Cleveland, Ohio, the home of more sports heartbreak and disappointment than in any other city.
The Catch...Red Right 88...The Drive...The Fumble...The Shot...The Move...The Jose Mesa blown save...The LeBron disappearing act...The Decision...No major sports championships since 1964.
Cleveland is a city that is starving for a winner. Yet every time one of the teams looks like they are close, the dream comes to crashing halt.
The Cavaliers are the most recent disappointment. With LeBron James the team won over 60 games and held the best record in the NBA two straight seasons. However, neither of those teams even made the Finals.
Then LeBron "took his talents to South Beach" and left his former team in shambles and only looking like a shell of its former self.
The 2010 Cleveland Browns showed glimmers of promise this season. Back to back victories over elite teams (New Orleans and New England) along with the emergence of Colt McCoy gave the fans a reason to believe they had turned the corner and that the future is bright indeed.
Then they lost cellar-dwellers Buffalo and Cincinnati and look like they will end the season on a four-game losing streak. The Eric Mangini era in Cleveland could be over after only two seasons.
The pathetic state of the Indians franchise would take far too long to for this little article. Let's just say that the most exciting thing to happen at Progressive Field this year was Snow Days.
So why then do we love this city and teams that continually let us down?
I found myself pondering that very question this past Sunday, December 26, 2010: "Why do I love Cleveland so much?"
On the day after Christmas I had the rare opportunity to attend two sporting events in one day. My wife, other members of my family and I went to the Browns game against a Baltimore Ravens at 1:00 and followed that with the Cavaliers' matchup against the Minnesota Timberwolves at 6:00.
It was a major event that I had been planning and anticipating for months.
You see, I live in Wisconsin and struggle to even catch any of Cleveland's games at all. So when I get a chance to go home for the holidays, I could not pass up the opportunity of going to see them both.
The day began with intense excitement; it ended in abject sorrow.
The Browns were playing their rivals in Baltimore, the city that stole the team from Cleveland 15 years ago. The team and the fans always get up for this game.
There was a scuffle during pregame and Eric Steinbach imitated Ray Lewis during introductions. The Browns played tough and hard all game long. They showed heart and hustle that was worthy of a win.
There was only one problem. The Ravens were just a far superior team. The Browns turned over the ball four times and failed to execute an onside kick to open the second half. Promising drives at the end of both halves ended in poor clock management and a field goal and the other with a game-sealing interception by Ed Reed in the end zone.
Every time the Browns looked like they were going to turn the corner it all came crashing down. They just aren't that good. That's all there is to it.
We had a chance to see in Baltimore what we all hope the Browns will one day be. They are a franchise that is built on excellence and finding talent through the draft along with savvy free agent signings.
What kills even more is that they were our team, but aren't anymore. They're like the hot ex-girlfriend that teased with you for years and led you along only to crush your heart and leave you forever to go on to become a super model.
Speaking of ex's...
We left Cleveland Browns Stadium with heavy hearts and made our way to Tower City to eat before the Cavaliers game. We parked in the garage by Quicken Loans Arena and walked past the giant banner on Ontario Street that used to be of LeBron James.
It is now a Sherman Williams picture of the Cleveland skyline with the words "Our home since 1866. Our pride forever."
I knew what the knew poster was but it was the first time for me to see it in person. I loved it. It was a genius replacement for the poetically oversized ego of "King" James.
We made it to our seats about 10 minutes before tip time. The disappointment began even before the game began when we found out that my favorite player Daniel "Boobie" Gibson was out with the flu.
I love Gibson because he is what we want in Cleveland. He's undersized but plays with a giant heart and channels the energy from the crowd into his game. And most of all, he loves the city back.
Gibson is the anti-LeBron. He's far from being a superstar. In fact, he's not even a starter. He's not from Ohio but has bought into what this city is all about. He works hard and always gives his all.
As for me, I'm done with superstars. After LeBron, Terrelle Pryor and *cough* Brady Quinn *cough* I never want another "superstar" on my team again. I know that sometimes you need those kinds of players to have championship teams. But if that's the case, then I'm okay with us never winning. Cleveland isn't a superstar city. We're a blue collar, hard working city that shuns the spotlight. Superstars don't want to come to Cleveland and we don't want or need them either.
But we digress...
The pregame introductions were awesome as they always are. No one does game presentation better than the people at the Q. We cheered loud for every player as their name was called.
This is our team!
Then came the time for the final player introduction for the Cavs, generally reserved for the team's star player.
"And at guard, 6'1", out of Alabama, No. 2, MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO WILLIAMS!"
Then it hit me...This IS our team.
There is no more LeBron James. There was no chalk to be tossed. Mo Williams is the team's "marquee" player.
I got choked up at the thought. The realization nearly brought tears to my eyes. With bitterness, I have scoffed that if LeBron didn't want to be in Cleveland, then we didn't him!
Or do we?
He's gone and never coming back. Another beautiful girl is gone from our life, moving on to more promising venues without showing a single sign that he ever cared for us.
Now all we are left with is a group of role players where the key players are nothing more than trade bate.
The game begins and the Cavs start off shooting lights out. Mo knocks down back-to-back threes, helping the home team to an 18-5 lead to open the game. The crowd is into the game, feeding off the hot start.
But like it always is in Cleveland, whether on a large scale or a small one, it wouldn't last. Not even against fellow low-life Minnesota.
The game is close all the way until a J.J. Hickson layup with 7:54 left in the fourth quarter staked the Cavs to a 14-point lead at 88-74.
But it wouldn't last.
The Timberwolves used four three-pointers to help pull within one point, making it 91-90 with 3:49 to play. The back-and-forth continues into the final minute. Mo Williams turned the ball over, leading to a foul by Anthony Parker on Kevin Love, who made both of his free throws to take a 96-95 lead with 24 seconds remaining.
But all is saved when Antawn Jamison took back the lead with a driving layup with only 10 seconds left to make it 97-96.
The crowd is going crazy! This day of disappointment is going to end on a happy note!
But it wouldn't last.
The crowd fell silent as they watched Michael Beasley drive right past Jamison for an easy layup to take back the lead with 6.9 seconds left.
After a timeout, we watched in disbelief as Jamison tried the same move he had on the previous possession only this time with futility, as he flipped the ball toward the hoop in an effort to draw a foul. No whistle blew. They never call fouls on those last second shots. Everyone knows that.
The game is over. 98-97...the Cavaliers lose.
I can't believe it. This isn't the NBA Finals or even a remotely meaningful game at all. But I am devastated by the loss.
It's not just the loss though...it's everything. It's Cleveland, home to three of the worst franchises in professional sports. This is my home. THIS is who we are.
Are we losers? No. We work hard, we give it our all, we do our best. But in the end we're just not as good as everyone else. Our economy and our sports teams have taught us that much.
I am dejected. The tears begin to well up my eyes but I suppress them. Call me an emotional loser or whatever you want, I don't care. But I couldn't let myself cry. It just wasn't the time to cry. It was a meaningless regular season game. Neither game on this day mattered at all for us in terms of getting to the postseason. You don't cry over spilled milk.
I was sad, but still proud of my teams. They hadn't slacked off or shown any lack of effort. They had gone out and given it their all. And lost. As a fan that's all we can ask for out of the players.
As we exited the arena, I thought about the Sherman Williams banner on Ontario Street. The thought brought a smile to my face and warmed my heart on a cold December night.
This is Cleveland.
We don't have any superstars to throw up on giant posters. We don't have giant egos that need pampering. We don't have glitz and glamor. What we have is bigger than all of that.
We have pride in our city.
I can't always explain why I love Cleveland so much. From the age of 10 when we moved to Ohio from Connecticut, I have been in love with the city. It has captured my heart.
December 26, 2010. The day began with intense excitement, but it didn't end in sorrow. It ended in a renewed pride in the city and in the teams and players that represent it.
Cleveland, my home since 1995. My pride forever.