On November 6, 1995, Art Modell announced his plans to move the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore. The Cleveland Plain Dealer broke the news on November 4, the day before the Browns were to play the Houston Oilers. At the time, the Browns were 4-4 and would go on to lose to the Oilers, 37-10. The news of the move shook the city of Cleveland to its core. Modell had for years complained the city ignored his requests to improve Municipal Stadium while starting to build new homes for the Indians, Cavaliers and the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame. The city did put a referendum on the November 7 ballot to approve improvements to Municipal Stadium of 175 million of taxpayer funds.
In 1975, Modell and Cleveland agreed to a 25-year lease of Municipal Stadium. At the time, Modell said he would never move the Browns and had criticized the Colts for moving to Indianapolis. Modell also voted against Al Davis to move the Raiders, even testifying in the NFL court cases against Davis. With the new lease, Modell refused to share revenues with the Indians even though more revenue was generated by the baseball team. In 1990, the Indians convinced Cleveland to build the new Gateway project which would include a dual-use stadium for baseball and football and a new arena for the Cavaliers. Art Modell declined to take part in the project believing he would generate more revenue from the old stadium.
On November 7, 1995, a news conference was held in a parking lot in Baltimore to announce the agreement. Maryland Governor Parris Glendening, alongside Modell, announced,” This is truly a proud moment in the long and rich history of this proud city of Baltimore and this state of Maryland,” according to an article by The Washington Post. The news conference was carried live by ESPN. According to The Washington Post article, Modell would get a 200 million dollar publicly funded, rent-free stadium to be built by 1998 next to Camden Yards. The deal also provided the new Baltimore team all proceeds from concessions, parking and advertising signage. The new team also had permission to charge up to 80 million in one-time “seat license” fees for fans buying season tickets. It was considered the most lucrative stadium deal at the time. Later that night, it was announced the referendum to improve Municipal Stadium was approved by an overwhelming margin. What the city of Cleveland didn’t know is Modell had agreed to the move prior to the start of the 1995 season.
Due to the announcement, the Browns would win one more game and finish 5-11. When the season concluded, head coach Bill Belichick would be fired. In 1994, the Browns made the playoffs, winning the team’s last playoff game. A lawsuit was filed by the city of Cleveland to block the move. According to The Plain Dealer, in the 25-year lease of the old stadium, there was a covenant that Modell couldn’t move the team for the length of the lease. Because of the lawsuit, outrage by Browns fans and other NFL fans, the NFL agreed to the move on the condition Cleveland would be awarded an expansion team and the new team would keep its name and history. Modell had hoped to keep the Browns name and its history after the move. Adding insult to injury, the Baltimore Ravens would go on to win two Super Bowls and the new Browns would suffer year after year of misery.
It was one of the greatest thefts in history.