Facing Cleveland's Frustrating Sports Legacy

Basketball (IMAGE: Chilli Head)
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by David C. Barnett

Sunday night's deciding game of the NBA Playoffs pits the defending champion Golden State Warriors against their 2015 opponents, the Cleveland Cavaliers.  The Cavs are also battling a frustrating Cleveland sports legacy.  It’s been more than a half century --- 52 years --- since a Cleveland professional team has won a championship.  And the fans are desperate to get that monkey off their backs.

Linda Marshall dresses the part of a Cavs fan, sporting the burgundy team color on her tee-shirt and in her matching lipstick.  But, sitting in a downtown street café, she says Cleveland sports can be hard on your health.

"Honestly," she says, "about four years ago, I had to stop watching the Browns, the Indians, the Cavs --- even though I have a good heart, my heart couldn’t take it, because it was just a, you know, a see saw."

To love Cleveland sports, is to know deep frustration.  The 1964 Browns were the last professional team to win a world championship for the city, and the intervening 52 years have been a litany of "The's" --- like, “The Drive”, in 1987, that denied the Browns a Super Bowl berth; “The Shot” in 1989 by Chicago Bulls superstar Michael Jordan, that knocked the Cavaliers out of the NBA playoffs; and the blown save in 1997 by reliever Jose Mesa that cost the Indians the World Series.

"My father would get so frustrated, watching the Browns," says Brian Vargo.

"I remember being a kid, watching the playoffs, having to go outside and play in the snow, because it was just too intense, you know?"   

Some fans have resorted to rituals, in hopes to free their teams from the decades-old curse.  During this year’s NBA Finals, Gabriel Kramer thought he had a good strategy, but then he had to tweak it a bit.And then (laughs), they lost, to go down 3-1.  And I thought, “Okay, I need to shave.”  And things turned around!  

"When the Cavs got the first win of the series," he says.   "I decided, “Let’s not shave”.  

On the air, Friday morning, Sports/Talk broadcaster Anthony Lima, of 92.3 -The Fan, admitted that it’s been hard for him to watch this playoff series. I think you’re not human if you’re not always a little bit guarded.  As cocky as we want to get, as much as we have LeBron on our side and no one else does, you still want to guard against the unthinkable happening.

But, the unthinkable has happened for the past half century.  Still, the fans want to believe, even though the game is being played in Oakland.  A whole lot of Clevelanders are, once again, thinking THIS time will be different.  Even though NO team has EVER come back from a three-to-one deficit to win the NBA Finals.  Longtime fan Eric Williams says he isn’t even worried.

"Nah.  Not at this point.  We got it.  It’s historic. We’re part of it.  I’m just waiting for the parade."

And so are a lot of other, long-suffering Cleveland sports fans.

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