Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Top Ten Sports Towns (Part III)

January 4, 1986.
This was the day that I achieved social consciousness as a sports fan; the 1985 AFC Divisional playoff game. On one hand was the much maligned 8-8 Cleveland Browns winners of the AFC Central Division behind a pair of 1000 yard backs and a rookie QB named Kosar who happened to play high school football about 5 minutes from my house. The host team was the defending AFC champion Miami Dolphins lead by Dan Marino just one season removed from his legendary 48 TD season. This wasn't my first football game. I have photographic proof of attending a Browns-Redskins game in 1985 but I don't remember it. I do remember being told that the Browns couldn't win and that it was just great to actually make the playoffs.

Everyone points to the Drive and the Fumble as cornerstone gut wrenching moments in Cleveland sports history. Others point to the shot by Michael Jordan over the out stretched arms of Craig Ehlo or Jose Mesa blowing the lead in the bottom of the ninth of game seven of the world series. For me, I was prepared for these moments because my first real sports moment was so traumatizing.

Led by a huge effort by Earnest Byner, the Browns sprinted to a 21-3 halftime lead before collapsing and losing 24-21....about a month later star safety Don Rogers died of a cocaine overdose.

The only moment that could eclipse all other heartbreak was the evil of Art Modell, a man who has not been to Cleveland in ten years because of death threats. Seriously. As a testament to his misdeeds, Modell will never make the pro football hall of fame despite being one of the most influential owners in NFL history. In the infamous 1995 season, the Browns sprinted to a 3-1 start before Modell announced that the Browns were Baltimore bound. The Belichick led squad (always in disarray) then collapsed (again) for another losing season. Years later it would be debatable whether it was more painful to see Art Modell win the Super Bowl or Belichick become the greatest coach of all time. It is the response of Cleveland fandom to the move that is the single most significant reason why Cleveland is the greatest sports town in America. Browns nation marched on Capitol Hill to try and prevent the move. The NFL was petitioned to guarantee that the colors, stats, and history of the Cleveland Browns would never travel to Baltimore. That is why the leading rusher in Browns history is Jim Brown and the leader for Balti is Jamal Lewis. By comparison, Warren Moon has the most TD passes in Tennesse Titans history. No fandom has ever gone to such lengths.

In the interim, the Indians managed to set the alltime MLB record for consecutive sellouts. The Tribe sold out every seat in the stadium for 5 consecutive years...before the season ever started. The next closest streak isn't even half that number.

Cleveland's sports complex is a sight to behold and a veritable instruction manual as to how the stadiums can revitalize an entire downtown area with the blossoming of bars, restaurants, and shops stretching from the playing fields like tentacles through the city streets. Never has sports meant so much to one city. Cleveland is a city with virtually no jobs and no city living as those on the coasts know it. Yet, the fans keep coming. The fans keep believing. It's defiance of reason. It's the reason why every Browns fans will argue that Bernie Kosar was the greatest QB of his era. It is why we are ready to go to the mat when someone even implies that Lebron would consider leaving C-town.

Detractors? Okay. No hockey? Possibly not even a sport and noone had hockey last year anyway. No titles in any sport since 1964? A badge of honor that will never be understood by spoiled Boston fans who whined about the Red Sox amidst Patriot dominance and the shadow of 16 NBA titles.

Cleveland is sports for the truest of fans. Sports define C-town and its populace like no other city. No city will ever appreciate a title (any title) more. C-town is sports and everything that is right about it. There are no bandwagons only diehards. The undisputed greatest fanbase in all of American sports, and in this jaded poll, the greatest sports town bar none.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great fictional article. How about a nonfiction one?

2:35 PM  

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