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Pro Football Spotlight

ROOT, ROOT, ROOT WHILE YOU STILL CAN

Cleveland/Baltimore Brown owner Art Modell absented himself again Sunday, along with more than 17,547 no-shows, as his lame-duck franchise rolled over again, falling, 31-20, to the Packers.

The Browns have lost six of seven games after a 3-1 start. The huge scoreboard billboards advertising McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Ford in Municipal Stadium were painted over in black, as were ads in the concourses. Fans arrived with posters advertising their feelings like:

“Welcome to Art-Break Modell.”

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Ohio Governor George Voinovich suggested fans boycott the game. The man acting as Rover, the Dawg Pound’s mascot, resigned. The Cleveland Plain Dealer and radio station WKNR gave out the fax number for other NFL teams so local fans could protest in another form.

“We’re not going to be another L.A.” said WKNR producer Doug Johnson. “We care.”

Former Brown Coach Sam Rutigliano told USA Today that Modell cares too.

“He’s an extremely sensitive guy who wants to be loved,” Rutigliano said. “Art felt Cleveland fell out of love with him.

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“In his heart of hearts, in that bunker of his in Florida, I don’t think he realizes how much the Cleveland Browns mean to the city of Cleveland and the state of Ohio. Twenty years, he’ll never capture in Baltimore what he had in Cleveland.”

Modell reportedly met privately with the team--"He snuck into town,” an unidentified player told ESPN’s Tom Jackson--to give a pep talk, adding he’d sit the season out at his Florida home.

“Basically,” said Jackson, summing up, “see you in Baltimore next year.”

IN CHICAGO THEY’RE GETTING NERVOUS TOO

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They couldn’t move the Monsters out of the Midway, could they?

As a matter of fact, officials of the Chicago Bears are interested in a proposal to move the team to . . . Gary, Ind.?

Fans came to the game against the Lions in Soldier Field bearing signs like “Gary Fencik, not Indiana,” “Bears not Hoosiers” and “We can’t Bear Gary.”

To reassure fans and/or nudge the local officials into motion, Bear vice president Ted Phillips said the team is studying both the Indiana proposal for a new stadium and a Chicago plan to renovate Soldier Field.

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Phillips said it was “apples and oranges” to compare a renovation plan with that of a new stadium. He also disputed a contention by Chicago officials that seats in the new Gary stadium would be too far away from the field.

TAGLIABUE DENIES HE HAS ABDICATED

NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who watched two teams (Raiders, Rams) abandon Los Angeles before the season, two more (Browns, Oilers) announce plans to leave during it, with five more (Bears, Bengals, Buccaneers, Cardinals, Seahawks) threatening to go next, says he is still on the job.

“What we’re dealing with,” Tagliabue told the New York Times last week, “is the normal process of growth and the fruits of success, frankly.”

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Ironically, the problem starts with the new salary cap that was supposed to level the playing field for all teams. It was found to have a hole in it, so that the Cowboys could sign Deion Sanders for $35 million--and put him on the cap this season for $2.4 million.

“Signing bonuses, that’s the root of evil,” said New York Giant owner Wellington Mara. “I don’t know which owner or agent found it but it was like a whole Pandora’s box.”

Said Players Assn. head Gene Upshaw: “Pro-rated bonuses were there. Renegotiation was there. It wasn’t a hidden trick or like we fooled them. That’s the way the system was designed to work.”

Meanwhile, NBC, watching its teams leave the nation’s No. 2, 9 and 13 markets, has seen its ratings drop 13% in a year.

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“It’s fair to say we’re troubled,” NBC sports boss Dick Ebersol said.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

TOP PERFORMANCES

PASSING

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*--*

Player, Team Att. Cmp. Yds. TD NEIL O’DONNELL, Steelers 31 24 377 3 JEFF GEORGE, Falcons 34 20 352 4 WARREN MOON, Vikings 32 25 338 4 JIM EVERETT, Saints 37 25 335 3 JIM KELLY, Bills 37 22 316 2 BOOMER ESIASON, Jets 43 24 312 3 JOHN ELWAY, Broncos 34 19 290 2 V. TESTAVERDE, Browns 22 16 244 2 JIM HARBAUGH, Colts 26 20 232 2 JEFF BLAKE, Bengals 28 18 217 3

*--*

RECEIVING

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*--*

Player, Team Rec. Yds. TD TERANCE MATHIS, Falcons 10 184 3 TIM BROWN, Raiders 12 161 1 PETE MITCHELL, Jaguars 10 161 1 QUINN EARLY, Saints 9 150 2 QUADRY ISMAIL, Vikings 5 142 1 BRETT PERRIMAN, Lions 12 142 0 CRIS CARTER, Vikings 12 137 2 SHANNON SHARPE, Broncos 8 137 1 CARL PICKENS, Bengals 8 129 1

*--*

RUSHING

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*--*

Player, Team Car. Yds. TD TERRELL DAVIS, Broncos 30 176 1 CHRIS WARREN, Seahawks 29 136 1 BARRY SANDERS, Lions 24 120 2 CRAIG HEYWARD, Falcons 20 117 0 EMMITT SMITH, Cowboys 29 110 3 BAM MORRIS, Steelers 16 101 3

*--*

--Compiled by Bob Cuomo and Mark Heisler

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