Ties that still bind

TAMPA, Fla. _ Paul Brown and Art Modell.

Mike Brown and Art Modell. Art Modell and Paul Brown. Art Modell and Mike Brown.

Cleveland and Cincinnati. Cincinnati and Cleveland.

Different men. Different deeds and different towns. Philosophies as vastly different as a lakefront and a river town.

But it's now Super Bowl XXXV in the next century and there is no escaping ties that bind after two generations, two leagues, three teams, three cities and a merger.

Even XXXIX years after Modell did the unthinkable and fired Paul Brown as coach of the Cleveland dynasty that bore the Brown family name and started the Shakespearean chain of events that gave birth to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Eras have been born and died since 1962. JFK. LBJ. Moon shots. Vietnam. Reagan. The Persian Gulf.

Yet the Brown-Modell Cold War has been on simmer for a few years now. Ever since Modell announced last year he's giving up ownership of the Baltimore Ravens in 2004 and Mike Brown said it was time to let bygones be bygones.

"Paul Brown was a giant in this business," Modell said as he sat in the Raymond James Stadium stands here Tuesday.

"Whatever happened 38, 39 years ago, I care not to get into it," Modell said. "But he was a giant and one of the great, great contributors of all time. Paul Brown had a great influence over a lot of people. Myself inlcuded."

Basking in the Florida sunshine and his first Super Bowl Media Day Tuesday, Modell tied the knot again with the Browns and Cincinnati as the aging, outgoing owner of the AFC champion Ravens.

While he strongly acknowledged his role in the NFL stadium wars of the 1990s, the theory has already been floated.

When Modell uprooted the Browns from Cleveland and moved them to Baltimore six months before Hamilton County voters went to the polls in 1996 to vote for a new stadium, did he guarantee a Bengals' electoral landslide?

"I've given some thought to the residual effect, around the league, of my moving," Modell said. "It was not done by design, but it helped in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and a few other places. I think it precipitated some favorable action in those respective markets. Others have told me that."

Mike Brown, Paul's son, the Bengals president, and the one man who truly knows how deeply Modell crushed his father back in 1962, had to agree with the man on this one.

"I have no doubt of that in my own mind," Mike Brown said. When people saw that a team like the Browns could move from a city like Cleveland, it surprised them. If it could happen there, could it happen here, like a Cincinnati? I think it impacted a lot of people's thinking and not just in Cincinnati."

Modell insists he had been told to stay of out of

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Cleveland's redevelopment plans, but nothing happened for two years.

"I felt they were taken me for granted," Modell said. "Then there was a science museum and the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame, and (in Cleveland Stadium) they had trouble fixing the john leaking in the upper deck. Especially over my office. That sort of got me angry."

Modell was mad enough in 1995 to approach Mike Brown about his intentions in Baltimore. Brown and his family had visited the site of Baltimore's new stadium in June, but opted for a local solution.

After the visit to Camden Yards, but before getting a commitment from the city of Cincinnati, Brown told Modell he was making a go of it in the Queen City. Mike Brown steered Paul Brown to Cincinnati in 1967 and so he would stay true to the course.

The next thing Mike Brown knew, the Bengals were playing the Browns in the last game ever at Cleveland Stadium. And as Mike Brown was engulfed by angry Browns fans who appreciated his loyalty to Cincinnati and asked him to sign bits and pieces of the stadium they tore down around them on Dec. 17, 1995, a little sliver of Mike Brown deep down inside was almost glad the Browns had won that last stand.

"We made different decisions. We went different ways," Mike Brown said of Modell.

Someone asked Modell what would have happened if Mike Brown took the Bengals to Baltimore.

"I'd still be in Cleveland," Modell said. "Looking for other options until they did something for us. I had no alternate plan. I do know that Mike was looking at Baltimore. Other teams were, too."

There have always been differences between Browns and Modells. Look at the names and colors of the seats of their respective stadiums.

In Cincinnati, Paul Brown Stadium has the green seats of a 1950 NFL championship game. PSINet Stadium in Baltimore has purple and black seats.

The biggest difference? Modell's crunching debt of $180 million forced the move as much as anything. Debt isn't in the Brown lexicon.

"If you look at it," Mike Brown said, "it looks like it worked out for everyone. We got a stadium in Cincinnati. Cleveland got a team and a new stadium. Baltimore got a team again and a new stadium. If you had said that six years ago, you would have said that was spectacular."

But the rivalry still burns. There is new talk that a realigned AFC Central in 2002 will feature Baltimore, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Cleveland. The Bengals want to beat the Ravens badly enough that they seek an offensive coordinator who will spread the field against the tough front seven defenses like Baltimore employs.

"There's only one thing missing making it all right for everyone," Mike Brown said. "We've got to win. The Bengals have got to win and then it will be back to where it should be. That's the goal. That's where it has to be."

It's Super Bowl XXXV.

But the ties run deep.

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