THE IBM BROWNS? GLIMPSE INTONFL’S FUTURE ISN’T PRETTY

THE YEAR 2025 — The IBM Browns made headlines this week when they announced they were moving from Mexico City back to Cleveland.

Once upon a time, longer than most football fans can remember, the Browns played in Cleveland, under the odd name “Cleveland Browns.”

This, of course, was back when teams were named after the cities they played in — before corporations insisted that the teams be named after them.

“We are moving because we can’t compete,” said Artie Modell III, vice president of IBM Football. “The stadium is clearly out of date and the luxury box situation is intolerable.”

Modell has a point. The stadium in Mexico City is two years old, and holds only 30,000 luxury boxes. Modell said that teams such as the Nike Cowboys and the Reebok 49ers got a new stadium every year, and theirs held 40,000 boxes.

“How can we pay a player his average salary of $90 million a year when we’re handcuffed like this?” Modell said. “I’m sorry. I feel terrible for the wonderful fans of Mexico City. But business is business.”

Fans in Mexico City were reportedly upset. Then again, many of them never saw a game in person. The truth is, most of them never understood American football. They simply bid on a team because other cities were doing it.

This may explain why the Browns, over the past 30 years, have played in Cleveland, Baltimore, Las Vegas, Tallahassee, Honolulu, Philadelphia, Baton Rouge, Perth, Houston, Madrid, Mexico City and now, finally, Cleveland again.

“There’s no place like home,” declared Modell, who has fond memories of Cleveland as a child, riding in the moving vans when the team snuck off to Baltimore.

“Of course, Grandpa made me keep my head down, so I didn’t see much,” he said.

In the city by the lake, fan reaction was mixed. Some seemed skeptical at the return of the Browns, especially after the failure of the Oilers, Seahawks, Chiefs, Bengals and Redskins, all of which tried Cleveland for a few years, only to move out for a better offer.

Still, at least one old-timer seemed happy.

“I knew they’d come back,” said Mayor Bernie Kosar, 61. “It was just a matter of time.” The big change

The move must be approved by all 105 of the NFL owners, but it is expected to pass. The league has not turned down a franchise move since the 1980s, when Al Davis — before he became president of the United States — wanted to move the Oakland Raiders to Los Angeles.

(Editor’s note: Los Angeles was a large city that existed until the late 1990s, when an outbreak of plastic surgery poisoning wiped out the entire population.)

“The NFL is stoked that Cleveland is getting the Browns back,” said commissioner Pauly Shore. “All we can say is: ‘Cool.’ “

Critics do not share commissioner Shore’s enthusiasm. They warn that continued franchise moves will affect the already eroding fan bases.

“Look around,” said Donna Shula, head coach of the Hewlett- Packard Dolphins. “Most stadiums only have 100 seats for non-corporate fans, and they’re always out behind the scoreboard. The rest are luxury boxes. I don’t want to insult those rich people, but it’s hard to clap when you have a martini in your hands.”

Historians say the problem mushroomed in the 1990s, when failure to stick by a salary cap led teams to seek new ways to reel in money. The easiest way was to move their franchises.

Had the owners simply followed the rules, and closed the loopholes for
“signing bonuses,” teams in small markets would have had the same budget for players as teams in big markets. And franchises would have stayed put.

Instead, lawyers and accountants spent all their time finding ways around the cap, and pretty soon, teams stopped even trying to control spending. They simply went from city to city.

“Hey, it’s the American Way,” Shore said. “All those critics are just Communists.” The big write-off

In his office, Mayor Kosar held up his old Cleveland helmet and an antique dog snout. “Believe it or not, people used to put these over their heads,” he said. “And they would bark and howl and throw bones. They called it the Dog Pound. It was amazing. Fans actually rooted.”

Someone asked the mayor whether he knew where those fans were today.

“No idea,” he said. “Maybe a mental hospital?”

No one expects such old-fashioned enthusiasm these days. Football is a corporate tax write-off, with players jumping teams week by week. All games are played in climate-controlled indoor arenas, where, if the action is boring, clients can enjoy alternative entertainment, such as massage or private dancing.

“This move should help us close a lot of deals,” said IBM President Phil D. Pockets. “That’s what football is all about, isn’t it?”

Meanwhile, in football-related developments, the Browns plan to continue to use the four running back offense. And coach Michael Jordan says he is confident his team can beat the Quaker Oats Steelers on Sunday.

Also, Vinny Testaverde has been benched.

“Live Albom IV,” Mitch’s latest collection of columns, is on sale for
$12.95 in bookstores or by phone (1-313-962-6657 or 1-800-245-5082).

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