In keeping with the spirit of this blog site…I guess I should address why I tend to be a die-hard Cleveland sports fan. I can’t really explain it without starting to question how I could be so foolish to be a Cleveland sports fan. But I can’t help myself. I could no longer deny my love for the Brown’s, the Indians and on rare occasion the Cavaliers than I could deny the love for my own children.
I wasn’t born in Cleveland and I definitely wasn’t born this way.
As a matter of fact, my earliest memories of following a sports team was watching the Baltimore Orioles. I was in love with Orioles and Brooks Robinson. The Hall of Fame third basemen for Baltimore was my favorite player in the Major Leagues. It was easy to love the Orioles during the late 60’s and early 70’s. Because they were winning five Division Championships (1969–1971, 1973–1974), They played in the World Series in 1969, 1970 and 1971 and won it in 1970.
It was a natural transition to become a Baltimore Colt’s fan during that time as well. The Colt’s played in the Super Bowl in 1968 and 1970 under the leadership of Johnny Unitas in which they won the same year that the Orioles won the World Series in baseball. The center of the sports universe was located in Baltimore, Maryland. The Colt’s continued their winning ways with the play of quarterback Bert Jones and they won division titles in 1975, 1976, and 1977.
This was during the time in my life that I was the most impressionable. If I was going to be a lifelong Orioles and Colt’s fan, I was primed for it to happen because all of the signals were there. They were the only teams you consistently could watch on TV and it should have stuck. I had all the team shirts and all of the posters of the players hanging in my bedroom. If you would have asked my 12-year-old self I would have sworn allegiance until my dying breath.
It didn’t stick.
I cannot pinpoint the exact time or where I was when it happened. But make no mistake it happened. I couldn’t really identify with the success that was going on in Baltimore. It was too easy. I could never shake the feeling that I was a fair weather fan and I never felt like they were “my team”. I always felt I was a bandwagon fan that only loved the team because they won and they were on TV. I am sure that there are many people who fall in love with their sports team because they were the team’s that were winning during their impressionable years. How does someone from Ohio become a Raider or a Steeler fan? It’s just too easy to love only the teams that win. It is the only logical explanation.
For me, I started to see that life is not like that. Life is not that easy… you don’t always win and you don’t always get to play for the championship year in and year out. Life is hard and it’s a struggle to ever really “win” at things in life. I saw that I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth and life was going to give me bumps and bruises.
I signed on as a Cleveland sports fan. I found a team that I could honestly identify with. I found a place where I could put on their team jersey and feel like I wasn’t being fake or a bandwagon fan. I was down for the struggle and I was home… where I belonged.
Maybe it is the fact that they are the perennial under-dog or maybe because no matter how promising the plan or how high the draft pick, someone will screw it up. It is the perfect reflection of what I have come know of what life is all about. It is about the struggle… the hope… the chance that this could be the year that it will happen for us. If not… there is always next year. It isn’t a given satisfaction and the victories are so much sweeter when they don’t come easy.
It is too easy for others to make fun.
Currently, our new N.F.L. owner, a truck stop billionaire named Jimmy Haslam, is being investigated by federal agencies for a fuel rebate debacle. The Cavaliers lost 58 games: they would have lost more, but the season ended. The Indians perform in a cloister.
The Indians took the World Series in 1948; in ’64 the Browns were crowned kings of professional football. Since then, nothing. It has been a particularly potent kind of futility. Not a cuddly incompetence like the Chicago Cubs’, each collapse covered in ivy, or the celebrated struggles of the Boston Red Sox. No “Sweet Caroline” here. Our ballpark sing-a-long could be the song “Eve of Destruction.”
Periodically, wizards and new owners have arrived to break the curse. They were an oddly bloodless bunch, for conjurers, but spoke well and seemed to understand salary caps. They lectured us on the constraints of a small market, failed, and left. Somehow, misfortune always found a roster spot.
But these are not the worst of times, only the latest. We are all too familiar with “the Fumble”, “the Drive” and “the Shot” and the curse of Rocky Colavito. There are library shelves that groan with the agony of Cleveland fans. A generation of futility.
I have caught my share of Indians games at the old Municipal Stadium and I was at Jacob’s Field (forever the name for me) watching the Tribe in the 1995 World Series. I watched the Kardiac Kids of the ’80’s and I watched the Cav’s in the heyday of the Richfield Coliseum.
We are sports people. We are family. You will never know until become a member of this family we call Cleveland.
As a Cleveland sports fan, I hold these truths to be self-evident:
I will be a Cleveland fan until my dying breath.
I have tried to pass it on but only my son Nathan has a membership card to the Cleveland Sports family. It’s becoming harder to pass down that homegrown pain. Satellite dishes, streaming Internet — the young live vicariously in a world that technology creates. They can watch any game and watch a TV channel dedicated to their respective team 24 / 7. They are spared of any indignity of disloyalty or shame or loss. They wear Indianapolis hats and Cowboys jerseys and that splayed-leg figure dunking on their hoodies isn’t Mark Price.
We Cleveland fans take victory, like work, wherever we find it.
This year, I know I will not be busy during the playoffs. Any playoffs.
I, for one, sleep well in the knowledge that my car will probably never be overturned in a championship celebration.
The first pitch of spring slaps leather, the Indians hang around first place in June, and sports again becomes something beyond a balance sheet. A kickoff for the Brown’s sails high into the autumn air and I start to think anything’s possible. Hope swells in my heart and I believe that this year will be different.
And for a moment, I hardly notice the years of futility in my life piling up around my feet.