After 11 Years of Bitterness, Baltimore Cheering Again
BALTIMORE (AP) _ Hopeful the ``Baltimore Browns″ may soon be theirs, this city’s football fans cheered away 11 years of bitter memories of their beloved Colts skipping town in the middle of the night.
Hundreds of fans _ some wearing homemade shirts scrawled with the name of their newfound team _ showed up at Camden Yards to hear Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell announce plans to bring his team to Baltimore next season.
And while they wildly chanted ``Art!, Art!, Art!,″ they didn’t seem to mind that he was doing the same thing to his loyal National Football League city that another owner once did to theirs.
``I don’t think any town has to have any collective guilt,″ said William Howard, a Colts season-ticket holder for 15 years. ``Baltimore should take any business it can.″
Fan Chris Gunst added, ``It’s not a question of being fair. There aren’t any ethical questions in football anymore.″
Mayor Kurt Schmoke, reminding fans of the many times the city has tried and failed to land an NFL team since the Colts left, told them to go ahead and cheer. ``You have waited long and hard for this day.″
Though Baltimore does have a Canadian Football League team, the Stallions, many fans want the NFL.
``I’m more than happy to embrace this,″ said Randy Pleasant, a Stallions season-ticket holder. ``The NFL level of football is the tops.″
The deal, which must withstand a league vote in January and a legal challenge in Cleveland, offers Modell a $200 million stadium to be built by the state, up to $75 million in money for moving expenses and state-paid improvements to Memorial Stadium, where the Browns would play their first two seasons.
Modell called it too good to pass up.
Back in Cleveland, where rabid fans have supported the Browns since 1950, the reaction was much the same as when Colts owner Robert Irsay brought in moving vans to take the team to Indianapolis on a snowy night in 1984.
``Like a thief in the night, our NFL franchise is being stolen,″ Cleveland Mayor Michael White said.
Joe Simone, a Browns season-ticket holder for 23 years, called Modell ``a sneak and a coward.″
Fan Regina White said Modell should just get out of town.
``If he thinks someone’s going to beg him to stay here in Cleveland, I’m not,″ she said. ``The people of Cleveland should just tell him to go.″
City leaders felt differently, arguing in a lawsuit that the move would violate the team’s lease with the city.
Hours before the announcement in Baltimore, a judge issued a temporary restraining order on the deal pending a Nov. 20 hearing.
The city is also hoping voters Tuesday will extend a tax on alcohol and tobacco, the last piece in a package of levies meant to raise $150 million to $175 million to renovate the Browns’ stadium.
``Now we stand where Baltimore stood,″ White said. ``We are going to fight this fight. I can’t say we’re not going to lose, but when it’s over, the other side’s going to know they’ve been in a fight.″