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Some diehard Browns backers want to see Cleveland honor the late Art Modell

Martin Rogers
Yahoo Sports

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Fans at a 1995 Cleveland Browns game show their displeasure with Art Modell. (AP)

A surprising swell of support for a special tribute to recently deceased former owner Art Modell has placed the Cleveland Browns in a tricky spot ahead of Sunday's kickoff of the 2012 NFL season.

Modell, who died at the age of 87 on Thursday, remains a divisive and controversial figure in Cleveland, having alienated fans when he moved the team to Baltimore in 1996.

A team spokesman confirmed the Browns have yet to make a decision on whether to honor Modell in some way, such as a patch on the jersey, a gesture on the team helmet or a black armband.

The NFL has mandated that a moment of silence is to be held before every game this weekend. The Browns stated the team will have an "appropriate recognition'' of Modell during Sunday's home game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Ever since he moved the Browns out of Cleveland, Modell has been vilified in this corner of Ohio, even after the NFL awarded the city a franchise to replace the one it lost.

However, three Browns fan groups revealed to Yahoo! Sports a desire to see Modell's name specially honored by the current organization.

"It is time to let bygones be bygones," said Ron Schlosser, chief of a group called Bad To the Bone, which is based in Newark, Ohio. "It is not just appropriate that there should be a tribute, it must happen. There was a lot of bad blood and there is still some bitterness, but we got our Browns back and when a man dies you have to appreciate the good he did as well as the bad."

To an outsider, the scorn directed at Modell for over a decade appeared to be one of the more extreme examples of hatred for a former owner in professional sports. In an episode of the "The Drew Carey Show," a character visiting the toilet at a friend's house was told "don't take a Modell."

Modell fled Cleveland following the move, insisting that he feared for his safety as the anger continued to pour out for years.

In an official statement following Modell's death, the Browns extended their condolences to his family, but did not mention Modell by name.

Yet there is some evidence to suggest that the previously unshakeable hardline stance of the fans is softening a little.

[Jeff Passan: LeBron broke hearts but Art Modell stole Cleveland's soul]

"There is a lot more to the story," said Jim Iona, chief of the Akron Browns Backers. "I was furious and betrayed just like everyone else when it happened, but having looked into it more it looks like he was pretty much pushed out of Cleveland."

It's a debatable point. The Browns were in serious debt, a responsibility that many place at the feet of Modell, who argued he needed a new stadium to turn a profit in Cleveland.

"Some people will always want their villain, but to me the good he did for the organization and the league before that outweighs it," Iona said. "There should be some stuff, a minute's silence, something on the jersey, a video at a game, something like that."

Modell was a charismatic businessman and entrepreneur who made a fortune on Madison Avenue before delving into football. He was instrumental in setting up early network television deals for the NFL and for the creation and success of Monday Night Football.

Yet he remains shut out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and to many his lasting legacy will always be that fateful switch of location – an option he had vowed never to pursue.

Even with leading fan groups urging their members to move on, all accept that for some embittered souls the move to Baltimore was the ultimate treachery, one that neither time nor Modell's passing can heal.

"This is one of those things where there may be no right answer," said Scott Wall of the Browns Backers Brigade. "I think it would be a good thing to do. I want to see it and I hope the Browns do it. It would be classy and appropriate to see something. But you have to realize that others still may not see it that way."

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