As a 25 year old die-hard Cleveland sports fan, I am very young when it comes to the misery that comes along with being a fan of Cleveland Sports. If you were to Google “the drive”, “the fumble”, or most recently “the decision”, each of the first links you come across will be stories that could bring tears to some of the Cleveland fans that lived through them. I am not old enough to have witnessed “the drive” and “the fumble” but I have seen the highlights countless times, and can feel the heartbreak each time. The last time that a Cleveland sports team could call themselves champions is clear back in 1964, when Jim Brown led the Browns to an NFL Championship (pre Super Bowl era)
For those of you that don’t know what I’m talking about, “the drive” is in reference to a Playoff game between the Cleveland Browns and Denver Broncos that happened in 1987. The winner of the game would advance to the Super Bowl, a place that the Cleveland Browns have never been in the history of the franchise. In the game the Cleveland Browns had a 20-13 lead with a little over 5 minutes to go in the game. The Browns were able to pin the Broncos on the 2 yard line, meaning the Broncos had to march 98 yards for a touchdown. Well John Elway and his Broncos teammates did just that, they went 98 yards and scored with around 30 seconds left in the game to tie it, the Broncos ended up winning the game, overtime and advancing to the Super Bowl, while the Browns season ended.
The very next season in 1988, there was a rematch between the Browns and Broncos in the AFC Championship game, again, meaning the winner goes on to the Super Bowl. Ernest Byner was the Browns running back, who figuratively put the team on his back in the 2nd half of the game. He was having a spectacular game helping his team come from a big 1st half deficit. As he and the Browns were marching down the field about to go in for the game-tying touchdown, a defender was able to hit the ball out of Byner’s hand, causing him to fumble the ball on the one yard line, where the Broncos recovered the football and secured the game, again, advancing to the Super Bowl while the Browns season ended. This play now is infamously known as “the fumble”
Although I love all 3 of my Cleveland teams, the Browns, the Cavs and the Indians, football is my favorite sport to watch, so I will always consider Cleveland to be a “Browns Town”. Being born in 1991 I was a little too young to be able to remember the days of Bill Belicheck coaching the Browns and how they were destined for success if they had the time. Unfortunately, my first real football memory of the Cleveland Browns would be in ’95-’96 when my parents were trying to explain to me that there would no longer be any Cleveland Browns because they were moving to Baltimore.
As I got older, I did my research on Art Modell (the then owner of the Cleveland Browns), and why he moved our Cleveland Browns. Despite the numerous charities that he contributed to in the Cleveland area, I will forever remember Art Modell as a villain. Without boring you with the politics of everything that was involved, what it came down to is money and stadium funding. Modell wanted to upgrade the stadium after the Indians got a brand new stadium built in downtown Cleveland. Modell looked at all options including relocating the beloved Browns to other cities. Baltimore offered Art Modell a brand new stadium and Modell was able to pocket $50 Million dollars, which led Modell to move the Browns to Baltimore, without so much as letting the city council know he was considering it. So he ripped the heart out of so many Cleveland fans so he could make some money.
Once the Browns returned in 1999 that is when I really became a fan. Growing up a little over an hour south of Cleveland I had my team. I think knowing the history of the Browns and what the franchise and the fan base has been through, its been easy for me to stay loyal through all of the crap seasons that this team has had since its return. I know in my heart that when they finally turn it around and look like a legitimate NFL team, there will be no feeling more gratifying than being a fan of a team that has been through so much and are finally known as Cleveland Brown Super Bowl Champions; there is nothing as a fan that could possible top it. Right now though, that feeling is years away and I’m ok with that as a fan, because with each year that passes it will make it that much better when it’s finally here.
Everyone knows that Cleveland’s best chance at a title is happening right now as you read this. The Cleveland Cavaliers are on a roll right now winning their first 9 playoff games of this 2016 season. They play again tonight (5-19-16) game 2 against the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals. LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love are playing as well as they ever have since becoming teammates last season, and they are cruising through the Eastern Conference and should have absolutely no issues advancing to the NBA Finals against either the Golden State Warriors or the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Cavs haven’t been without struggles of their own though. Since becoming an NBA franchise sometime in the 70’s, the Cavaliers have never been crowned NBA champions. They had never even been to the finals until the year 2007, when LeBron James led a team full of nobodies all the way to the Finals where they were swept 4 games to none in a best of 7 series against Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs.
All Clevelanders thought that there was no doubt that LeBron was going to lead this city to it’s first title since 1964. In 2010 after a stunning defeat in the playoffs LeBron James was walking back into the locker room and took off his Cavaliers jersey, and didn’t put it back on for 4 years. That’s because in the 2010 offseason LeBron, much like Art Modell, ripped the heart out of Cleveland fans during “the decision” where he announced on live T.V. that he was “taking his talents to South Beach” and playing with his buddies Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. Everyone knew that he was taking Cleveland’s championship hopes with him. In the 4 seasons LeBron played in Miami they reached the NBA Finals all 4 times, winning twice. Meanwhile in Cleveland in the 4 seasons without LeBron they won 19, 21, 24, 33 games in an 82 game season. To put that into perspective, in 2009, the last season with LeBron, they won 61 games, and when LeBron returned in 2014-2015, the Cavs went from winning 33 games to winning 53.
What LeBron James means to Cleveland and the Cavaliers franchise cannot be described in this article, that will be another time. But right now Cavs fans know that this year may finally be THE year. It won’t be easy to do, they will have to beat the Golden State Warriors in the Finals, who beat the Cavs in the Finals a year ago. Golden State broke an NBA record going 73-9 and have yet to lose back-to-back games this season, including the Playoffs. Right now as I write this they are tied 1-1 in their series against the Oklahoma City Thunder, but as a Cavs fan I would like nothing more than to see them again in the Finals. I want the Cavs to be the team that takes them out. For a city as starved for a Championship as Cleveland is, nothing would make a bigger statement than beating the best team in NBA history to finally be crowned the Champions. Not only does LeBron and his incredible legacy deserve that statement, but every single Cleveland fan deserves that statement.
So now that you have an understanding of the history of 2 of the 3 major Cleveland sports teams, you might be able to better understand me when I try to explain what a Cleveland Championship would mean to me.
What a Championship in Cleveland would mean to me truly cannot be described in words. It would mean that every motivational poster in your elementary classroom holds true, if your knocked down 7 times- stand up 8, it’s always darkest before the dawn, if your handed a big plate of manure to eat-grab the biggest spoon in the drawer (ok that one wasn’t in any of my elementary classrooms, but it is something that my dad has taught me over the years). A championship in Cleveland would go so much further than sports, it would provide so many life lessons that i will be able to pass on to my kids. What a Championship in Cleveland would mean to me is happiness for not only me, but the generations of Cleveland sports fans that have rode this emotional roller coaster for the past 50 years. What a Cleveland Championship would mean to me is that I finally get to attend the parade downtown with each and every one of you Cleveland fans.