CLEVELAND, Ohio – When I heard about the death of former Cleveland Brown and Washington star Bobby Mitchell, I thought of Hall of Fame coach Paul Brown.
And I think of Art Modell.
And I think of the bitter power struggle between Modell and Brown that led to Brown being sacked after the 1962 season.
This is not to reduce Mitchell, who died Sunday at the age of 84. He had a Hall of Fame career with Browns (1958-61) and then Washington (1962-68).
But when I think of Mitchell, I think of trade. On December 16, 1961, Browns sending Mitchell to Washington for a 6-foot-2, 210-pound run of Ernie Davis, who was the top choice in conscription.
Mitchell 6-foot, 190-pound played some time in the backfield with Jim Brown.
But Paul Brown has a vision for the powerhouse 1-2 behind Jim Brown and Davis, who is a superstar in Syracuse (Almamater Jim Brown). Davis was also the first African-American to win the Heisman Cup.
HOW THE BATTLE BEGAN
On January 25, 1961, Modell bought Browns for $ 4 million.
At the time, Paul Brown owned 15 percent of the franchise. That’s what Modell said when I interviewed him several times for the Akron Beacon Journal and then for my book, Browns Town, 1964.
Modell said he bought a piece of Brown’s team for $ 500,000.
When buying the team, Modell said “the depth of Paul Brown’s genius was extraordinary.” He said that they “became partners.”
That doesn’t thrill Brown. Modell is a New York advertising executive. What does he know about football?
When talking about football, Paul Brown has no partners. He is a coach. He is general manager. He is the main and sole decision maker. This has always been the case since he took over the franchise in 1946.
It was shocking for the coach when Modell appeared to watch training in the owner’s first season. Brown said nothing, but he looked up. When Modell went to the dressing room to hear Brown speak, he sat in the back.
Brown said nothing in front of the team about Modell. But when the conversation was over, Brown told the owner, “I would appreciate it if you never come here again. You shouldn’t be here. This is personal time between me and the players.”
I interviewed Modell about 30 years after that happened. He still looked hurt when he remembered the conversation.
In the 1961 season, Brown finished 8-5-1. In the last three seasons, they have a combined record of 23-13-2.
Still good, but not championship caliber. Brown has won seven titles in Cleveland: Four in the old AAFC and three in the NFL.
Their last title was 1955. Modell got along with the players. He heard the coach became too conservative, too dictatorial.
The players don’t really like Brown, and Modell can understand why, based on his relationship with the coach.
Brown is not just a coach, he has the title general manager. He always trades and draft picks, then informs his ownership later about what is done.
Remember, Modell wants to be a partner.
After the season, Brown swapped Mitchell and took the team’s first-round pick in the 1962 draft to get Davis’s right to vote.
“Do you know how I found out about the agreement?” Modell once told me. “I got a call from (Washington owner) George Marshall asking me about the deal.”
According to Modell, the conversation goes like this:
“What trade?” Ask Modell.
“Mitchell and your No. 1 pick for our No. 1 pick,” Marshall said.
Modell said nothing.
“Art,” Marshall said. “Don’t you run the franchise?”
“George … well … I don’t know,” Modell said.
“Art, never let that happen again,” Marshall said. “You are the owner. You own the franchise. It’s yours.”
Modell said he later faced Brown, and the coach did not know why the owner was angry.
“He is used to owners like Mickey McBride,” Modell said. “They just paid the bill. They won’t know who Bobby Mitchell is or whether he should be exchanged with Ernie Davis. “
STEP ART UP, SPEAKS UP
With Marshall’s challenge to Modell to take over the franchise, the owner did just that.
Instead of allowing Brown to negotiate a contract for Davis – Brown always does the contract – Modell does it. He paid Davis $ 80,000.
Paul Brown is very angry. That’s $ 30,000 more than star Jim Brown.
Modell then began to promise that the Browns would win the 1962 NFL title during several public speaking events.
Paul Brown hates it. The last thing a coach needs is that the owner makes a bold prediction.
The coach knows his time with Brown is coming to an end.
Shortly after Davis was traded to the Browns, he was diagnosed with leukemia when the training camp was opened. He then went to remission.
That caused another duel between Brown and Modell.
Davis wants to play in a regular season game. Modell likes the idea and has found a doctor to clean his way back. Brown opposed it.
I interviewed former Plain Dealer sports writer Hal Lebovitz about Brown and Modell while researching my book. The Lebovitz account fits what I write here.
Lebovitz said his friend was a doctor who gave Davis the green light to play. But Lebovitz also said, “Ernie wants to play. I understand why Paul refused … if I had a player and he had leukemia, I didn’t think I’d play it too. “
Davis never played. Soon, his condition became worse. He died on May 18, 1963.
The Browns finished the 1962 season with a 7-6-1 record. Modell continues to hear negative things about the coach.
Brown became increasingly impatient with the owner.
On January 9, 1963, Brown was fired by Modell. The owner did so during a Cleveland newspaper strike, which angered Brown supporters. They believe Modell did it deliberately to keep the public warm. This is 1963 when newspapers are the main source of news.
Lebovitz and several other authors put together a bulletin about dismissal and sell it to fans who are hungry for news.
Meanwhile, Modell’s top assistant, Blanton Collier, took over as head coach. And in 1964, Brown won their last NFL title.
Paul Brown then went to Cincinnati, where he took over the expansion of the Bengals and turned it into a decent NFL franchise.
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