I’ll never forget Oct. 26, 1997. With a World Championship on the line, my beloved Cleveland Indians blew a ninth-inning lead to the Florida Marlins in Game 7 of the World Series, destroying my opportunity to see one of my favorite teams win a championship. It was the lowest point in my life as a Cleveland sports fan.
Or so I thought.
When the Pittsburgh Steelers play in Sunday’s Super Bowl, the Browns’ rival will be attempting to win its third championship in six years, and NFL-best seventh in franchise history. And all Browns fans can do is make the same tired joke about what did or didn’t happen in the bathroom of a Milledgeville, Ga., bar more than a year ago.
Then again, are the Steelers and Browns even rivals? I don’t think a windshield would consider a bug its “rival.”
The lowly Browns just completed their second consecutive 5-11 season and hired some guy named Pat Shurmur to be their fifth head coach since 1999. Yes, the same Pat Shurmur who was most recently the offensive coordinator for the 7-9 St. Louis Rams, who ranked 26th in NFL offenses in 2010.
And, to add insult to injury, the two quarterbacks playing in the Super Bowl — Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers — were passed on by the Browns in the 2004 and 2005 drafts, respectively. Apparently, Browns management found Jeff Garcia and Trent Dilfer more attractive.
But the Browns’ ineptness is nothing new to Cleveland fans — it’s been apparent since the team returned in 1999. The curse of Cleveland has manifested itself in the city’s other two major sports teams as well.
With LeBron James and his talents in South Beach, Fla., the Cavaliers are riding a 21-game losing streak and are two losses away from tying the 1995-96 Vancouver Grizzlies for the longest single-season losing streak in the history of the NBA. To make matters worse, the Cavs’ latest loss came against James and his Miami Heat.
Following a Jan. 25 loss to the Boston Celtics, Cavs coach Byron Scott told the media he was not concerned with the team’s near-historic losing streak.
“I don’t care about that crap,” Scott said. “I care about our guys getting better. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
In summary, Scott doesn’t care that his team is about to lose more consecutive games than any team in NBA history.
Ladies and gentlemen, your 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers.
As for the Indians, they have not played a meaningful game since being one game away from advancing to the 2007 World Series.
The Indians are a dismal 215-271 since the 2007 playoffs, having finished fourth in the American League Central Division for the past two seasons, and third in 2008. During those three seasons, the Indians have traded two Cy Young Award winners — C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee — and watched as they competed against each other in Game 1 of the 2009 World Series.
Despite being known for its history of heartbreaks, from “The Fumble” to “The Decision,” 2011 appears to be the start of the lowest of lows for Cleveland fans. Whether it was the 1980s Browns, the 1990s Indians or the LeBron-led Cavs, the city has always had at least one of its three franchises to fall back on.
It appears that it would take the contraction of three AL Central teams, Randy Lerner selling the Browns, or a miraculous change of heart and demanded trade back to Cleveland by LeBron to make one of the Cleveland franchises competitive — let alone, relevant — again. Couple that with the recent success of Cleveland’s most-hated teams, the Steelers and the Heat, and optimism is as scarce as championship rings in the city.
Following the Cavs’ collapse in the 2009 playoffs to the Orlando Magic, ESPN columnist Bill Simmons wrote, “I don’t believe in curses or jinxes, but I do believe that a franchise (or even a city of franchises) can pass a point with its fans at which they expect bad things to happen — always, without fail — and the players almost get contaminated by that negative energy.”
This is what has happened in Cleveland. This is rock bottom.
And, for the sake of Ohio State athletics, be thankful that it’s more than 100 miles away.