Sports fans here are a hardy, but truly miserable, bunch. Without a championship to celebrate since 1964, they have suffered through more shame, embarrassment and heartbreak than fans in any other city. Yet these fans stridently believe that one day, some day, the Cleveland sports curse will finally be lifted.
Cleveland’s past half century in sports is dotted with singular, disastrous events that have become seared in this city’s collective consciousness. Consider Cleveland’s long-suffering football team, the Browns. In the 1981 AFC Championship Game, with the Browns needing just a field goal to seal the win, Coach Sam Rutigliano ordered the fateful Red Right 88 play, which led to an interception at the goal line, and the loss; in 1987, with the Browns leading by 7, John Elway and the Denver Broncos miraculously executed The Drive in the final minutes of the AFC Championship, dispensing of Cleveland in dramatic fashion; the next year, once again on the verge of winning the AFC Championship, The Fumble sealed the Browns’ fate in heartbreaking fashion.
But even since these painful heartbreaks, the Browns have also for the most part been just plain bad. The team hasn’t won a playoff game since 1995, and hasn’t won more than 7 games in a season since 2007. And not only have the Browns had trouble winning in Cleveland — they’ve also had trouble staying in Cleveland, as fans suffered the further embarrassment of not fielding a football team at all between 1996 and 1998 after owner Art Modell shipped the players off to Baltimore.
With Cleveland’s basketball team, the Cavaliers, the city has suffered similar bouts of collective misery. In 1989, although the Cavs had swept the season series 6-0 over the Chicago Bulls, Michael Jordan dashed Cleveland’s playoff hopes with The Shot, forever posterizing the city in one of basketball’s iconic moments. Decades later, the NBA’s biggest star and hometown hero, Lebron James, humiliated the city with The Decision to leave Ohio for the balmy beaches of Miami.
It only gets worse. Baseball’s Cleveland Indians have not won a World Series since 1948. The team’s thirty-year slump through the 60s, 70s and 80s inspired Major League, that famous cinematic homage to terrible baseball. The Curse of Chief Wahoo has weakened in the intervening years, but never let up completely: José Mesa’s blown save in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series, and the team’s embarrassing 2007 ALCS loss to the Red Sox after leading the series 3-1, are just the latest in a long line of heartbreak for Indians fans.