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Until Sunday, the words Art Modell and the Vince Lombardi Trophy had not exactly fit together like pieces in the perfect joint. . . . Modell's team, neither the original Cleveland Browns nor its Baltimore Ravens incarnation, had been to a Super Bowl, much less won one. . . .

In 40 years in the NFL, Modell had earned a reputation as what Paul Brown, the first and legendary Browns coach, called a "playing owner." Playing, as in meddling. Before Vince Lombardi, Brown had been the NFL's greatest coach. (Arguably, he still is.) Modell fired him. . . . It was Modell's team. He could run it any way or anywhere he wanted.

On Sunday . . . it wasn't the Lombardi Trophy in Modell's hands that was the biggest change in Modell's life. It was two of the men who flanked him - Ozzie Newsome and Brian Billick. Modell, now 75, finally had surrounded himself with the right men and allowed them to do their jobs: Newsome, the Browns' Hall of Fame tight end, in personnel, and Billick, the coach Cleveland had wanted.

It is hard not to be happy for a man who has learned a lesson before it is too late and received the reward. It also is impossible not to wish he had learned it sooner, in Cleveland.

Had Modell done so, the city would have built not only a new stadium for him but also a pedestal, and he might not have moved to Baltimore. An irony of the Cleveland-Modell estrangement is that everyone wanted the same thing: To win The Big Enchilada. . . .

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