CLEVELAND – Former Browns head coach Sam Rutigliano has forgiven Art Modell and he hopes and prays Browns fans can find it in their hearts to do the same.
Rutigliano was fired by Modell in the middle of the 1984 season after coaching the Browns for six years.
But Rutigliano said he understood the high risk/high reward nature of the NFL and had a special relationship with Modell, who died in Baltimore Thursday morning.
“I remember him personally as giving me the opportunity of a lifetime,” Rutigliano said.
Many Browns fans do not remember him fondly. Instead, they see him as the man who took their team away.
But Rutigliano and his wife knew more about the man Modell was outside of football, going to games and dinners with Art and his wife Patricia.
“There’s so much about Art Modell and his wife so many wonderful fans don’t realize…so much he did for Cleveland Clinic, the city,” Rutigliano said.
Modell was well-entrenched in the Cleveland community raising and donating money to charitable causes. For 20 years, he served on the board of the Cleveland Clinic, seven of those (1988-1995) as president, as well as on the boards of other large companies.
At his side through it all was his wife of 42 years, Pat. When Modell lost her in 2011, Rutigliano said there was a “hole inside him.”
“I feel like he didn’t have hope,” Rutigliano said.
A year later, Modell has died at the age of 87.
His impact on the city of Cleveland and NFL as a whole is undeniable, no matter your opinion on his actions. Rutigliano said Cleveland fans should also think about this as they reflect on Modell’s legacy.
“I believe in my heart of hearts if he could’ve given that Super Bowl to Cleveland I think that was always on his mind,” Rutigliano said.
Modell got his title, Super Bowl XXXV, with the old Browns, the team he brought to Baltimore. Cleveland fans are still waiting, wondering when it will be their time.