Ever since Sunday’s Super Bowl, many have been calling Philadelphia the most tortured sports city in America. In one word—Please. Philadelphia’s woes pail when compared to the misery us Cleveland sports fans endure every year. Indeed, while a middle-aged Philadelphia fan can remember a championship in 1983 and four-sport dominance in 1980, a middle-aged Cleveland fan can remember only heartbreak, heartbreak and more heartbreak.
Cleveland is the most snake-bitten sports town in the country, hands down. The numbers prove it, as no other three-team city has a title drought lasting anywhere close to Cleveland’s. The Indians haven’t won the World Series since 1948. The Browns have never played in a Super Bowl. And the Cavaliers have never made the NBA Finals. The last time a Cleveland team won a title was 1964—when the Browns took the “NFL Championship.”
It’s not that Cleveland teams are consistently bad. Time and time again, those of us from Northeast Ohio get our hopes very high, only to see them dashed right when it counts. Such has been the case with all three teams.
The Browns played in the AFC Championship game in 1987, 1988 and 1990. Each time, they played the Denver Broncos. Each time, they lost. The first game is known as the “The Drive,” because Broncos quarterback John Elway erased a late 20-13 Browns’ lead by driving his team 98 yards to a score with 37 seconds left. The second is known as “The Fumble,” because Browns’ running back Ernest Byner lost a ball right before stepping into the end zone to tie the game in the final minute.
Cleveland also has “The Shot.” In 1989, the Cavs led the Chicago Bulls by one point with 3 seconds left in a first-round playoff series when Michael Jordan double-clutched an inbounds pass in midair and hit a 16-footer over Craig Ehlo. My beloved Cavs, who were supposed to be “the team of the ’90s,” were never the same. Good guys Mark Price, Brad Daugherty, Larry Nance and Ehlo led the team to the Eastern Conference finals in 1992, only to lose yet another hard-fought playoff series to Jordan and his Bulls.
For the Indians, it’s even worse. A miserable baseball team throughout the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, the Indians quickly became a powerhouse in the mid-1990s—a span when us fans sold out 455 consecutive games. In 1995, the Tribe went 100-44 with 27 wins in their last at-bat. The offense was one of the best of the modern era, boasting eight .300 hitters. The Indians surged into the World Series and got solid pitching throughout it, but were blanked at the plate by the Atlanta Braves, who took the series with a 1-0 win in Game Six. The Indians made it back to the World Series in 1997 and held a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the 9th inning of Game 7. Needing only a ground ball to win the franchise’s first championship in 49 years, the Tribe blew the game, and by the 11th inning the expansion Florida Marlins were World Champions.
And the worst moment in Cleveland sports history wasn’t a game or series at all. It was a move. It still hurts to think about this, but let’s give it a shot.
In 1995, the Browns looked ready for a Super Bowl run. Bill Belichick’s squad had gone 12-5 the year before and added star receiver Andre Rison in the spring. But the season essentially ended a few games into the year when word leaked that Browns owner Art Modell was planning to move the Browns to Baltimore for more money.
The Browns were one of the most storied franchises in sports, and fans had given Modell almost 30 years worth of sellout crowds. Yet on Nov. 6, 1995, the greedy owner stood on the tarmac of a Maryland airport and officially announced the move. The best fans in the NFL were suddenly without a team, although the NFL thankfully awarded the actual Browns’ franchise to the city of Cleveland. This 7th grader was not too comforted though.
Cleveland got a new team in 1999, but it’s been tough times since. Six weeks after the Browns ended their first two seasons with a 5-27 record, Art Modell was holding a Super Bowl trophy, a giant grin on his face.
But there’s hope in Cleveland. The Cavs somehow won the 2003 NBA lottery and selected Akron high school legend LeBron James—already one of the league’s five best players. The Indians are entering a new era of contention this year, and the Browns are only a few breaks away from success. Don’t worry Cleveland, a championship is on the way.
Nathan Carleton is a Trinity senior. His column appears Thursdays.
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