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Loserville, USA

by Ryan Craggs
March 16, 2010


Cleveland sucks.

Try naming anything relevant about the city not LeBron-related. 

Seriously.

Chances are you can’t.  And with good reason—there isn’t a whole lot to say about the city.  When nationally-televised sporting events take place in Cleveland, without fail, there’s a shot of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after a commercial break; it’s this pyramidal-symbol-of-revitalization that took place sometime during the mid-90s.

I have never stepped foot in the Rock Hall and I am not alone.  While I appreciate what it represents, I’m not particularly interested in visiting the place.  The annual induction ceremonies aren’t even held in Cleveland.  They’re in New York.  So essentially, there’s a big party with celebrities in New York, and there’s a mausoleum with souvenirs in Northeast Ohio. 

It makes sense, if you’re from Cleveland.

What makes life so crappy for residents of the Rust Belt is what makes them the best sports fans: These people have nothing else to hang on to. The weather stinks, the economy is worse and the general dearth of cultural goings-on makes a love of sports an absolute necessity.  Example: Cleveland’s second-most-famous landmark is a big rubber stamp.  Sure, the city has a surprisingly terrific art museum, but few people could tell you where it is or what’s in it. 

We are so culturally starved, we think a rubber stamp matters.

In this post-modern sports media landscape, it’s cliché to talk about the most tortured sports cities.  But consider this: If you are under the age of 45 and root for Cleveland’s teams, you have never known a champion.  There is a combined 148-sports-year drought.  The city hosts the NBA, NFL and MLB, and none of its teams has won anything since The Beatles were still putting out hit records.  Well, that’s not entirely true; the Browns won the Superbowl in 2000—but only after they’d moved to Baltimore and changed their name to the Ravens.

And so goes the tortured existence of the Cleveland sports fan.

Any time a sports moment is dubbed simply “The xxxx,” it meant something great, for someone.  Unfortunately, someone else has to be on the other side of an epic moment.  Cleveland broke off the small end of the wishbone during a number of unforgettable events: The Catch, The Shot, The Drive and The Fumble—all Cleveland-losing propositions.  While nearly every city can cite instances of heartbreak, the defining moments of the careers of Willie Mays, Michael Jordan and John Elway all came at the expense of Cleveland teams.  We’re talking about the greatest living baseball player, the best basketball player ever and a guy who played in five Superbowls.  They made their names by specifically tearing out our hearts.

All this doesn’t even consider Red Right 88, possibly the dumbest playcall in NFL history, and one of the most tragic events of my childhood, Edgar Rentería’s Game 7, 11th-inning single.

Lost to the annals of baseball history, that weak liner off Rentería’s bat remains all but forgotten, except on film.  People hate the idea of the infantile Marlins team he played for and choose to forget it ever existed.  The guy who owned Blockbuster Video bought a championship on overdue-rental-fees and scrapped the team for parts immediately after it won.  It makes baseball purists want to puke.  It also might explain why Netflix has become so popular.

I, on the other hand, hate that Marlins team equally, but for a very different reason.  I could name nearly every player on its roster.  I remember them all because I cursed every single one as I cried into my pillow on Oct. 26, 1997.  My team made it to the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series, up a run, and lost in extra innings.  They might as well have told me I was adopted that night.  I had long since stopped believing in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, but I had faith in my team.  It would have remained unwavering if only José Mesa had remembered how to get three batters out in an inning.  He decidedly did not.

Clevelanders hold such an affinity for the mid-90s Indians teams because they were accustomed to losing.  The Tribe didn’t come within 11 games of first place between 1959 and 1995. We were so bad they made “Major League,” which unsurprisingly, is one of my favorite movies.  Back before the team started winning, I remember watching Félix Fermin, our one-time shortstop, throw a ball backwards instead of to first.  I still don’t know how that happened.  I also don’t know how the hell we fleeced the Mariners into swapping him for Omar Vizquel.  Someone must have had compromising photos of Ken Griffey, Jr. or Edgar Martinez.

The Indians’ resurgence coincided with my formative years of sports.  Albert Belle was one of the surliest jerks to ever lace ‘em up, but he was an Indian and we loved him.  So what if a guy “bumps” some kids with his SUV?  He hit 50 home runs and 50 doubles in one season.  Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome were skinny young guys who could knock the laces off a ball when they played in my hometown.  Granted they left for greener pastures, but they never betrayed us.  And Chuck Nagy, an underrated and beloved member of the Tribe, will never live down Rentería’s single.  I still look back fondly on those teams, even if they never brought home a title.  I just can’t explain why it’s still acceptable for us to have a cartoonishly racist mascot for a pro sports team.

Two personal asides: my grandfather’s cousin is the only guy to ever die in an MLB game, Ray Chapman.  He played for the Indians.  I am also culpable for a sports-fan blunder that I can never live down. 

Now, I have sat through three-hour rain delays.  I once got on television on a school night because Jacobs Field was deserted and my friends and I refused to leave.  I still have the VHS recording somewhere.  I have been threatened with ejection by security in the bleachers—the bleachers—because someone got angry at me for trying to start a wave.  My fandom is unquestioned.

But I also left early during the biggest come-from-behind win in Major League history.

Without going into details, I will say that it was bittersweet for me and my brother, listening in the car as the Indians came back from a 12-run deficit to win the game.  We left during the 7th inning stretch, down 14-2.  It wasn’t a big deal at the time. 

However, WE WON THE DAMN GAME.

Nowadays, the Indians are the AAA club for whoever needs a Cy Young Award winner.  C.C. Sabathia?  Yankee.  Cliff Lee?  Mariner.  But it’s not been all bad on the trade front, however, as the Tribe did pull one on the then-Expos, netting Brandon Phillips, Cliff Lee and Grady Sizemore for a pre-type-2-diabetes Bartolo Colón.  At this point, Colón makes David Wells look like Brady Anderson circa 1996.

Nevertheless, I somehow doubt that Fausto Carmona will be thanking everyone at the postseason awards for continuing to believe in him.  I’m still reeling from losing to the Red Sox in the 2007 ALCS, up 3-1, only to melt down and lose the series.  By the by, I was living in Spain then and watched Game 7 until 6 a.m. on a night when I had to be at work at 9 a.m.  But enough about the Indians.

Really, the only thing worse than Cleveland’s baseball team right now is the sorry excuse-for-a-football franchise called the Browns.  Thank God my dad is from Pittsburgh and I root for the Steelers.  It wasn’t always easy growing up, being a Steelers fan in Cleveland, but it’s not like being from Cleveland is a treat anyway.  Plus, there wasn’t always a Browns team.  There’s a chance I would have rooted for them, had they existed between 1996 and 1999.  Alas, they did not, and I kept allegiance to my father’s team.  And that team has won two Superbowls since I started caring about football. 

The Browns, on the other hand, have had two winning seasons in 10 years.

I try not to make digs at the Browns; it’s like kicking a man when he’s down.  What more can I say other than the fact that they’ve beaten the Steelers twice in a decade?  Honestly, I’d rather see the Browns do well, so long as the Steelers beat them.  It’s not even a rivalry anymore.  I get geared up for games against the Bengals and Ravens.  Most of the time, I just feel sorry for the throttling the Browns receive.  What the hell kind of a logo do they have anyway?  They’re named after a guy named Brown, and yet they have orange helmets.  If his name had been Green, I wonder if they’d be wearing  purple helmets.

Despite not being a fan, I have been to a handful of Browns games.  They were all terrible.  In consecutive weeks in 2004, I witnessed in-person some of the worst football ever played.  My friend got tickets to see a game at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo.  At one point, I vaguely remember three turnovers in the span of two minutes.  I might be making that up.  It was cold, and I had to drive home from Buffalo through a blizzard so details are fuzzy.  But what I can’t make up was the Browns having 26 yards of total offense that day.  26 yards.  Total.  In a game.  It was offensive football—and not in the positive sense.

The following week, the Chargers trounced the Browns 21-0 in Cleveland.  It was negative 30 out for that game.  It took my fingers 45 minutes to thaw out after I got home.  At halftime, I pulled a blanket over my head and thought about never coming out of hibernation.  I did, but the Browns didn’t.  We left at the end of the third quarter. 

I still haven’t recovered completely from watching those games.

Right now, there are signs of life with the Browns.  Mike Holmgren has breathed new life into the team.  Every year, I get to hear my friends make ridiculous woofing noises and talk about Browns Town.  How a stadium section became known as the Dawg Pound is beyond me.  That it became an unofficial mascot by throwing batteries and dumping beers on opposing fans further astounds me.

Lastly, Cleveland has the Cavaliers.  Oh, the Cavs.  Here’s a brief history of basketball in Cleveland: Hideous uniforms, World B. Free and The Miracle of Richfield; the commissioner stepping in to prevent an owner from incompetently sabotaging his team; an arena so far from civilization that no one wanted to go there—not opponents, not the Cavs and certainly not fans;  lots of losing; Mark Price made some free throws, Brad Daugherty’s back imploded and “Hot Rod” Williams wasn’t half-bad; the Celtics smoked us, the Bulls bitch-slapped us and the Pistons pounded us; “…the shot on Ehlo...good!”; the Bulls beat us some more; a ton of losing; somehow, more hideous uniforms; Gund Arena; Ricky Davis’ “triple double”; epic amounts of losing and finally…LeBron.

If the Cavs didn’t win the draft lottery in 2003, they could have just packed up the franchise for good and moved to Wyoming.  Without him, the Cavs are nothing.

And this is the scariest thing for any Clevelander to think about.  If LeBron flees for New York or anywhere else for that matter, we’re screwed.  We know we’re screwed.  And it’s not like with other stuff where we can just shrug it off and chalk it up to being from Cleveland.  Our hopes and dreams are pinned to that guy’s baggy shorts.  LeBron is from Cleveland.  He gets what winning there would mean. Last year, a video hit Youtube called the “Hastily Made Cleveland Tourism Video.” One of the lyrics to the song says, “Our economy is based on LeBron James.”

It’s really not that far from the truth. 

So LeBron, if you’re listening, do what’s best for you.  Just know that the demise of an entire city could be blamed on you.  I’m pretty sure that’s some sort of crime, like Nero fiddling or something.

Being from Cleveland means this much: You will come up short.  You will suffer soul-crushing defeat.  And you will have to wade through snow drifts to get to work the next day.