In a recent article referenced on the New England Sports Network (NESN’s) website, Forbes Magazine listed the “Most Miserable Sports Cities“. In addition to the article itself, NESN took a slight jab at the represented cities, stating “not every city can be like Boston”.
Among the cities referenced is Cleveland (third worst), a once-downtrodden city that has not has a major sports champion in 50 years. The article cites:
“Yes, LeBron James is back in the city, but that doesn’t mean everything is all well and good for Cleveland. The city hasn’t had claimed a championship since 1964, when the Browns won their last NFL title. The Indians had immense success in the mid-1990s but lost in the World Series in ’95 and ’97. The Cavaliers have won the Eastern Conference championship only once in their 44-year history.”
Although recent events support such an article and Facebook jab, it wasn’t too long ago when fans in Boston were in similar positions as their Cleveland counterparts, wondering when they would next taste the trill of championship glory. As I am not with my new sports brethren in Ohio, I was one of those Boston sports fans years ago that felt much of the same frustration that has been the norm in Cleveland in recent years.
To put this into proper context, I am a New England native born and raised now living in Northeast Ohio. As such I have a different perspective of those who have not lived or visited the area. When reading the article, I could see the thought process that led the writer to reference the city and it’s lengthy sports drought.
As someone that went through the lean years for the Boston sports teams, I have a strong empathy for what Cleveland has experienced, Like the Red Sox in 1978 and 1986, the Cleveland Browns were on the precipice of titles, only to have John Elway snatch victory away. More so than the Patriots in the late 1980s and early 90s, the Browns franchise saw their team taken away by a greedy owner who had opportunities to have a new stadium built at the same time as the Indians and Cavaliers. Only in Cleveland’s case, Art Modell decided to take the money and run unlike in New England, where Robert Kraft leveraged himself to the breaking point to keep the team from possibly being moved to St. Louis.
As the Red Sox have recently experienced through the departures of championship talent Johnny Damon and Jacoby Ellsbury, the city and the Cavaliers franchise had their heart ripped away by the LeBron James “decision” four years ago. Only in this case, James’s decided his rightful place is back home and returned to complete open arms. In fact, his return has been hailed by many athletes and writers as the right thing to do.
James’ arrival has completely shifted the balance of power in the NBA. For years sports pundits cited athletes’ preference to big media markets of warmer climate as a main attraction point of a potential destination; it is now the presence of the league’s biggest player that has made Cleveland a preferred place to play. Even though the city is otter cold in the winter, LeBron’s arrival has changed remind set and diminished the other creature comforts that high-priced athletes once valued.
The Boston Celtics’ recent window of contention came after 21 years of despair following the retirements of Bird, McHale, and Parish. The assembly of the “Big Three” in bean town has now become the template for teams like San Antonio, Miami and now Cleveland to replicate. It is clearly a formula for success that has now positioned the Cavaliers as the leading Eastern Conference contender next season.
Yes it is true that Cleveland has had more than their fair share of heartbreak and suffering. What I have come to appreciate from the sports fans here is the unbridled passion for their teams, especially the Browns. In Cleveland, the Browns are not just a team, but more of a religion. One would expect that the fans of a franchise whose last semblance of championship glory is the 78-year old Jim Brown, who still roams the sidelines of First Energy Stadium would become apathetic. But here the opposite is true. With every snap, game, and season that passes, the fans unquenchable thirst for a winner only intensifies.
Even the Indians have had their share of success and increasing fan interest. The arrival of former Red Sox skipper Terry Francona has changed the climate at Progressive field. While a manager in the dugout isn’t solely enough, the organization has invested in some of their young talent much as they did in the early 90s; inking their franchise cornerstones to long-term deals. It is now to the point where fans want the big investment to take the next step. Without the bankrolls of teams in Boston New York and Los Angeles, Cleveland must be more prudent with how and where they spend their money. The city has demonstrated that their fans will support a winning team as they did nearly two decades below, as best evidenced by how quickly the Wild Card playoff game tickets sold last season. When the team went on their playoff-clinching 10-game winning streak, fan interest and support grew with each victory.
As Boston sports fans read the NESN article summary or even read the entire Forbes piece, never lose sight that the teams supported today were once down-trodden as the Cleveland teams have been recently. And as Boston erupted in celebration after the 86-year “Curse of the Bambino” was dispelled, the same will hold true in Northeast Ohio when the Cavaliers return to prominence and when the Browns take their first playoff step in an eventual return to glory. Perhaps the NESN reference that “not all cities can be like Boston” is not entirely accurate after all.