Cleveland Will Persevere
Mother Nature, always one with a devious sense of humor, decided to play a typically nasty prank on me last week.
New jobs, like new girlfriends, can take even the most natural-born of slobs and invest us with a certain fastidiousness that is normally foreign. Having started a new job here at FOXSportsOhio.com last week, I had grown more concerned than usual about not showing up covered with mud, snow, last night's spaghetti, or other substances. It's part of a continual cycle of con artistry all men pull, as we try to briefly convince those around us that we are somehow more evolved from Cro-Magnon man than we ourselves suspect.
So, Mother Nature, being a pain in the neck, elected to layer my native Cleveland with a thick blanket of snow, frost it with a hefty clear layer of ice, and then top that off that with a layer of yet more snow. The end result was an intricate Barry-trap, a Neapolitan weather foot-snare designed specifically to throw off my already-clumsy gait and put me face-down in snow as many times as possible.
It was very effective.
Around 7 a.m. on Thursday I got the opportunity to ponder my fate as I stared into the snow, lying face down in a drift in front of my home.
My options, as I saw them, were these:
A. Continue to lie face down in the snow, assess my station in life, and hope that numbness would eventually render the cold less painful.
B. Crawl back indoors and curl up in a fetal position in front of a fire.
C. Get up, dust the snow off myself, refresh my clothing where needed, and get my butt to work.
Naturally, "A" was the default, "B" was tempting, but I ultimately chose "C."
I am, you see, an Ohioan.
* * *
The pro sports landscape here in Ohio has been grim for some time, particularly in the northern portion of Ohio where I've lived most of my life. I spent my first ten years in Greenville, Ohio (home of the Great Darke County Fair), my college tenure at Ohio State, and my adult life in Cleveland. Hopefully this has given me a balanced view of Ohio sports for my role at FSOhio. My formative sports-watching years, though, were spent near Cleveland, where I've managed to progress well into middle age without glimpsing a championship.
It's a well-known fact, at least around Cuyahoga County, that Cleveland's pro sports teams haven't won a championship since 1964*. We've listened for years with barely-restrained amusement at the complaining of Chicago Cubs and, until recently, Red Sox fans. These are people who bemoaned their dearth of championships while living in cities that produced the Boston Celtics, Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls, the New England Patriots, and the 1985 Chicago Bears. Spare us. Please.
Here in Cleveland, we understand pro sports pain at a cellular level. It's engrained in our DNA. I've passed it down to my son along with my blue eyes, uncontrollable hair, and near-sightedness**. Pro sports frustration has become incorporated into our culture, to the extent that simply saying a few code words creates an instant reaction from our neighbors.
Red Right 88... "The Shot"... "The Drive"... Jose Mesa.
Simply uttering these words, among others, instantly brings forth memories and common bonds. We talk about where we were and what we were doing when Brian Sipe threw that pass in the cold winter air of Municipal Stadium. I can tell you about my group of friends who had shots poured and were high-fiving each other about the upcoming Super Bowl as John Elway settled under center with his back to the Broncos end zone and the clock winding down.
The Cleveland pro sports experience can be summed up as a brief flurry of excitement followed by the Cleveland Silence of Grief. The latter is a unique and unreproducible sound that follows an Earnest Byner fumble on the goal line, Dwayne Rudd's helmet bouncing down the field with the clock at 0:00 or socially isolated hometown athletes betraying you on ill-advised television specials.
We are, as I've said many times from my perch at The Orange and Brown Report, the Chuck E. Cheese Whack-a-Mole Game of pro sports fandom. We gain just enough confidence, or are forcibly pushed, so that our heads pop out of our holes and we briefly glimpse optimism only to (WHAM!) be slapped back into our dark caves of sports despair by a lightly padded hammer of fate.
This pattern has been repeated so many times that many Cleveland fans respond to moments of on-field success with a sort of angry terror, warning their peers that the collapse is sure to come and that any optimism simply dooms them to more acute pain.
* * *
Our team here has discussed several times over the past week whether it's possible that this month represents the grimmest moment in Cleveland sports history. The Browns are finishing another bad season, made some relatively unexciting coaching moves, and have a lockout on the horizon. The Indians have settled into a sort of dull sub-mediocrity in the Dolan era, hoping to perhaps be competitive once or twice a decade if the youth comes together at the right time before they're sent away to play for better teams.
And the Cavs, well, they have a 25-game losing streak.
At the same moment, Cleveland's most despised rivals continue to do very well. The Pittsburgh Steelers, whose Northern Ohio fanbase has begun to emerge from dark suburban dens free of fear like the pod people at the hour mark of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, reign nearly supreme, with only the grace of Aaron Rodgers saving us from more Pennsylvania-based crowing. Their odious success in 2010 behind Ohio native son-gone-bad Ben Roethlisberger is just more salt on nearly 50-year-old wound.
Cleveland, for its part, is handling it pretty well, with more of a knowing grimace than anger or frustration. We knew the Cavs were headed for rebuilding, that the Indians decade in the sun would be unlikely to last, and that the Browns needed time before Mike Holmgren could turn the organization around.
To me, this weekend's experience is more reminiscent of early 2001 vintage Cleveland Pain. Then, a hated rival (Baltimore Ravens, playing the part of "Pittsburgh Steelers") won the Super Bowl. We watched as a local man who betrayed us (Art Modell taking the role of Lebron) had his moment of glory, while journalists in his new hometown argued that our struggles and his success justified his decision.
Our championship-winning rival then was even fronted by a player whose off-season activities had painted him as repugnant to all but the locals (Ray Lewis, meet Ben Roethlisberger), but who was "redeemed" by on-field success. The 2000 Cleveland Browns, whose second expansion year was arguably more horrific than the first, played the part of our struggling Cavaliers.
The good news is this: Two years later, the Browns went to the playoffs. Art Modell's debts got him booted out as Ravens owner shortly after his championship, and the Ravens haven't won anything since. Hope really does spring eternal. The past proves it.
This last weekend wasn't the worst in Cleveland sports history. Not by a mile. The sad faces in 1987 and 1988, the unscalable barrier of Michael Jordan and the Bulls, and, most of all, the tragedy on Little Lake Nellie in 1993 were far, far worse.
Compared to what we've been through, this ain't nuthin'.
We may not win a championship in 2011. Or by 2014. But we'll keep going. We go about it the same way with professional sports that we do with everything else. Whether knocking the rust off our factories, working two jobs to get our kids through college, pushing forward in a strange and rapidly changing world, or dealing with the struggles of our pro sports teams, it's all the same.
Sometimes it seems like we will never win. Sometimes we fall hard. But we get up, dust ourselves off, and go back to work. And work harder the next day.
We're Ohioans. We're Midwesterners. We're Americans. It's what we do.
Barry McBride is a life-long Ohio native and founder of the Orange and Brown Report. Since the last week in January, he's also been the webmaster of FOXSportsOhio.com. You can contact him via the comment section below or on Twitter at @BarryMcBride
* Indoor arena soccer, aka Live Action Pinball, does not count.
** You're welcome, son.