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Browns fans brace as Modell up for Hall of Fame

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Browns fans brace as Modell up for Hall of Fame

CLEVELAND (AP) For countless Browns fans, time has not healed. Art Modell's move remains an open wound.

And even in death, he torments them.

Modell, the late Cleveland owner credited with helping the NFL grow in prominence but whose decision to relocate his franchise to Baltimore 17 years ago obscures his accomplishments, is one of 15 finalists up for election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Modell's case for induction - he was also a finalist in 2002 - could spark the liveliest debate in New Orleans on Saturday among 46 Hall of Fame committee members, who will select between four and seven new members on the eve of the Ravens meeting the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl.

His supporters contend Modell helped create America's most popular sport.

His detractors will never forget one despicable deed.

``It would be a terrible thing for the NFL if he ever got in,'' said Michelle DiBartolo, president of Canton's chapter of the Browns Backers, a worldwide fan club of more than 100,000. ``I haven't met one Browns fan who said he deserves it. Anyway, he doesn't have the qualifications. How do you put Art Modell next to Paul Brown? That blows my mind.''

Modell will be considered for enshrinement along with coach Bill Parcells, former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr., single-season sacks leader Michael Strahan, offensive linemen Jonathan Ogden and Larry Allen, defensive tackle Warren Sapp, running back Jerome Bettis, wide receivers Cris Carter, Tim Brown and Andre Reed, defensive standouts Charles Haley and Kevin Greene, guard Will Shields and defensive back Aeneas Williams.

Also up for consideration, two senior nominees: defensive tackle Curley Culp and linebacker Dave Robinson.

The inclusion of Modell on this year's ballot has provided another subplot to this year's Super Bowl, which has had no shortage of juicy story lines. The Ravens' unexpected run to the championship game has been, in part, fueled by the team dedicating its season to Modell. Baltimore's players have worn patches with ``Art'' on their jerseys to honor Modell, who died on Sept. 6 just four days ahead of the opener.

There's no denying Modell's impact on the game. As Browns owner in the 1960s, he was involved in negotiating TV contracts that brought the NFL into more of the nation's living rooms and eventually spawned ``Monday Night Football,'' an institution Modell helped create as the league's broadcast chairman.

Before the move, Modell was adored by Cleveland's players and fans, who watched him agonize with them over every dropped pass and missed tackle while sitting in his owner's box high above the field inside cavernous Municipal Stadium.

His many missteps: firing Hall of Fame coach Paul Brown; hastening legendary running back Jim Brown's retirement because of a contract dispute; trading wide receiver Paul Warfield; signing free agent Andre Rison; financial losses, went mostly overlooked - or were at least forgiven.

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, a Hall of Fame tight end in Cleveland, believes Modell's contributions warrant a bronze bust.

``You look at what Art has done for this league,'' said Newsome, hired by Modell to run the Ravens. ``He was involved in the collective bargaining agreement, involved in the TV deal, involved in the merger, won a championship in `64, won a Super Bowl. He had diversity, the first one to hire an African American. You look at the body of work, why shouldn't he be in it? If this game is as good as it is today - we all think we have a very good game - then Art was the architect.''

All of the finalists have impressive resumes. Parcells was the first coach to lead four teams to the playoffs. He went 183-138-1 and won two Super Bowls with the Giants. DeBartolo hired coach Bill Walsh, drafted quarterback Joe Montana and transformed the 49ers into a model franchise that won five Super Bowls.

A seven-time Pro Bowler, Strahan recorded 22 1/2 sacks in 2001 and finished with 141 1/2 in a 15-year career with the Giants; Ogden, the first player drafted by the Ravens, made 11 Pro Bowls in 12 seasons; Allen played every offensive line position but center during 12 seasons with Dallas. He opened holes for Emmitt Smith, the league's career rushing leader; and Sapp had 96 1/2 career sacks, a remarkable number for an interior lineman.

Bettis finished with 13,662 career rushing yards in 13 seasons for the Rams and Steelers; Carter retired with the second-most career receptions (1,101) and receiving touchdowns (130); Brown, a nine-time Pro Bowler, recorded 14,934 yards receiving and 100 TDs; and Reed had 951 career catches, and played in four consecutive Super Bowls with Buffalo.

Tough to block as a defensive end or linebacker, Haley is the only player to win five Super Bowls; Greene reached double digits in sacks 10 times for the Rams, Steelers and Panthers; Shields never missed a game in a 14-season career with the Chiefs, who won four AFC West titles with him up front; Williams made the Pro Bowl as a cornerback and safety, finishing with 55 career interceptions; Culp was mainstay for Chiefs' dominating defense before helping the Oilers reach consecutive AFC title games (1978-79); and Robinson was a big-play starter on three straight Packers' title teams under Vince Lombardi.

As for Modell, his critics point to him uprooting one of the league's cornerstone teams as indisputable evidence he doesn't belong in the hall.

``It overshadows all his accomplishments,'' said Tony Grossi, a selection committee voter since 1999. ``It can't be dismissed.''

As one of those who will help elect Canton's class of 2013, Grossi, who has covered the Browns since 1984, feels a responsibility to state the case against Modell. He will speak once Modell is presented for consideration by a representative from Baltimore's market.

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti understands Cleveland's pain. He witnessed Baltimore fans rebel when the Colts went to Indianapolis, so he can relate.

He just hopes Modell gets his due.

``I'm not even asking Cleveland to forgive,'' he said. ``I just don't know that Cleveland's rabid fans should be the reason that they keep him out. Because it seems like a spite thing and not a legitimate `let's look at the resume thing' and that's really what I hope changes this year.''

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Dominant defense earns Ravens' Za'Darius Smith AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors

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Dominant defense earns Ravens' Za'Darius Smith AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors

The defensive performance on display by the Baltimore Ravens Sunday against the Tennessee Titans in a 21-0 shutout win was flat out historic. So historic that it's earned linebacker Za'Darius Smith AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.

A franchise-record 11 sacks were laid on quarterback Marcus Mariota during the Week 6 matchup, with Smith leading the way with three of them.   

So far this season the 26-year-old has 20 combined tackles, 5.5 sacks, and one forced fumble. As someone who is in the final year of his rookie NFL contract, he's certainly proving he is worthy of getting paid this offseason. 

"It feels great, man. It's big," Smith said of the honor during media availability Wednesday. "I know when I first found out I called my mom and she was already looking at it. But I called her and she was trying to congratulate me and was like 'who would've ever thought the guy that played one year of high school football would be where he at now and making so many goals.'"

But earning AFC Defensive Player of the Week isn't the only goal Smith has in mind. His performance through the first six weeks and assisting the No. 1 ranked scoring defense is just a stepping stone to the ultimate honor.

"I was telling her, 'Ma you know this is a good self-goal but my main goal is to get us to the Super Bowl.'" 

The road to the Super Bowl for Smith and the Ravens continues this Sunday vs. Drew Brees and the Saints. 

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Peter King awards two Ravens with weekly honors for defensive performance vs.Titans

Peter King awards two Ravens with weekly honors for defensive performance vs.Titans

The Baltimore Ravens' Week 6 dominate performance over the Tennessee Titans is gaining national attention. 

A historic game that displayed the offense and defense firing on all cylinders, it's hard to pinpoint who had the biggest impact. 

So in his latest edition of Football Morning in America, NBC Sports' Peter King awarded not one, but two Ravens with weekly honors.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Za'Darius Smith

Against the Titans, Smith led the Ravens defense with three sacks and five tackles in their historic 11-sack game. On of three Defensive Players of the Week, King explained why Smith's performance stood out.

In the most dominant defensive performance of this ultra-offensive season, the Ravens shut out Tennessee 21-0 and had 11 sacks. Another one of GM Ozzie Newsome’s draft gifts that keeps on giving, Smith (2015, round four, Kentucky) contributed three sacks of Marcus Mariota and five tackles in a virtuoso game. Net passing yards for Mariota: 51.

Smith, who's entering the final year of his rookie NFL contract, has shown over six games he deserves to get paid in the offseason. So far this season the 26-year-old has 20 combined tackles, 5.5 sacks and one forced fumble. 

COACH OF THE WEEK: Don "Wink" Martindale

In his first season as defensive coordinator, Don "Wink" Martindale has seamlessly made the transition from linebackers coach to leading the NFL's No. 1 scoring defense (12.8). But what impressed King the most from the 21-0 shutout was how Martindale's squad got to Mariota from every direction. 

When a unit records more sacks (11) than completions allowed (10), the leader gets an award. Those are the rules. Martindale’s pass rushers got to Marcus Mariota every possible way—up the middle, around the edges, in the pocket, on bootlegs, you name it. The total set a new franchise record and was one short of the single-game NFL mark of 12. And it came with a familiar face watching: Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees used to hold the same position in Baltimore. Shout out to the Ravens social media team for renaming the account RavenSSSSSSSSSSS, one ‘S’ for each sack.

This Ravens defense, who has always been known for its dominance, is ranked first in points allowed (12.8), first in yards allowed (270.8), second in passing yards allowed (188.0) and third in rushing yards allowed (82.8) heading into Week 7. In addition, they have yet to surrender a second half touchdown all season. Trusting of the talent this roster holds, the respect "Wink" has for his players is equally reciprocated. 

"It was really emotional when they told us we had 11 sacks," linebacker Patrick Onwuasor said postgame. "We just went out there and we were like, ‘We have to get Coach Wink . We have to put the Gatorade on him.’ So, we tried to turn him around so he couldn’t see it coming, and we had to get him real good."

Martindale will now face the No. 1 scoring offense in the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. 

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