It's never been easy to be a Cleveland fan, perhaps now more than ever.
The history of professional sports in Cleveland involves a proud tradition of legendary players and championship teams. The only problem is that most of the success that built the foundation and heritage took place long before we can remember. The last time a championship was brought home to the shores of Lake Erie was in 1964 during the height of the Browns football dynasty.
For the past several decades Cleveland franchises have failed to repeat the success of days long ago. Several teams have come close, but it seems the tradition of winning has slowly eroded into a legacy of falling short. Fans forced to sit in silence watching legends born from the ashes of some of the most dramatic and painful losses in sports history.
In 1970, Cleveland became a three franchise sports city when the Cleveland Cavaliers began play as an expansion team. This post-championship era which spans to modern day, has included some of our most proud and most futile teams. Only once during this period, in 1994, have all three franchises qualified for the post season in the same year.
Despite the lack of simultaneous success, it always seemed that when one of our teams was down and out, another would carry our passion forward.
When the Indians were stuck in a perpetual cycle of losing in the early 1980s, along came the Browns to capture our hearts. Led by Quarterback Bernie Kosar, the Browns emerged as a serious contender before multiple losses to the Denver Broncos forced the wind of change and the break-up of the team. When the Browns declined after 1989, the Cavaliers gave us a memorable run in the battle to conquer Michael Jordan. In 1994, the Indians began a powerful quest for a championship with some of the most talented teams in franchise history. The emergence of the Indians came at the perfect time providing a needed distraction from the fiasco of Art Modell moving the Browns to Baltimore.
Which Cleveland team will contend first?
Two World Series losses later, it was the expansion Browns who returned the favor of distraction, in 1999. The fans were so happy to have the Browns back, nobody seemed to notice how absolutely horrible the team really was. When the losses became routine and frustration began to mount, the Cavaliers were busy drafting Lebron James and building a team that would captivate the region and result in the Cavaliers best years in team history.
How quickly things can change.
The past year or so has been a hard one for the city of Cleveland. The Browns are stuck in a cycle of regime change that rivals the instability of a Third World Government.
Indians fans who waited years to have a legitimate pitcher to pair with their championship caliber offenses watched as the team traded consecutive Cy Young Award winners for nothing. The team has restored the reputation of futility it took decades to erase by building a roster that the fictitious team owner in the movie Major League would admire.
The Cavaliers landed one of the great players of modern basketball only to watch him emerge as a star and skip town just in time to win championships for some other city.
The current state of Cleveland sports has achieved a new level of futility. Since the time Cleveland officially became a three sport city, the 2010 seasons mark the lowest combined overall winning percentage of our sports franchises at .302. With half a season remaining, as bad as the Cavaliers have played that percentage has nowhere to go but down.
The tragedy of this statistic is the fact that Cleveland enjoyed its third most successful year in 2007, when the Indians, Browns and Cavaliers averaged a winning percentage of .589.
What a magical year that was for the city of Cleveland. The Cavaliers reached the NBA Finals for the first time in team history. The Browns fell short of the playoffs but ended an exciting season with their most wins since their return to the NFL, finishing at 10-6. The Indians reached the American League Championship Series, on the brink of another shot at an elusive title. If you factor Ohio State into the mix, the Buckeyes' football and basketball teams each reached the national championship.
Unfortunately, rather than establish a new identity, we reaffirmed our commitment to disappointment and dramatic losses as we watched all of our teams fall short. Despite the losses, it was a great year to be Cleveland fan.
The year of futility in 2010 is difficult for the fans to accept with the memorable run of three seasons ago fresh in our memory.
How did it go from good to bad so fast for the city of Cleveland and where do we go from here?
The Cavaliers face a massive rebuilding effort and uncertain future. The Indians don't even try. They have no shot at contending until a For Sale sign is placed on the front of Progressive Field.The NFL faces a work stoppage that will act as a road block to the progress of the Browns, horrible timing for a team in the process of replacing their coaching staff.
With no teams in contention, and each Cavalier loss dragging the 2010 winning percentage to new depths of disgrace, we wait patiently for one of our franchises to emerge. Unsure of what team will carry us onward, only one thing is certain:
We can only go up from here.