“Next year is our year.” Sound familiar? If you’re part of the unwavering Cleveland fanbase, it’s a phrase all too familiar.
Places like New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and the Bay Area are all home to some of the most successful sports franchises in the country.
And then, there’s Cleveland, Ohio.
If you aren’t a native of the city or don’t have ties to the teams, chances are, you aren’t a Browns fan, you don’t care much for the Indians and you aren’t rooting for the Cavaliers to beat the Golden State Warriors in the Finals.
You have to be a certain breed to be part of the Cleveland fanbase. It takes an unshakable, for-better-or-worse kind of love. They are hardworking, blue-collar, every-day folks that take pride in their hometown…Loyal and faithful are ways to describe them. Despite heartbreaking seasons and oh-so-close moments, hope remains alive. A place that fights for its teams.
Cleveland, a five-time winner of the All-American award, is a city referred to by coined phrases that haunt fans with unfavorable outcomes, unflattering two-word punch lines that describes half a century of failure, defeat and bad luck.
Only one game separated the Browns and an appearance in Super Bowl XXI when Cleveland hosted the Denver Broncos in the 1986 AFC Championship.
Ahead 20-13 with all the confidence in the world and a rowdy “Dawg Pound” fan club behind them, the Browns watched the season slip away in slow motion.
Starting at the two-yard line with 5:02 remaining in regulation, Denver quarterback John Elway led a 98-yard drive that tied the game with less than a minute to play. With the score 20-20, the Broncos ultimately stole the conference title with a field goal in overtime, 23-20. Elway gained elite status and his heroics came at the Browns’ cost.
The Browns met the Broncos in the 1987 AFC title game and had no such luck for the second season in a row. With 1:12 left to play in regulation, Cleveland running back Earnest Byner fumbled the ball on the one-yard line and cost the Browns a game-tying touchdown. Denver took an intentional safety and delivered Cleveland a 38-33 loss.
The Browns (reborn as a franchise in 1999) has had only four winning seasons since the 1988 season, the last one coming in 2007 with a 10-6 record. The last postseason appearance was in 2002 when the Browns came up short, 36-33 to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
A legend was born in Cleveland during the first round of the 1989 playoffs, but it wasn’t in favor of the host. It was Game 5 when the No. 3-seeded Cavaliers faced the No. 6-seeded Chicago Bulls were leading the visiting Bulls, 100-99. With three tics left on the game clock, the Cleveland crowd could smell victory. But three seconds was all it took for Michael Jordan took lay the ball up and in.
The NBA classic, buzzer-beating basket was considered one of Jordan’s greatest clutch moments, and to the Cavaliers, another upset in the biggest way.
The Line Drive
The Cleveland Indians felt unstoppable after winning the American League Central title in 1997, beating up the heavily favored New York Yankees to do so. The Indians defeated the Baltimore Orioles and the Tribe punched their ticket to the World Series.
With the series tied at 3-3, the Indians led the Florida Marlins, 2-1, heading into ninth frame. Just two outs away from the Commissioner’s Trophy, closing pitcher Jose Mesa looked to finish off the Marlins host. Miami’s Moises Alou tied up the game and forced extra innings.
It was Marlin Edgar Renteria’s line
drive in the bottom of the 11th that ultimately deprive Cleveland of a title. The ball deflected off Charles Nagy’s glove, scoring Greg Counsell.
It may rank second in betrayal to Cleveland fans thanks to Art Modell and the relocation controversy, but LeBron James ensued heartbreak when he told Cleveland he was off to greener pasture. An Ohio born-and-raised stud, announced he would sign with Miami Heat in 2010 after leading the Cavaliers to the Eastern Conference Finals and falling short to the Orlando Magic in six.
Back in action with Cleveland, James’ only hopes for regaining the city’s trust is to bring home hardware to a franchise that has never found championship success. That doesn’t mean, however, that fans didn’t fall back in love with the Akron, Ohio native. Forgiving and forgetting is a yearly occurrence for them.
Plagued with an endless list of shortcomings, the Cleveland faithful are miraculously optimistic considering the city leads all other cities in title droughts.
It’s been more than 50 years since a professional sports franchise in Cleveland was crowned champions. The Browns earned an NFL title pre-Super Bowl era. The Indians have waited even longer, 68 years. The Cavaliers have no hardware to their name (yet).
There may be other sports-crazed cities with flash and appeal. But there aren’t any cities that have the dedication that Cleveland fans present. No bandwagon here, people.
Because the city of Cleveland will still be standing, waiting oh so patiently for karma to come around, waiting for “their year” to come into fruition. And when that time comes, Cleveland fans shouldn’t hesitate to tell the rest of the world, “I told ya so.”