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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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Five observations from Day 1 of Ravens training camp

Five observations from Day 1 of Ravens training camp

OWINGS MILLS – Here are five observations from Day 1 of Ravens’ training camp:

1. Joe Flacco didn’t look like someone who had not practiced since November.

First of all, there is nothing wrong with Flacco’s arm. Early in drills, he effortlessly floated a long pass to rookie Chris Moore on a ball that traveled at least 55 yards in the air. Secondly, Flacco moved well wearing a brace on his surgically-repaired left knee, moving out of the pocket several times without any sign of favoring the injury. It remains to be seen if Flacco feels discomfort after several days of practice, and of course, he is not taking any hits. But this was a good first step.

“It felt really good to be out there,” Flacco said in quotes provided by the team. “I wasn’t as efficient as I’d like to be, but I felt comfortable. I just need to throw it a little better and complete some more passes.”

2. Veteran tight end Ben Watson didn’t have the greatest practice.

The usually sure-handed Watson dropped two passes early. Maybe Watson was nervous in his first practice with Flacco, or maybe he was adjusting to the pace of Flacco’s throws. But Watson will be looking to bounce back quickly, competing for playing time at tight end with Crockett Gillmore, Dennis Pitta, and Maxx Williams.

3. The starter at inside linebacker could be rookie Kamalei Correa.

While Correa is taking reps both outside and inside, the Ravens are searching for a starter at inside linebacker next to C.J. Mosley. If Correa wins the starting job, it means the Ravens’ top two picks, left tackle Ronnie Stanley and Correa, could be starters from Week 1.

4. Pitta looks like Pitta, running patterns and making catches.

Fans still love Pitta, and he received a huge ovation whenever he made a catch. Pitta’s attempt to come back from his second major hip injury is a feel-good story and people are rooting for him.  However, a major test for Pitta will come Saturday when the Ravens put on pads for the first time.

5. John Urschel could be the starter at left guard, but he is also taking reps at center.

Urschel is the favorite to replace Kelechi Osemele as the starting left guard. However, Urschel’s best position may be center. If anything happens to starting center Jeremy Zuttah, the Ravens could shift Urschel to center and play either Ryan Jensen or rookie Alex Lewis at left guard.

RELATED: STANLEY'S ROOKIE SHOW PERFORMANCE WAS ONE FOR THE AGES

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Ronnie Stanley sings 'Ignition Remix' in chicken suit for his teammates

Ronnie Stanley sings 'Ignition Remix' in chicken suit for his teammates

OWINGS MILLS - When the Ravens drafted left tackle Ronnie Stanley, he never expected to sing in front of teammates wearing a chicken suit.

Welcome to the Ravens, and to the traditional rookie talent contest. Stanley led off this year’s draft class as the first-round pick, and apparently, he was a hit. The chicken suit was courtesy of wide receiver Steve Smith Sr., who purchased it for Stanley.

Where exactly do you find a chicken suit that fits somebody 6-foot-6, 320 pounds? But Smith found one. If you are a smart rookie, you don’t say no to Steve Smith. That left Stanley with no choice but to perform wearing the suit.

Stanley chose the R. Kelly song “Ignition Remix” for his selection.

“I knew it was crowd pleaser,” Stanley said after Thursday’s practice. “I know every word to the song. That was the song I picked, so I was practicing all throughout this break that we had.”

Under the circumstances, Stanley felt he did well.

 “I actually didn’t know about the chicken suit until yesterday,” Stanley said. “I did what I had to do. I knew since I was going first, I had to set the tone. That was the first time I sang in a chicken suit.”

Ravens coach John Harbaugh was impressed.

“He did a great job and we had fun,” Harbaugh said. “It’s nice when your first-round pick, kind of the leader of the rookie class, is able to step up and make a statement about that. I can fit in, so to speak.”

No word on if Stanley plans to go on tour after the season.

RELATED: A FEW RAVENS RUNNING BACKS ARE DINGED UP

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Kenneth Dixon hobbled, Lorenzo Taliaferro placed on PUP list

Kenneth Dixon hobbled, Lorenzo Taliaferro placed on PUP list

OWINGS MILLS -- The Ravens deep running back group grew a little thinner – at least temporarily – on Thursday as rookie Kenneth Dixon left the first training camp practice after tweaking his left knee and Lorenzo Taliaferro was placed on the preseason physically-unable-to-perform list with a lingering foot injury.

Dixon had been very active in the noncontact practice, especially as a pass catcher. But as he caught one pass near the left sideline in an 11-on-11 drill, he was inadvertently bumped out of bounds by linebacker Patrick Onwauasor and fell hard to the ground. Dixon was slow to get up and was ultimately helped off the field by Justin Forsett and a trainer.

Dixon has “a slight thing with the knee,” coach John Harbaugh said after practice. “He should be fine.”

Taliaferro sustained a foot injury last year and had surgery that ultimately ended his season in October.

"Not that there's a big issue with it," Harbaugh said of Taliaferro's foot, "but it's not quite there yet."

Entering his third season, Taliaferro is fighting for a roster spot after missing 16 of 32 games over his first two seasons. Forsett, Buck Allen and Dixon all appear to be locks to make the team, leaving Taliaferro competing for a potential fourth running spot with Terrance West and perhaps Trent Richardson, though he, too, is injured.

Taliaferro joins five other Ravens who had previously been placed on the preseason PUP list – receivers Steve Smith and Breshad Perriman, linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs, and Richardson.

Players can be activated from the PUP list and return to practice at any time during training camp. If they begin the regular season on the PUP list, they must sit out the first six games.

In addition to Taliaferro’s absence, three players sat out Thursday's practice because they haven’t passed the conditioning test: wide receiver Mike Wallace, cornerback Jerraud Powers and newly signed wide receiver Dobson Collins.

RELATED: FLACCO ISN'T WORRIED ABOUT INJURIES AFFECTING HIS POST NFL LIFE