year title drought will end

Despite decades of disappointments, it’s still difficult to believe that no Cleveland sports team has won a championship since the Browns shut out the favored Baltimore Colts 27 0 in front of 79,544 on a windy, chilly afternoon at Municipal Stadium on Dec. 27, 1964.

When the prodigal son, LeBron James, announced his return to the Cavaliers last summer, few thought he would be able to lead this rag tag team to the NBA Finals, but that’s exactly what he has done. The Cavs are now four victories away from ending one of the most ignominious feats in sports Cleveland’s 51 year drought to winning a professional sports championship.

It certainly wasn’t supposed the be that way for a city that prided itself on Indians’ and Browns’ teams that had accomplished so much in so little time during the post WWII years.

Led by a half dozen Hall of Famers, pitchers Bob Feller, Bob Lemon and Satchel Paige, shortstop/manager Lou Boudreau, center fielder Larry Doby, and second baseman Joe Gordon, the Tribe won the 1948 World Series. They returned again in 1954 with a 111 43 record, which remains the best in history for a 154 game season, but were swept by Willie Mays and the New York Giants.

Hall of Famer Bob Feller with life long Cleveland sports fan John Janokaitis at the then Cleveland Indians Spring Training complex in Winter Haven in 2005. (Photo: Photo courtesy of John Janokaitis)

As members of the All America Football Conference, the Otto Graham led Browns dominated the AAFC with a 52 4 3 record while amassing four consecutive titles from 1946 1949. Their dominance led to the early demise of the league, which had a trio of teams (Brown, Colts and 49er) merge with the NFL in 1950.

The Browns continued their dominance in the NFL, advancing to the championship six straight seasons while winning in 1950, 1954 and 1955. Their last title would come in 1964, six years after my family moved from the Buckeye State to the Sunshine State.

Through no choice of my own (especially since I was only 1 year old), we departed my Berea birthplace in 1958 and headed south to the Space Coast and NASA’s Mercury Program. Thanks to many years of vacations north to visit relatives and watch the beloved Browns, Indians and later, Cavaliers, play, I never lost my affection for Cleveland’s sports teams even though breaking my heart became an annual ritual.

I’ll never forget watching the Browns’ last title game with my parents in the den of our Satellite Beach home. We had the great Jimmy Brown, who rushed for 114 yards, but the Colts, who were coached by 34 year old Don Shula, had quarterback Johnny Unitas, running back Lenny Moore, wide receiver Raymond Berry, defensive end Gina Marchetti, and so many more. On this particular Sunday, however, we also had a record breaking receiver in Gary Collins, who hauled in a then title game record three touchdown catches from cerebral quarterback Frank Ryan.

After a scoreless first half, Cleveland exploded for 17 points in the third quarter and added 10 more in the final period and the Brownies had returned to their rightful throne as World Champs!

Two weeks after the game, I received an autographed copy of the Cleveland Plain Dealer it had been signed by the MVP, Gary Collins. During the offseason, Collins was employed by City National Bank in Cleveland where my aunt also happened to work (yes, there once was a generation of professional athletes that had to get offseason jobs to pay the bills).

I was only 7 years old and my favorite sports team had won a world championship I couldn’t believe the elation I felt for being a fan of such a successful sports town.

Fast forward 51 years and that elation has been replaced by decades of unimaginable debacles, utter futility and zero titles. No sports team, neither the Browns, Indians nor the upstart Cavs, which began in 1970, has escaped what has become known as the Cleveland Curse.

Clevelanders have suffered so many years of heartache; it’s difficult to distinguish which is paramount, but here’s a handful of disappointments in chronological order:

The Trade of all pro flanker Paul Warfield to the Dolphins for the opportunity to draft Purdue quarterback Mike Phipps in 1970. Warfield won a pair of Super Bowls with the Fins, Phipps suffered an injury marred career.

Red Right 88 was the play called by Brown’s coach Sam Rutigliano in a 1981 playoff game against Oakland played in Arctic conditions in Cleveland. Trailing 14 12 with 49 seconds remaining and the ball on the Raiders’ 13 yard line, quarterback Brian Sipe attempted a pass to Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome that was intercepted by defensive back Mike Davis. The Kardiac Kids’ surprising season had come to a disheartening conclusion.

The Drive by Denver quarterback John Elway in the 1987 AFC Championship game.

The Fumble by Browns’ running back Ernest Byner in the 1988 Wild Card game.

The Shot by the Bulls’ Michael Jordan over Craig Ehlo to eliminate the Cavaliers in the 1989 playoffs.

The Move by owner Art Modell, who took his Browns to Baltimore after the 1995 season.

The Blown Save by Indians’ reliever Jose Mesa against the Marlins in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series (with its last title in 1948, the Tribe has the second longest World Series drought behind the Chicago Cubs).cheap nfl jerseys

Thanks to LeBron, we have yet another chance to end the jinx with an NBA title for the Cavaliers or add to the saga. Hopefully, this really is the end of the drought, but if Golden State and NBA MVP Stephen Curry (who was also born in Akron four years after LeBron) spoil the dream, there is one fact of life Clevelanders have become more than accustomed to: Wait ’til next year.


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