Man, has it been one long half-century for Cleveland sports fans. A half-century devoid of a single trophy, a single parade, a single shining moment in which Cleveland could call itself the best. You see, assuming the Indians don’t win this year’s World Series (always a valid assumption), 2014 marks 50 years since the Browns 1964 Super Bowl victory. No major sports team in Cleveland has won a championship since, and as depressing as that sounds, it’s even more depressing to live through. To put this in a little perspective, 64.1% of the average male human’s life has passed since Cleveland won a championship. In the year of our city’s last triumph:
- Lyndon B. Johnson was president
- The country was in the throes of the Vietnam War
- The Beatles’ first album was released in America
- For the first time ever, the U.S. government stated smoking tobacco may be bad for your health
- The first Ford Mustang came off assembly lines
- The World Premiere of Mary Poppins was held in Los Angeles
- President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. Racial segregation was made illegal 5 months before Cleveland won its last sports championship
It’s not as though we haven’t come close. The Indians have been to the World Series twice since they’re last ‘ship (1948), disappointing everyone in 1995 by falling to the underdog Braves, and again in 1997 by coming one out away from victory over the Marlins before Jose Mesa planted himself firmly in Cleveland infamy by blowing Game 7 in the bottom of the 11th inning. The Cavaliers have never won an NBA title, despite having some good teams in the 90s, they could never surpass Jordan and his Bulls (The Shot, anyone?). Of course, there was also 2007, when He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named led the Cavs right to the border of the promised land, only to be swept by the Spurs in the Finals. In Cleveland’s defense, however, it had not yet become clear at that point that God had hand-selected the Spurs as Destiny’s team. And of course, there are the Browns, owners of the most painful of Cleveland defeats. There’s no need to rehash The Drive, The Fumble, The Move, etc, suffice it to say that Cleveland has been the product of one downtrodden fan base over the course of the years. Even so, hope springs eternal; for better or worse a Cleveland fan’s mantra is “wait ’till next year.” This, of course, begs the question– Which of our beloved/behated teams has the next year we’re waiting ’till? Which Cleveland team will break the drought, and bring Cleveland its first major sports championship since 1964?
I’m going to immediately say it won’t be the Browns. It breaks my heart to say it, because I think a Browns championship would mean the most to the city out of any of the teams, but I just don’t think they have it in them. They’re moving in the right direction; they’ve solidified the defense formidably, and… hold on… there was something else… another name they added this off-season… now who was it? Ah, that’s right. With the drafting of Johnny Manziel they’ve brought not only a potential franchise player, but a face of the franchise and, dare I say, even a little swagger to the city. That being said, the Brownies have drafted big names before, they’ve made off-season moves that look good on paper before, and since 2008 their best record has been 5-11. Breaking .500 would be a stupendous turnaround this season, making the playoffs would be nothing short of miraculous. Even if Johnny Football turns into the messiah we all want him to be, I just don’t see a Super Bowl in the realm of possibility, at least for a few more seasons.
The Cavaliers are a wild card. True, since LeBron left, they’ve only averaged 24 wins a season, but at the same time I don’t think there’s anyone who can argue that they don’t have some of the best young talent in the league. Kyrie is this close, he just needs that little extra something to click to move into the upper echelon of NBA guards. The front office has done a commendable job of filling the roles around him, enough so that it’s quite frankly perplexing how they manage to be as continually bad as they are. That being said, even taking into consideration this year’s number 1 pick, the Cavs are either a couple pieces or a few years away from being in serious contention to win it all; I’m going to have to give them a pass as well.
Which leaves the Tribe. The Indians have done it arguably the “most right” of the teams over the course of this drought. Certainly they’ve come the closest to wining it all in the last 50 years, coming within 1 out of the ’97 Series. The problem with the Indians is the same problem with the Cavs: they’re wildly inconsistent. The Indians have been able to do something the Cavs have not, though, and that’s finish seasons strong. They made the playoffs (technically) last season, and despite looking truly horrific on several occasions, the Tribe have hovered around .500 this year, and are well within striking distance of the division title. They have a bona fide All-Star in Brantley, potential All-Stars in Lonnie, Yan, and Bourne, and serviceable players everywhere else (except Swisher). The only thing holding the Indians back from being a top team is the inability to keep the offense and pitching clicking for more than a couple games. That and the atrocious defense, which will have to improve. No championship team was ever last in the league in defense. Errors aside, the Tribe are nothing more than a consistent season away from World Series contention.
Of course, it all comes down to opinion. There’s no way to know for sure what will happen next season, which is what has kept Cleveland sports fans sane all these years. In my opinion, the Browns are a few years away, so it comes down to which team will be able to play consistently up to its potential between the Cavaliers and Indians. My money is on the Tribe figuring it out before the Cavs. At any rate, that won’t stop me or anyone else from rooting die-hard style for any Cleveland championship, no matter which team. One thing is for sure: A championship for our city is in the not-so-distant future. All 3 teams have the heart, the support, and the potential to make it happen. Storm clouds are gathering on the horizon; this drought is almost over.
Written by Zach Scott (@ztscott)