Legends and myths are two different narratives in history. The first one is a part of human history, while the second is based on fictional stories, or false promises. Legends have their names or tales sketched in history books with golden linings. Myths become cult stories, mostly trivial and entertaining, but all the more easily forgotten. Surely everybody has the dream of doing something truly legendary. An act, or saying, by which one person becomes part of human history. This is all the more true in the field of professional sports. One can become an instant legend by winning some silverware. In North-America, most cities have had the joy to celebrate their championships with the legends that brought them success. It gave them happy nostalgic memories of times from the – sometimes very recent – past. While those cities bask in the glory of the past, others are bound to dwell in misery, for their city has yet to win a professional championship in over 40 years. One of them is the city of Cleveland. A blue-collar style city, that once was a strong hub in Northern-America due to the connection to canals and railways, situated along Lake Erie, and home to the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. Sports have had their ups and downs, and small successes, but almost always ended up in failure. After a drought of 47 years, Cleveland is still waiting for their legend to come along.
– Public Square, Cleveland, Ohio. March. Planted trees are swept from right to left by a ghastly wind. Grim, tall and modern skyscrapers are painted against a mostly clouded sky, here and there flanked by buildings from the past. Memories linger from the days that the once-proud city was a thriving economy for steel manufacturers and transportation. Those days are long gone. The city’s outlook is bleak, especially in the cold Northern-Ohio winter. Moreover, there are no palm trees, and no beach. Cleveland is not and will never be a paradise-like haven of warmth and pleasure. Success has not exactly flourished around here. Not economy wise, and certainly not sports wise. Uncharacteristically for a city with sports teams in three major American sports, Cleveland has waited longer than any other city with at least three major sports franchises to win a title. The last time a Cleveland professional sports team won a championship was in 1964 when the Cleveland Browns won the NFL Championship in American football. That is brutal.
Drives, Fumbles and Catches
It is not like the city has not tried. The city has had its fair share of playoff appearances. It just seem to fall short every time. It is uncanny how many memorable sports moments can be uttered with a single word. It is even more disturbing that most of these sports moments have a Cleveland-based team at the losing end of it. The Shot, The Fumble, The Drive, The Catch, The Move, Red Right 88, “Off Nagy’s Glove” and The Decision are all memorable moments in sports history with a bitter, even vile aftertaste for Cleveland fans. They always seem to come up short.
That is why ESPN gave Cleveland the title of most tortured sports city back in 2004. And it has not changed one bit since. Clevelanders are therefore somewhat destined to hold on to every glimmer of hope that they can find amongst all the drama. Through all the suffering, they have had hopes and expectations, only to find these expectations to be a sheer impossible feat to overcome.
In the CBS hit-comedy ‘How I Met Your Mother’, the narrator, Ted, explains what Ohioans do when they find adversity on their way. In his case, it is dealing with his break up with his first true love, Robin. “When life gives us pain, we Buckeyes take that pain and we push it down, and if that pain starts to come up again, we push more pain down on top of it.”
The quote is symbolical in more ways than one. Clevelanders suffer through it all and still stay supportive of their team. That is underlined by the fact that the Cleveland Browns have the largest amount of official fanclub members across the entire United States. Pretty good for a team which has never won the Super Bowl. Furthermore, the Cleveland Indians have sold out every game between 1995 and 2001, a baseball record until it was broken in 2008.
Moves and Decisions
Cleveland has had their small share of legends that it coveted and cherished in the years that they were at Cleveland based sports teams. Art Modell for instance, the New York-born businessman and former Cleveland Browns owner who brought the city its last official championship in 1964, basked in that glory for over 25 years. He was able to pull off some questionable moves and decisions purely by the credit that he deserved for bringing the city that one title. Then he moved the Browns away from Cleveland.
In recent times, LeBron James had all of Cleveland wrapped around his finger. Born in Akron, Ohio, not far from Cleveland, James had always stressed his desire to win a championship for the Cavaliers and not backing off until he got that, ever since he came into the NBA in 2003. In the summer of 2010, according to Cavalier fans, and sports fans worldwide, he broke that promise. Before James, there was not much to cheer about regarding Cleveland basketball. He was thought of as their savior. James singlehandedly turned around a franchise, led them to the 2007 NBA Finals and multiple playoff appearances. He scored national headlines, brought in sold-out games and extensive press coverage. And he said and did all the right things. He made the Cavaliers relevant again. He made the entire city of Cleveland relevant again. And then he left. The one athlete who was supposed to be the person to end the drought for once and for all. No wonder Clevelanders freaked out.
The theorem for these kind of athletes or directors is quite simple. Traitors don’t leave legacies. That is why cases such as Art Modell and LeBron James have their legends tarnished by their own actions. At least, from Cleveland’s point of view. Just ask sports journalist Scott Raab, whose book extensively tells the story of Cleveland sports heartbreak.
The departures of these athletes have led to a recurring theme in Cleveland sports. It is best described as ‘waiting for next year’, the year that Cleveland franchises will actually be relevant and win a title. It has to be next year. Or the year thereafter. Or some year.
The hope is still there though. The hope that one day, the universe will align and give Clevelanders that much sought after championship. The day that Cleveland can hold their own ticker tape parade and ceremonials, and when local sports heroes are forever engraved in the annals of a proud and persistent city. That day will become legendary. Next year will come, eventually.
Until then, they’ll have to wait for it.
Legendary sports moments all Clevelanders would like to forget
The Catch – During Game 1 of the 1954 World Series between the New York Giants and the Cleveland Indians, with the score tied 2-2, Cleveland batter Vic Wertz hit a ball approximately 420 feet into center field. In most stadiums, this hit should have counted as a home run. At the Polo Grounds in New York, however, the ball stayed on the field just enough for centerfielder Willie Mays to make a spectacular on-the-run over-the-shoulder catch. The Giants won the game, and the following three games, and thereby swept the World Series. Cleveland was left with nothing.
Red Right 88 – Trailing 14-12 with less than a minute remaining in the game, the Cleveland Browns had the ball on the 13 yard line of the opponent Oakland Raiders. A field goal would tie the game and force overtime. The Browns called a pass play, while the quarterback was instructed to throw the ball ‘into Lake Erie’ if the play was anything less than 100 % sure, so that they could still execute the field goal. However, quarterback Brian Sipe missed target Ozzie Newsome. The ball was intercepted by the Raiders’ defense, and that ended the game. The Raiders went on to win the Super Bowl. The 1980 Cleveland Browns, more commonly known as the ‘Kardiac Kids’ due to the big game finishes they were involved in, were left with nothing.
The Drive – During the 1987 NFL AFC Championship game against the Denver Broncos, the Browns led 20-13 with 5:39 remaining in the fourth quarter, and the ball at the Broncos’ 2 yard line. Then Hall of Fame-quarterback John Elway put together a drive for the ages, moving the ball 98 yards in five minutes, subsequently tying the game. The Broncos would force overtime, and win through a field goal, sending them to the Super Bowl.
The Fumble – In the – consecutive – NFL AFC Championship game against the Denver Broncos in 1988, Cleveland Browns running back Earnest Byner ran in for the game-tying touchdown with 1:12 left to play in the fourth quarter, only to fumble the ball at the two yard line. The Broncos would once again go on to the Super Bowl.
The Shot – Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan clinches the playoff series against the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1989. The Cavaliers had won all six regular season meetings between the two teams. In retrospect, this marked the beginning of the Bulls’ dynasty.
The Move – In 1995, Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell elected to move the American football franchise from Cleveland to Baltimore, to eventually become the Baltimore Ravens. For a football-crazy town like Cleveland, that has had so many memories of the gridiron, this move was devastating. While the Browns returned into the NFL as an expansion team in 1999, after three years of ‘deactivation’, the team has yet to build any form of success other than one single playoff appearance in 2002. The Ravens, however, have made the playoffs seven times since 2000, and won a Super Bowl.
“Off Nagy’s Glove” – During the 1997 World Series, the Cleveland Indians were once again a Cleveland sports franchise on the brink of a championship. The opponent Florida Marlins, trailing by 2-0 in the contest, mounted a comeback that tied the game in the bottom ninth inning, sending the baseball game to extra frames. In the eleventh inning, Edgar Renteria hit a single run, which came off of Indians pitcher Charles Nagy’s glove. The Marlins won the World Series. The Indians have yet to make another World Series appearance. Also known as ‘Edgar Renteria’s single’.
The Decision – In the summer of 2010, Cleveland Cavaliers star and MVP LeBron James, who was a free agent at the moment and therefore able to sign with any team, publicly announced his decision to leave Cleveland for the Miami Heat in a two-hour long special on national television. The move came as a surprise to many, especially the Cleveland-fans, as James was always thought to be one of their own. It lead to the burning of his jerseys in the streets, the mocking of the Nike-phrase ‘witness’ into quitness and a spoof of his new Nike-commercial, in which Clevelanders express some of their feelings about his departure. The aftermath was brutal, mostly for Cavalier fans.
“I have a great legacy, tarnished somewhat by the move.” – Art Modell, owner of the Cleveland Browns from 1961 – 1996
“I got a goal, and it’s a huge goal, and that’s to bring an NBA championship here to Cleveland, and I won’t stop until I get it.” – LeBron James, former Cleveland Cavaliers basketball star
When life gives us pain, we Buckeyes take that pain and we push it down, and if that pain starts to come up again, we push more pain down on top of it. – Ted Mosby, How I Met Your Mother
“I love the normalcy of Cleveland. There’s regular people there.” – Drew Carey, actor, singer, wrestler, photographer, sports executive and game show host