses pulled into Municipal Stadium for a game, Lapham recalls Modell parking in his reserved spot at almost the same moment.
"They had to walk by each other and it was a cold stare. Some dry ice," Lapham said.
But Jack Clary, who co-authored Brown's autobiography P.B., said Thursday the pair did have sort of a détente before Brown died in 1991.
"P.B. did tell me that he talked to Modell one time and Art told him, 'You're a hell of a man. I regret what happened,' " Clary recalled. "But it was never really (a) good (relationship) after he got fired."
Clary said it was simply a matter of style. Brown, the button-down Midwest coaching icon, and Modell, the New York City public relations guru, were oil and water once Modell became an owner of the Browns.
Clary said the beginning of the end came in 1962, when Modell wanted to play first-round draft pick Ernie Davis, the Heisman Trophy winner from Syracuse diagnosed with leukemia. Even if it was just for one game. But a doctor told Brown a hit could put Davis in grave danger and he refused to put him in a game. Brown thought Modell was looking for a big payday. Modell said he wanted to let Davis realize his NFL dream. Davis died on May 18, 1963, five months after Modell stunned the football world and fired Brown.
Modell was also reportedly miffed that Brown didn't tell him of the trade that brought Davis to Cleveland as the No. 1 pick in the draft.
"It was just a clash of styles," Clary said. "Art came in and got involved in situations where Paul as the head coach and general manager felt undercut his control of the team and the players."
Yet the link between the teams has always seemed to stay intact, even after Brown died and Modell moved the team to Baltimore five years later when the Browns became the Baltimore Ravens in 1996.
The Bengals played the last game at Cleveland Stadium in 1995 and their longest-serving head coach, Marvin Lewis, made his name in Baltimore as the Ravens defensive coordinator. And Lewis takes the Bengals into Baltimore to play the first game since Modell's death Monday night in one of those prime-time games Modell helped make possible as an influential member of the NFL's TV committee.
"I'm very saddened to hear of the passing of Mr. Modell," Lewis said in a statement. "Having been a part of the origin of the Ravens franchise, I know how near and dear his football team was to his heart. It was truly an extension of his family, almost like another child to him. I want to send my sympathy and best wishes to all of Art's family, and especially to his sons David and John and their families."
Bengals president Mike Brown, Paul's son, also released a statement:
"Art was a significant owner in the NFL. My father had deep differences with him when they were together in Cleveland, yet on the other hand, the fact of their relationship contributed to a great rivalry between the Bengals and the old Browns. There was some real excitement to those early games. Art won praise for his work at the league level, particularly with the development of the NFL's relationship with network television, and we extend our sympathy to all who were close to him."
Those look to be the last words of the Bengals' first chapter, which opened Jan. 7, 1963, the day Modell fired Brown.
DUNLAP OUT: With rookie cornerback
No. 2 tight end
Four players were listed as full go, headlined by quarterback
The Ravens had no starters listed on their report.
BROTHER PLAY: Because Bengals backup quarterback
Not this week. They're finally playing in the same league and it just so happens to be the biggest one. And it just so happens it's the opener. And so since Gino is the youngest, Bruce is pulling rank. Gino Gradkowski, a fourth-round pick of the Ravens out of Delaware, stuck on the 53 as a backup guard/center and is now trying to rustle up 25 tickets.
"Everyone in the family is coming," Bruce said before Thursday's practice. "He's the rookie so he has to get them. They're going to have the better seats. I'll help him out paying for them, but he's got to get the tickets."
But once the details get squared away, Bruce admits it's quite an event.
"For both of us to make it to this level, it's going to be an exciting time for my family," Bruce said. "It's truly a blessing. I just told him to keep working and don't worry about what you can't control."
It's the kind of moment that can get a man to thinking about the old days growing up in Pittsburgh and Bruce couldn't help smiling about his 10-year-old team.
"Gino was four and he'd come to our practices in full pads," Bruce said. "We'd start it with an opening lap and then when we'd go stretch, you could see little Gino walking around the track still trying to finish."
He made it.