Cleveland Calamnity: 13 Worst Moments in an Era of Sports Heartache
- Thou not taking residency in such locales shall hate teams in large markets such as New York unless thy desire is to be in the minority.
- Thou shall be cautious in approaching the 76ers">Philadelphia fan with scathing tongue and vitriolic larynx.
- Thou shall trust the media and pay homage to the great Favre, gunslinger for all!
- Thou shall pity Cleveland, the pitiful city by the Lake of Erie with such out-dated success supplanted as thus with the pitiful pities of pity and pitiful moments of pitiful things of great pity.
The rules say to pity Cleveland, but I'm sure their fans don't want our pity. It's been a tough couple of decades by Lake Erie. A city with a rich history has gone through hard times.
When the Browns left town in 1995, maybe it was the fault of city legislators. Maybe the blame lies elsewhere. Where it doesn't lie is with the fan who loved his or her team. Nevertheless, fate showed no mercy on snake-bitten Cleveland.
Any fan in any city that truly loves their team cannot fully empathize with such an emotional loss. As a proud former Pittsburgh native, I cannot imagine enduring what Cleveland fans have endured.
Yet, I repeat: they don't want our pity. They want their pride back!
Perhaps last night's celebration of the Heat's loss in the NBA Finals was the first cog in a pride restoration. Or...maybe it was an illustration of just how far a great (even I can admit it!) sports town has fallen, celebrating outside of themselves.
One thing is for sure. It's clear that a city's sports franchises aren't having lavish success when the fans uncork champagne bottles to celebrate the defeat of one of its former athletes.
Right or wrong, had LeBron James left Los Angeles or Philadelphia, the dominant perspective would be one steeped in respect for the individual choices and the nomadic lifestyle of most modern athletes.
Yet, fans in Cleveland needed one thing to go their way, and when it didn't, LeBron James heard their wrath.
Everywhere else in America, sports enthusiasts watched with an eager curiosity. In Florida and Texas, the NBA states represented in the Finals, emotions peaked.
Elsewhere, Americans had divided interests regarding the outcome of the Finals. Had he left any other city, many from the anti-James contingent may have viewed things differently.
Yet, we have to feel bad for Cleveland. Being a sports fan comes with certain predisposed expectations about certain cities, at least as their non-inhabitants are concerned.
Cleveland has a rich history (and by history, I refer to ancient history) of success. Otto Graham won seven championships quarterbacking the Cleveland Browns. The conditions of his exit from Cleveland football are regarded as historically amicable, no ill-will having been cited in any regard to his career.
Nevertheless, in the eyes of the superstitious, something subsequent to the Browns' glory days must have gone terrible awry.
Other teams have struggles with certain teams, but no city has been so universally beaten down than Cleveland.
The Steelers and Penguins are currently winning championships while the Pirates continue to endure consecutive losing seasons since the early 1990's.
In Cleveland, a championship was celebrated last night. Champagne spilled over glasses, bubbling over like the joy in fans' hearts...about the Dallas Mavericks NBA Championship.
In fact, certain sectors are calling them the "Mavaliers," coupling the NBA's champion affectionately with their own home-town Cavs.
Who can blame them? As humans, it is said we all have a condition for the need to love and be loved. Perhaps the sports fan has a need to respect and be respected.
To be honest, the loyal fans that do exist in Cleveland deserve a champion. Yet, despite so often going so far, their nearness to glory can only be described as bitterly close.
As the population of northeastern Ohio revels in the glory of Dallas, Texas, it's time to look at the sad events of recent times that have put Cleveland in this unenviable position.
This is a look at the modern gloom Cleveland fans have felt. (In other words, don't ask why Willie Mays' The Catch" didn't make the list!)
Using the unluckiest number to count down bad luck in the unluckiest city, here are the 13 most heartbreaking moments.
#13) Good-Bye Cleveland, Hello Lombardi
In life, sometimes we get a bonus for doing good things.
A few extra points on a term paper that is well-written.
A few extra dollars for bringing in a large client.
In Cleveland sports, there is no such things as a bonus. In the "Dawg Pound," there is only an awful lot of "Bone us." And, not in the good "Bingo gets a milk bone" manner.
Some of the worst moments in Cleveland sports didn't really happen in the city at all, or even to the city. They happened around or "instead of" in Cleveland.
It hurt Cleveland immensely to see "old Browns" winning the Super Bowl in Baltimore, garbed as "Ravens." Rat-birds, more like it...
And, then, a year later, the salt kept coming, piling onto a wound that couldn't heal.
Consider: Bill Belichick.
The coach in Cleveland, he resigned his duties following their relocation after the 1995 season. A large consensus in Ohio saw Belichick as being a control freak with no interpersonal skills. Many critics of his regime with the team believe this to be the reason for the franchise's final failures and 36-44 record under his watch.
After leaving Cleveland, Bill apparently decided to pluck the petals off a flower in deciding whether to coach the Patriots or the Jets. Hopefully, the coach has framed the stem of that imaginary plant, as the coach went on to win three Super Bowls in New England. Most in the NFL coaching circuit seem to revere Belichick as the finest modern coach in professional football.
Surely, Cleveland fans enjoyed the heartwarming smiles and embraces that saw the coach victorious that January 2002 evening. As he was holding up the Lombardi Trophy, some fans probably wondered if he spent a moment reflecting back on his time with them, wondering what could have been, but the truth is that most fans seemed to take his success as a personal pot-shot.
Twice more, he would hoist the silver.
Many coaches and personalities have left Cleveland to find great success elsewhere.
In 2009, the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees squared off in the World Series, the October spectacle that had eluded the Indians in recent seasons. The ace pitchers on the staffs were C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee. Both were Cleveland Indians products who went on to have superb careers following their stints with the "Tribe."
Perhaps the horrible moment being referenced is the inability of athletes to seemingly find their full potential until after they escape the "City of Almost."
#12) Excuse Me, Mr. Rudd, You Dropped Your Helmet...
You'd have to excuse Butch Davis for being crankier than normal on Sept. 8, 2002.
The Browns led 30-17 in the second half.
They held a 39-37 lead with no time left on the clock.
And lost anyway.
While not as painful as a playoff loss or seeing an old "friend" find success elsewhere (see: Bill Belichick and Art Modell), this stunning defeat kicked off the Browns' 2002 season. In a season that would liken back to the "Cardiac Kids" of the early 80's, this Cleveland Browns team still found a way to pull out victories and make the playoffs.
Yet, while the long-term impact of this loss wasn't any more significant than other regular season losses, any Browns fan will tell you that this particular loss stands as the perfect illustration of the hard-luck times.
Ahead with the last seconds ticking off of the clock, Dwayne Rudd had Kansas City QB Trent Green in his grasp, and his momentum brought both players to the ground...
...or so he thought!
Trent Green flipped the ball to John Tait, a lineman, who rumbled innocently out of bounds on the game's last play.
Thinking he had ended the game with a sack, Rudd threw off his helmet in celebration, a violation of the NFL's rules and an appropriate call. The penalty yardage was tacked onto the end of Tait's run.
Kansas City kicked the field goal to win 40-39.
Thankfully, this game ended up having little impact on the Browns' season. However, it easily could have, much like.... (see next slide!)
The Browns were 6-7, yet had an outside shot at the playoffs during a mediocre year in the American Football Conference. Many teams were congested near .500, and Cleveland was tasting its first true successes since their return to the NFL in 1999.
Unlike some later incidents in the countdown, this Cleveland team was not very good, overachieving to obtain their losing record. Nevertheless, more was on the line in this game than any time since 1994, and the Browns were in the midst of a close game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Trailing 15-10, the Browns had a fourth-and-1 driving toward the end zone late in the game. Quarterback Tim Couch hit Quincy Morgan for the first down and subsequently spiked the ball.
The rules of replay were that the league could replay any down inside of the two-minute warning of either half, but only before another play had been run. As Couch spiked the ball, any opportunity for replay (in theory) was nullified.
Yet, the officials claimed that a "buzzer malfunction" delayed the communication to replay Morgan's catch.
After review, the pass was ruled incomplete. The play was overturned, and the fans became irate.
Items were thrown en masse onto the field; the shower was predominantly comprised beer bottles. For fear of the safety of all involved (including the fans), the officials temporarily ended the game, though both teams returned to the field for the final snaps shortly afterwards.
Beer bottles showered the field again as Mark Brunell took a final kneel-down and scurried back to the opponent locker room.
The events sparked a debate regarding the efficiency of the replay system and the validity of the Browns loss. One thing that could not be debated was the game's place in Cleveland sports infamy, effectively ending any post-season aspirations for the 2001 Browns.
#10) Red Right 88
Gaffes and a sheer lack of fortune cost the Browns a season opener and a potential shot at the playoffs in the early 2000's.
Nothing hurts like a playoff loss. And few losses hurt worse than those masking games that should have been won.
In a way, they can all blame Cleveland.
Trailing 14-12, the Browns drove deep into Raiders territory. The weather was awful, and Cleveland's kicking game had missed field goals and extra points earlier in the contest. A coach could hardly be blamed for making every effort to win the game opposed to relying on a failing special teams.
Cleveland coach Sam Rutigliano instructed quarterback Brian Sipe to throw the ball away unless a play was clearly open.
The play was "Red Right 88."
Sipe chose a likely target in tight end Ozzie Newsome. Raiders' defensive back Mike Davis intercepted the ball.
The play changed history as the Raiders would be crowned champions of the NFL. Much like pirates scavaging the lands and pillaging for valuables, the Raiders had stolen victory from the jaws of defeat.
While victory was not assured for the Browns in either case, the play has been aptly dubbed "The Mistake by the Lake."
#9) Jordan's Shot Downs Cavs
The 1988 Cleveland Cavaliers were a high-potential ball club featuring All-Pros Mark Price, Brad Daugherty, and Larry Nance. Yet, it was Craig Ehlo whose impact would be most felt.
Lenny Wilkins' Cavs were 57-25 and faced a Chicago Bulls squad that was only beginning to discover its winning potential. Jordan was not yet "the Jordan," Pippen wasn't "the Pippen," and the Bulls weren't "the Bulls." Yet, they may as well have been.
Trailing 99-98 with seconds to play in Game 5, Cleveland ran a beautiful set play, hitting Craig Ehlo for an easy backdoor layup. The lead was 100-99 with three seconds to play.
Jordan inbounded the pass and separated himself from the Cavs. Ehlo attempted to defend him and provided a valiant effort. However, this was the first "moment like 'dat" for Jordan.
The Bulls won 101-100, a great Cavs team never met its full potential largely due to the excellent play of one man, and the franchise went into a barren spell for nearly two decades.
#8) Old Curse vs. New Curse- 2007 ALCS
With Tim Wakefield, Curt Schilling, David Ortiz, and a cast of other fantastic baseball personalities, the 2007 Boston Red Sox fielded a team similar to the club that ended a long drought caused by the alleged "Curse of the Big Bambino."
Trailing 3-1 in the ALCS vs. the Cleveland Indians in 2007, odds seemed to suggest that the Red Sox already had their fortunate run. Coming back from all odds, they'd broken their city's baseball curse.
Now, they faced a city whose sports curse ran just as deeply, though without such a specific source. The Indians would exorcise their demons by defeating the team that represented "breaking curses."
It was old curse vs. new curse, and the Indians led the series heading into Game 5.
In Games 5-7, Cleveland was outscored 30-5. The first game saw the club have an opportunity to wrap up the series at Jacobs Field. Boston won 7-1.
Subsequent Indians losses of 11-2 and 12-2 in the final two games served notice that the better team would be headed to the World Series, though the Indians had to wonder what went entirely wrong.
For the second time in a half-decade, the Red Sox overcame all odds to win the American League pennant.
The Red Sox would vindicate their 2004 championship by repeating the feat, defeating a very beatable Colorado Rockies team that would have surely played the underdog to Cleveland.
#7) LeBron and the Cavs Never Fully Deliver
Before "The Decision" and the allegations coming out of Cleveland regarding his association with the occult, LeBron James was the beloved face of the Cavaliers. The NBA was back in a big way up by Lake Erie, and visions of basketball glory infiltrated hungry sports fans.
Despite accomplishments such as having the Eastern Conference's best record and winning the Eastern Conference of the NBA, fans were largely critical of LeBron James in the playoffs. The Cleveland Cavaliers era of "the King" was largely successful, and a gold championship trophy was hoisted in Cleveland.
Sadly, it was by Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs, who defeated the Cavs twice in Cleveland to complete a four-game sweep of the NBA Finals.
The two home losses were by a combined four points, a frustratingly close circumstance for a community that may have been psychologically better-served by a blowout.
While a return to prominence and the Finals platform was predicted for the squad, the Cavs did not return to this summit of the NBA playoffs.
Losses such as the "Handshake Game" against Orlando and the "I Quit" Game versus Boston soured the perspective on the NBA's proclaimed best player. The Cleveland Cavaliers fell short in an era that gave fans in the region enough hope to cheer!
#6) Braves Tomahawk the Indians in 1995 World Series
While Jose Mesa, Kenny Lofton, and Jim Thome were among the names associated with the formidable Cleveland Indians in 1995, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and John Smoltz were those names credited for breaking Ohio hearts.
The Atlanta Braves had the first pitching rotation in baseball. In a six-game series that featured five one-run ballgames, it would be a huge factor.
The Indians took a 1-0 lead early in Game 1 off of Greg Maddux, yet lost 3-2.
A similar fate awaited in Game 2, losing 4-3 in spite of a two-run second inning off of Tom Glavine.
At Jacobs Field for Game 3, the Indians responded, turning back the Braves in extra innings. They won 7-6 despite two Fred McGriff home runs.
After a loss, the Indians struck to within a game of tying the series, defeating Greg Maddux and the Braves 5-4.
The next game saw Atlanta only able to muster a single run.
The Indians would lose the series 4-2 as Tom Glavine cemented his status as the series' MVP. Glavine pitched a shutout and came within a lone hit of a no-hitter.
#5) Holcomb's Big Day and Pittsburgh's Big Comeback
Sure, it wasn't a world championship. But it was do-or-die, and it was against the arch-rival Steelers. The 2002 Cleveland Browns were the seeming reincarnation of the 1981 "Cardiac Kids."
Butch Davis' Browns defeated Atlanta in a gutty performance to secure a wild card playoff berth in the final week of the season. Cleveland booked their bus tickets, and the road to Pittsburgh saw them enter Heinz Field with momentum.
The Steelers had become superior to their arch-rival, though the Browns had a chance for bragging rights in the ultimate game between the squads since the franchise's return to action in 1999.
With a snowy, cold day in Pittsburgh coupled with a muddy field, the conditions were just right for a classic Steelers-Browns throw-down.
Yet, nobody saw the aerial assault coming on either side.
Kelly Holcomb passed all over the Steelers' secondary, eclipsing the 400-yard mark. The Browns led 14-0 before an Antwan Randle El punt return cut their lead to seven points.
Undaunted, "Dan Marino" continued to find the great Quincy "Rice" Morgan and Dennis "Moss" Northcutt open for significant yardage. The Browns led in the second half 24-7, and the Steelers offense hadn't scored a single point.
Before long, Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox was beginning a tic-for-tac series of events with Holcomb. The teams traded scores, and the Browns scored a touchdown mid-way through the final quarter to make the score 33-21.
The Steelers drove for a third consecutive touchdown, but the Pittsburgh defense had already made like a "Steel Nap" opposed to a "Steel Trap." On cruise control for the entire day, the odds of getting the ball back from the Browns, who wisely continued to pass, seemed slim.
On a third down play, Dennis Northcutt dropped an easy catch, and the Browns were forced to punt. Anybody familiar with recent Cleveland sports lore knew then and there how the game would end.
The Steelers scored the winning touchdown, and despite a mass of yardage gained by Holcomb's passing attack in the final seconds, time ran out on Cleveland.
The Steelers fans continued to have bragging rights in the series, and it would now include a 2-0 postseason record against the Browns.
#4) Something Fishy About the 1997 World Series
The Florida Marlins were only in their fifth year of existence. Manager Jim Leyland led a team that featured Moises Alou and Gary Sheffield, while the Cleveland Indians sported team stand-outs Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez.
After losing a heartbreaking Game 6 in Atlanta during the 1995 World Series, fortunes seemed likely to turn for the Indians. The recently established Marlins were a wild card team. No wild card team had ever won the World Series.
The series went back and forth, but it was Game 7 that lives in the memories of Cleveland fans.
The Indians took a 2-0 lead into the seventh inning at Florida's Pro-Players Stadium, a park barely fit for baseball. The Marlins, who until their recent improvements were seen as an MLB scavenger lurking in the corners of the baseball world, seemed fit to lose the World Series after a season that saw their franchise reach unforeseeable heights. A radical rise to contention and storybook playoffs highlighted a memorable year.
Unfortunately for Cleveland, the Marlins "Book of 1997" had a few chapters left to be told.
After Bobby Bonilla hit a monster home run to cut the lead in half, the Indians led 2-1 heading into the bottom of the ninth.
It was time for baseball's version of the "John Elway." Hits by Moises Alou and Charles Johnson set the stage for a Craig Counsell routine fly ball to become much more meaningful. The sacrifice fly brought Johnson in for the tying score from third base.
With the great closer Jose Mesa blowing the save in the bottom of the ninth, there was a certainty in the guts of all spectators.
It could be 11 innings.
It could be 15, 20, or 30......
It didn't matter. Fate would crown Florida.
Eleventh inning. Two outs. Bases loaded.
Edgar Renteria's hit broke hearts in Cleveland again.
#3) "The Decision"
LeBron James, the face of the NBA and hero of the new-age Cleveland Cavaliers, gave the city a consistent level of excitement in sports it hadn't enjoyed in over a decade.
As his contract ended, basketball fans speculated his "decision." Would he go to New York and showcase his skills at Madison Square Garden? Meet his peer Dwayne Wade in South Beach? Stun the sports world and head to Chicago? Or, stay in Cleveland?
Fans in Cleveland were on pins and needles the night that the decision gained a capital "D." In a move viewed as selfish, James decided to spotlight his decision on "The Decision," an ESPN live special. In order to temper the odd nature of his decision to air a live selection, he justified it by the prospects of charity. Right or wrong, a decision to leave Cleveland would be viewed as selfish in Cavs-town.
Decide. Decising. Decides. Decision. Decision, decision, de-fraggin'-cision. It was all of the talk for weeks, and when the decision to air live went public, the sports world stood still.
Guess what? As if we didn't expect it in such a hard-luck sports town: the big "D" was a bad "D" for Cleveland!
As the night approached, even the most cynical person turned an eye to the peripheral side to catch a glimpse of the big announcement or the perceived narcissist.
In Cleveland, the whole night turned into "We Hate LeBron's Decision: Narcissism for Charity."
After years of heartbreaking losses, bitter disappointments, and feelings of being sports-battered, emotions boiled over. For Cleveland, it was time to get mean about it. The soda bottle had been shaken too many times, and LeBron....well, he dropped a Mentos into it!
Cavs owner Dan Gilbert issued a public statement guaranteeing a Cleveland NBA Championship would precede any gold trophies for the star athlete. He went as far as to call him a quitter.
To-date, the decision and subsequent ill-will reached a crescendo in the 2011 NBA Finals, which saw the Dallas Mavericks defeat the "Big Three" of Bosh, Dwayne Wade, and James in Miami.
Some fans in Cleveland have even adopted the nickname "Mavaliers" to describe the 2011 NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks.
#2) One Drive, One Fumble, and One Elway
The first in a string of events that ultimately led to the Browns leaving town, not even John Elway could have realized the impact of his arm.
In the late 80's, Bernie Kosar was the fun-loving, awkward quarterback for the Browns. His geeky quirks and rigidly immobile stature were entirely deceptive.
By 1986, the offense and defense were playing at a high level, and Super Bowl aspirations were born from great play. The Browns were a legitimate contender.
In that 1986 season, Cleveland accomplished a 12-4 record, highlighted by the first win in Pittsburgh in sixteen attempts. Following a comeback from a 20-10 deficit in an overtime win versus the Jets, the Browns hosted John Elway and the Denver Broncos.
It was a known fact in NFL circuits that Elway would be a great quarterback, but the league and its fans were waiting for his signature moment, a la Dan Marino's sophomore campaign in 1984 (48 touchdowns).
Glimpses of greatness appeared, but coupled with the normal struggles of a young quarterback, the Broncos organization continued to wait patiently.
Backed up to their own 2-yard line, trailing 20-13 in frigid Cleveland, cleats crunching through dog bones, John Elway went from quarterback to Denver legend. A raucous crowd and television viewing audience adjusted to the fact that Cleveland was going to the Super Bowl. They'd have to readjust.
Elway drove the Broncos to the tie. In overtime, Elway methodically ended the Browns' aspirations to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. It was a great moment in NFL history, yet its certainly not cherished in Ohio. Great moments get simple nicknames. When somebody says "The Drive," there's no mistaking what event they're talking about....
That also applied to "The Fumble."
Ernest Byner, Cleveland's running back in 1987, led the Browns into Mile High Stadium with vengeance on their minds. After beginning the game with a whimper, the barking dogs let loose, erasing a 21-3 halftime deficit. Kosar led the offense to touchdowns to tie the score at 31-31. Byner had a phenomenal second half.
Elway and the Broncos answered by regaining the lead, 38-31. Most expected the Browns, whose offense looked unstoppable, to tie the score. Images of another last-minute Elway drive ran through the heads of Cleveland's most faithful, but the Browns high-octane approach had been working, so they stuck with it.
As the drive neared the goal line, Cleveland handed off to Byner who appeared to head toward the tying touchdown. Yet, before he crossed the goal line, Broncos defensive back Jeremiah Castille got his hands on the ball.
As Byner crossed over the goal line, a pile of bodies fell to the field. The football had come loose, and the Broncos recovered. Denver would go back to the Super Bowl!
Another blowout loss to Denver in 1989 ended a reign of failure to the same opponent in the same game. Before Art Modell and after Satan, John Elway became Public Enemy Number One in Northeast Ohio.
If Cleveland had won the Lamar Hunt Trophy, who knows how things may have been different? Perhaps tears being wiped by fingers through dog masks could have been avoided, and Art Modell may have gotten that stadium he desperately wanted to keep in Cleveland favor.
Yet, in a world of what if's, only one thing was certain: John Elway changed the Cleveland Browns' fortunes to a colossal degree in the late 80's, leaving the Browns to ponder "98 yards."
#1) Modell Moves the Browns to Baltimore
What else could it be at No. 1?
In 1995, during a Monday Night Football Game at Three Rivers Stadium, Steelers fans lashed out, wearing brown bands and other paraphernalia as a showing of support against the decision by Art Modell to move the Browns. When the opposition holds your hand, it must be serious.
The decision came as a result of many factors. As a new stadium was built for the Cleveland Indians, Modell made his intentions clear that a new venue should be funded for the Browns, but he maintained he simply wanted repairs to the current field.
Municipal Stadium was withering, and the owner was concerned that without an improved (if not new) football stadium, the team was in jeopardy.
Accounts vary, but after the building of the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame (along with other factors), the Browns owner grew tired from his loyalty. Modell lost a great deal from the Indians move out of the Cleveland stadium, and he requested that a tax be employed to refurbish and repair his stadium in the amount of $175 million.
Opposed to waiting on the vote and born of what he described as necessity, Modell announced a plan to return football to Baltimore on Nov. 5, 1995.
Naturally, the two sides, Modell and the city of Cleveland, disagree on the timing and events that lead to the decision to move. A day later, the bill passed, but it was too late. The Baltimore Browns (as people thought at the time) would play in 1996.
Crude t-shirts were worn, rallies in rival cities took place (in Pittsburgh, see above), and the city of Cleveland filed an injunction to attempt to block the move. Modell's lease did not expire until 1998.
Nevertheless, the city of Cleveland lost the Browns, and in some ways, the reality is that it never got them back. In an agreement, the city maintained the right to the Browns, while Modell kept all right to the players and franchise. The Baltimore Ravens were born, and the expansion Browns returned NFL football to Cleveland in 1999.
Simply, it has not been the same. The rivalries of the city's past diffused with the move and subsequent rebirth.
In a lovely bonus, the 2000 Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl over the New York Giants 34-7. A teary-eyed Modell wiped his glasses and spoke of the joys of finally winning on the NFL's grandest stage.
As one in Cleveland might say, "Oh, the agony!"