With another patently weird, bleak and postseason-less Browns season receding in the rearview mirror (and, oh, you know, the Cavs averaging like 30 percent FGs with LeBron nursing a sore knee), we're left to agonize over more of the same: tough luck in the Cleveland sports world. Doesn't help that we just hit the 50-year anniversary of the last championship in this town (that precious '64 Browns title). For better or worse, Shaker Heights resident Phil Brett has chronicled the bad beats our city has taken for every day of the year.
Eric Sandy: This 50-year mark is kind of an anti-celebration, right? That's a long stretch of bad news.
Phil Brett: Well, I was 9 years old playing on the playground when the Browns won the '64 championship. We were talking: We got Leroy Kelly, we got Jim Brown, so there will be plenty more where this came from. That must have been the start of the curse right there, because they didn't win anything. Just growing up as a Browns fan, a Cavs fan, an Indians fan, and going through all the misery, we kinda made note that we were coming up on the 50th anniversary. You sort of tick off the Super Bowls, you know? Super Bowl 47 and we haven't been in one yet? We were at a poker game one night with my cousins and I said we should put together a calendar and call it 50 Years of Tears.
ES: Kind of like one of those tear-sheet daily calendars?
PB: I put together the calendar, and then I went to a patent attorney to see if this was fair use — to use the headlines. It's not. For an AP photo, it's like $1,000 for a single year. So I've got a website going (fiftyyearsoftears.com). Eventually what I'd like to do is see if we can get into the Cleveland Institute of Art and see if we can get a local artist to do some of the illustrations.
ES: Well, 365 days seems like a lot, and there's certainly plenty of bad news around here, but how difficult was it to track down entries for each day?
PB: Well, you always have the option of typing in "Ted Stepien" and running the search from there. That was lucrative. When push comes to shove, you get some that aren't as crazy as others. Like Nov. 6: Gib Shanley burning the Iranian flag on television. That's pretty big, but nothing compared to Art Modell moving the Browns on the same date. Some days were really hard. But I went with the obvious ones: the Drive, the Fumble, the Decision. I mean, how many other cities have these one-word things? Put "the Drive" into Google, and it goes right to Cleveland. Then you go to some of these trades: Rocky Colavito, Frank Lane. Type in his name and he's good for five or six of these dates.
ES: We'll publish this interview on Jan. 7. What happened on that date?
PB: Let's see ... (flips through pages). Oh, this was 1995, [the Browns] were in the playoffs from 1994 — the last time they were in the playoffs and they lost to the Steelers 29-9. Earnest Byner stomped all over a Terrible Towel, so, you know, it was kinda one of those days.
ES: We know all too well.
PB: And you miss by two days Paul Brown getting fired [on Jan. 9, 1963]. The interesting thing about that was there were no papers out at the time. They were on strike, so I had to pull it from the New York Times. I think that was one of those timing things — they were going to can him while the papers were on strike. I tried to keep it to the Plain Dealer, just to keep it at one source, but they were on strike in '63 and '74, and something happened in those time periods where I had to go to the New York Times or Sports Illustrated.
ES: Of course, we just put another weird Browns season to bed. Anything from 2014 in there?
PB: Well, I put in the hiring of Mike Pettine, because the same time they announce that they also announced that they were paying $50 million to ex-coaches. The [FirstEnergy] naming rights: I thought that was a joke. The energy from the stadium comes from Cleveland Public Power, which, again, they were the parent company of CEI. Oh, yeah, and then the Cavs lost to L.A. despite the Lakers having only four eligible players playing.
ES: Any thoughts on what drives this onslaught of bad sports news in Cleveland? Why us?
PB: We live and die by the Browns or the Indians. The Cavs are relative late-comers. But I think what it is — and I don't believe in curses — but you start to wonder: Are we cursed? You know, the Fumble. Jose Mesa coming up. I remember sitting in the living room and thinking — 1948 — after almost 50 years these guys are gonna finally win the World Series, and then he blows it. You just start to scratch your head and say, you know, maybe we are cursed.
ES: I grew up with the mid- to late-90s Tribe, and that was just so surreal.
PB: And forget the Series; the series against Baltimore was just insane. I remember watching that one: Omar's missed bunt. Wow.
ES: Lots of people talk about giving up each year, but we never do.
PB: There's just the fact that none of the owners in this town ever really care about what the fans think. I used to go to the old stadium a lot in the '70s when they really sucked. The old stadium was insane. You'd have general admission that would go to here — to far-right or far-left fields — and then it would stop and you'd have section after section after section of empty seats. Why are you punishing your general admission people? Still, it was always the one unifying thing in this town: Watch the Browns and hate on the Steelers. There's nothing else like it in the city.
ES: This is certainly a football town.
PB: It's a blue-collar football town. When I was in graduate school, I used to say, "Nah, I'm not going to the game today. I only have, you know, $20 in the bank." Then it gets to be about 12:30 and I'm like, "Well, I better get going." I would drive and park in front of the Cleveland Water Department. I would walk down and try to scalp a ticket, and I always got in. Now you can't get through security in that time. And I saw some raucous games. That was '79, '80 when the Kardiac Kids were coming into their own. That was fun.