Cleveland Browns Stadium, photo by Edward Daniel Drost.
The Muni parking lot outside Cleveland Browns Stadium currently sits empty with the occasional beer can scattered here and there on the sides of the road. It was only a few weeks ago that this parking lot would be filled every Sunday morning with die-hard fans from all over Northeast Ohio coming out to tailgate before the Browns game. Enjoying a couple weeks of decent weather at the start of the season, people come packed with BBQ grills, booze, Bernie Kosar jerseys, and completely remodeled school buses painted orange in the timeless style of their favorite football team. Weeks go by. Freezing rain comes down which soon turns into snow, but every week the fans come to tailgate without fail. No matter how bad the weather turns out or how slim the chances are the fans will see their team pull a “W”, Browns-Backers are there cheering their team on. That is the way things go in C-town and they have a long history of being heartbroken.
Maybe things started off on the wrong foot. Bad omens began back in 1920, when Indian’s shortstop Ray Chapman was killed by a pitch to the head while playing against the New York Yankees. He is one of only two people in the history of the game for this to happen to, but sometimes omens are just omens. They seem like a bad sign, but nothing comes to fruition. The Tribe went on to win the World Series in 1920 and again in 1948. Cleveland had two championships under its belt in twenty-eight years. Some might say that isn’t too bad, but it was after the 1948 victory where decades of heartbreak would begin with a series of events starting in 1954.
Clevelanders take it in stride as they look back at a laundry list of notorious events in which they were inches away from a championship for the Indians, Cavaliers, or Browns only to see those dreams disappear like the sunshine over Lake Erie in the winter. Starting with “The Catch”, when Willie Mays robbed the Indians of a win during the 1954 World Series– only only to be swept by the New York Giants — an event occurred almost every decade forcing all Northeast Ohioans to deal with optimism turning into sorrow.
“The Catch” was followed by “The Curse of Rocky Colavito”, “Red Right 88”, “The Drive”, “The Fumble”, and finally, “The Shot” in the 1989 playoffs when Michael Jordan made one of his most memorable plays against the Cavaliers in game 5, taking away their chances to go to the championship. Each individual event crushed the hearts of fans anxiously watching.
Things didn’t get any better after “The Shot”. In 1996, Browns owner Art Modell decided to move Cleveland’s beloved team to Baltimore. Every fan had to sit idly as the team they rooted for since they were able to comprehend a touchdown was taken away from them. With this move, Modell created the Ravens, a team that went on to win the Super Bowl in 2000.
It wouldn’t be until 1999 that a football team broke a huddle again in Cleveland and things went back to status quo with continuous losses for all of their professional teams. This was until a comic book superhero broke onto the scene, causing everyone in the entire country to take notice. He was young, charismatic, incredibly talented, and born and bred in the Buckeye State. Lebron James signed with the Cavaliers in 2003 and things looked they were beginning to take a different tone throughout Cleveland. James quickly became the town’s icon, spanning entire buildings with his image. He gave something Clevelanders had not felt in the majority of their lifetimes: a feeling of hope.
James, along with the rest of his teammates, took the Cavs to the championship in 2007 only to get swept by the San Antonio Spurs. But the city knew their hero was still young and there were plenty of years ahead. Each year, the Cavs looked significantly better and the championship-deprived city was feeling closer and closer to fulfilling their dreams with every triple-double James played. However, just as history usually goes in this city, things took a bad turn.
In 2010, Lebron James became a free agent and went on a nationally televised broadcast to let his faithful admirers know that he was leaving to play for the Miami Heat. Every Clevelander looked blankly into the television thinking, “Et tu, Brute?” “The Decision” for James to leave his hometown team instantly became the next crushing event on the laundry list of sorrow. A city’s pride and joy was selling out to join a powerhouse trio in South Beach.
Once again, things returned to the way they usually are in Northeast Ohio. There are no winning teams and the prospects of a championship are nowhere to be seen, but this doesn’t slow down the fan base in Cleveland. When a native from this city talks about their hometown, a light comes in their eye that can’t be interrupted for anything else but pride. Sure, there hasn’t been a team that has taken it all the way since 1964 when the Browns won the NFL Championship (one year before the first Super Bowl), but Clevelanders stand by their teams through each painful week. The city’s skyline is a popular image amongst tattoo parlors and local independent stores, like GVARTWORK, have gained respectable followings from the unabashed expression of native pride emblazed on their apparel.
Fans of the Indians, Cavaliers, and Browns are a true testament of a dedicated fan base. They have had brief tastes of being on top of the world only to have it completely fall from underneath them. They still come back year after year because they love their hometown and they love their teams. Muni parking lot will undoubtedly be packed to the brim with eager Browns fans when 2012’s NFL season starts again.
And if that season doesn’t go the way they would like, there’s always next year.