Friday, May 14, 2010


I was born on December 26th, 1975. Chronologically, I'm approaching 34-1/2 years old. In Cleveland sports terms I'm 0-for-103. Thankfully, fate intervened in 1994 and brought an MLB strike, thus no World Series winner (err loser), or it would likely be 0-for-104. That's a lot of failure. Just once I'd like to know what it feels like to see my team holding a trophy.

Now I'd like to consider myself a bit more hardcore than your average local sports fan. I distinctly remember when I first fell in love with a Cleveland sports team. My first real memory of crushing defeat (at least in my eyes) is back in 1985 when the Cavs of World B. Free and George Karl lost a hard fought series to the mighty Celtics, 3 games to 1. All games were nailbiters. And this was a Cavs team that began that season 2-19 and defied all odds simply by making it into the playoffs. It was my first experience rooting for my local team rising up and nearly doing the unthinkable. I loved the hope it gave me. Little did I know the disappointment of that ending would be such a common theme throughout my tortured sports life.

I have similar stories about the Browns and Tribe around that time period. Anyone else remember, "Tribe 85... this is my team!"? I watched Pat Tabler, Tony Bernazard, Brook Jacoby, Mel Hall, Otis Nixon, Andre Thornton, Joe Carter, Brett Butler, Mike Hargrove, and Mel Hall religiously that summer. This was an awful team that ended up losing 102 games. But they were my team damn it, and always would be from that summer on.

The Browns of 1985 brought in a rookie quarterback named Bernie Kosar. They finished 8-8 and somehow won the old AFC Central. I remember how fun it was watching the newly-nicknamed Dawgs back then. I remember calling my grandpa at halftime of the wild card playoff game when the Browns were up 14-3 over Dan Marino's Miami Dolphins. I remember confidently barking into the phone, full of hope that this team was going somewhere and I was along for the ride. They of course ended up losing that game in the first of many crushing playoff losses that would follow over the next 5 or 6 years.

My point is that 1985 was somehow a formative year for me as a Cleveland fan. I was filled with youthful optimism and hadn't really considered this a "cursed" sports town yet. 25 years and countless sports letdowns later, I'm starting to harbor some serious doubts about whether it will ever happen for the great fans of this city.

The latest of the epic collapses came to a merciful end last night as the Cavaliers walked off the court in Boston. To me, this one doesn't hurt quite as much as last year when they lost to a much formidable Orlando Magic team in a much closer series. Don't get me wrong - it still hurts - just in a different way. I felt sick for the players last season. Now I just feel sick for myself. Sick that I believed in this team so much and in the end they simply let us all down. Give the Celtics credit for seizing the opportunity. But it was an opportunity laid at their feet by a Cavs team that couldn't handle its own success and lacked the playoff fire that we've obviously come to take for granted from this franchise. And given the magnitude of this game, and the potential ramifications of this meltdown, we're once again left wondering if there is any hope on the horizon.

I toyed with the idea of writing an open letter to LeBron in this space today. But I doubt that would have been much of an original idea right about now. And honestly, what can I tell him that he doesn't already know? Something was clearly wrong with him and the team in this series. Whether it was internal strife between the roster and the coaching staff or Elbowgate really existed, none of it really matters. At the end of the day, the Cavs joined a long list of failures that have come to define this region. Of course ESPN had the highlight reel cued up at the end of the game listing all our failures. Would it have killed them to add the 2007 Tribe ALCS collapse while they were at it? I mean, I want to forget it too but it did happen.

I guess if I could say anything to LeBron it would be this: Don't give up on us. We haven't given up on you. Despite all the venom I saw being spewed towards LBJ on message boards and e-mails floating around this week, LeBron is Cleveland. The constant drumbeat of LeBron bolting Cleveland within the national media finally seemed to come to a head this week with some "fans." And coupled with LeBron's less-than-stellar play in this series, many of them seized the opportunity to pounce on the King. I was actually quite shocked by some of the things I heard and read. I won't go that route. I've seen him exceed every expectation since he came into the league. He's the sole reason I became a season ticket holder back in 2003. I remain a season ticket holder to this day and I signed on for next year with full confidence that he'll be back.

Of course my confidence has been shaken by everything I've seen unfold over the past couple weeks. But my gut still says that LeBron will ultimately do the right thing and atone for this latest disappointment. The storybook ending would come if/when he decides to use this failure as a launching pad for his eventual Jordan-like drive to multiple championships. Maybe it's silly for me to hope for such a thing. But I refuse to believe that my hope as a Cleveland fan throughout my lifetime hasn't made a difference. Otherwise it's all been for nothing. I continue to hope, even in the face of endless disappointment... unless LeBron is wearing a Knicks jersey next year. Then I'll just jump off a building. Fuck.

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