Curses! Cleveland Browns have done their part to uphold city’s anguish


Nov 24, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns fans cheer against the Pittsburgh Steelers at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA Finals tipped off on Thursday night, and with the Cleveland Cavaliers making the second appearance in franchise history, it is time for the national media to remind Cleveland just where it stands on the sports landscape.

We’re talking, of course, about the city’s championship drought, which has stretched on and on since Dec. 27, 1964. The tidal wave of title-less years has consumed the Cavaliers, but also the Cleveland Browns and the Cleveland Indians.

If you feel like taking a “more the merrier” approach to things, you can throw in the World Hockey Association’s Cleveland Crusaders (who boast one of the most under-appreciated logos of all time, which is a topic for another day) and the NHL’s Cleveland Barons.

While The Times hit all the high (or should that be low?) points, the Browns have added more than their fair share of bitter endings to the list of Cleveland sports failures.

It didn’t take ABC very long to point out Cleveland’s ongoing foibles, rolling out a “years since last championship” graphic about midway through the first quarter of Game 1.

Even the august New York Times, which boasts that it carries “all the news that is fit to print” weighed in, with a story on the 13 Most Cursed Sports Cities in America. In the article, the paper described the criteria for selecting the cities thusly:

"We’ve come up with a few metrics to measure sports pain. One is the combined number of seasons since a city’s last championship, across the four major sports. Cleveland is now up to an incredible 147 title-less seasons since the Browns’ 1964 N.F.L. championship. Another measure is the percentage of seasons over the last 50 years that have ended with a title. For reference, 10 percent of Boston’s team seasons since 1965 have ended with a title. Most of the 13 cities on this list here don’t clear 2 percent. We also tell you how many close calls — which we define as unsuccessful appearances in a sport’s final four — a city has had. Sorry, Philadelphia."

It comes as no surprise, really, that Cleveland comes in at the No. 1 spot on the list. The Times listed the Tribe’s loss in the 1997 World Series as the toughest one in town (no arguing with that one), writing that:

"Cleveland’s sports history is so miserable that its most famous moments of pain do not even include its worst one. The best known include Red Right 88 (a doomed Browns pass play in 1981), The Drive (cause of a brutal 1987 playoff loss to the Broncos), The Fumble (same thing, next season) and The Shot (by Michael Jordan, eliminating the Cavaliers in 1989).But all of those moments occurred in games before the championship round. Even if the Cleveland teams had won, they would still have faced at least more hurdle — at least one more chance to lose in excruciating Cleveland style.That’s why the sine qua non of the city’s sports pain is the 1997 World Series. Entering the ninth inning of Game 7, the Indians led the Marlins, then a teal-wearing franchise in just its fifth season of existence, 2-1. Three more outs, and Cleveland had a championship. Jose Mesa, the Indians’ closer, couldn’t get the outs."

While The Times hit all the high (or should that be low?) points, the Browns have added more than their fair share of bitter endings to the list of Cleveland sports failures.

Two of the three losses (in four seasons) in the AFC Championship Game in the late 1980s are mentioned, but there were also losses in the NFL Championship Game in 1965, 1968 and 1969. The latter two games cost the Browns a spot in Super Bowl III and Super Bowl IV.

There are also a pair of playoff losses to the Miami Dolphins where the Browns could not hold late leads.

The first came in 1972 when the Browns had a chance to knockoff the undefeated Dolphins after taking a 14-13 lead with a little more than eight minutes remaining. Despite outplaying the Dolphins that day, and thanks in large part to five interceptions by quarterback Mike Phipps, the Browns walked out of the Orange Bowl in disappointment.

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The scene would replay itself 13 years later, when the Browns could not hold a 21-3 third-quarter lead over the Dolphins. The Browns once again controlled the game, thanks to 251 rushing yards (including 161 from Earnest Byner), but finally relinquished the lead (and the game) with 1:57 left as Miami’s Ron Davenport scored on a one-yard run.

No list can be complete, at least to the newer generation of Browns fans, without the 2002 playoff loss to Pittsburgh. Leading by 12 points with a little more than 10 minutes remaining after a 22-yard touchdown pass from Kelly Holcomb to Andre’ Davis, the Browns somehow managed to let Tommy Maddox lead the Steelers back for a victory in the last playoff appearance to date by the Browns.

It makes sense, in a way, that the Browns would figure so prominently in the city’s title drought, they are Cleveland’s undisputed No. 1 team after all, which carries with it a heavy burden. And they have come closer more times than the Tribe or Cavaliers to ending 51 years of ongoing fun without a title.

And until one of the teams – and at this point we really don’t care which one it is as long as someone does it – finally wins a championship, Cleveland fans everywhere will have to go on carrying the distinction of being the nation’s “most cursed” sports city.

What do you think about Cleveland being named as the most cursed sports city?

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