Indians Do More Winning, Yet Browns Get Majority of Cleveland’s Sports Love
Craig Gifford | On 04, Jan 2016
On Sunday, the Cleveland Browns wrapped up yet another frustrating season. The team lost more games that it won for an eighth straight season. Like most of the futile campaigns before, it was by a wide margin.
The Browns have not had a winning season since 2007. They have been home for the playoffs each year since 2002. Meanwhile, the city’s baseball team across town, the Cleveland Indians, have had their share of ups and downs since the Browns last went to the playoffs. Like the football team, the Indians have certainly had their share of miserable, forgettable seasons. Unlike, the football team, however, the Tribe has strung together multiple positive seasons.
When the Browns were going 10-6 in 2007, the Indians were getting to within one win of reaching the World Series. We will not talk about the last time the Browns sniffed a Super Bowl berth. The Tribe won 93 games in 2005. That squad barely missed the playoffs and would have been a dangerous postseason opponent for anyone. In 2013, the Indians were on the plus side 92 times and earned a postseason Wild Card nod. That year began what is now a streak of three straight over-.500 seasons. The Browns last stretch of three consecutive years of winning ball?
Yes, that was around the last time they were on the doorsteps of a Super Bowl – the 1980s.
Since the Browns have returned from their three-season hiatus in 1999, the Indians have had numerous playoff and World Series contenders. Eight times the team finished over .500 and it made the playoffs four times. The Browns have had two playoff-worthy squads. Naturally, when it comes to Cleveland sports, the playoff-hopeful Indians get all the love and attention from fans and the media while the Browns are an afterthought behind the far more successful Tribe and LeBron James-led, NBA Championship-caliber Cavaliers.
Wait, what’s that? That’s wrong? Actually, it is the Indians who are the afterthought while the Browns dominate all the love, attention and conversation of the Cleveland sports landscape. The Browns even seem to get more attention than the aforementioned Cavs, who should reach, barring injury, their second straight NBA Finals.
Something seems slightly wrong with this picture. Consider the Indians’ seven-year run of six division titles and two trips to the World Series came a decade after the Browns were among the NFL’s elite in the mid-to-late 1980s. You would think the Indians would have the hearts of the Cleveland fan base far more than the Browns. The Tribe has fielded winners much more frequently than the city’s team that plays on the shores of Lake Erie.
Granted, the Indians have had their own moments in more recent times when it seemed the bottom may be falling out. The Tribe lost back-to-back Cy Young winners in CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee. Both were traded away, by non-contending Indians clubs in 2008 and 2009, just a season after each won the hardware. The small-spending Tribe were not going to be able to afford either star pitcher.
Tribe fans have watched numerous elite players walk away when their price tag got too high as the small-market Indians have kept their payroll in the bottom third of the league for much of the last 15 years. At least the Indians have had stars to lose. The number of truly Pro Bowl caliber Browns players since 1999 can be counted on one hand.
Both teams have had dismal histories when it comes to the amateur draft, though the Indians have turned that around over the last few years. The Tribe has successfully added good, young, home-grown talent to the roster since 2011. The Browns have not had much drafting success, especially in the early rounds.
Again, looking at all the facts, it is a bit of a mystery as to why the more successful Tribe would be an afterthought when the floundering Browns have the city tied around its finger.
There is one major reason that makes things make a little more sense, anyway. It is the sports that the two teams play. While Major League Baseball is certainly popular, it pales in comparison to the NFL. Football has supplanted baseball as the nation’s number one sport. America is in love with the sport of football and Cleveland is no different.
A big reason for that is football games are more of an event than baseball games, as a whole. Their are 16 regular season football games compared to 162 MLB games. Football is once a week, while baseball is everyday. Football is fast-paced and hard-hitting. Baseball is a slower sport. In an instant-gratification society, football wins in a landslide.
Adding on spring training and the postseason, Major League Baseball is in session from mid-February until late October, sometimes early November. It is hard to miss a sport that is only gone for a few months. Even considering football training camp, the NFL is only officially on the docket for six months. It is the shortest season in sports – blink and you may miss it.
So, while the Indians are the more successful team of the two in Cleveland, the Browns are playing in the sport that is more loved. If you took a poll of Cleveland sports fans as to which championship they could witness if they could only witness one, the majority would likely say the Super Bowl. That’s why fans still cling to their football team unlike any other team in a championship-starved town. They are stuck on the good times of the 1950s, 60s, and 80s, when the Browns had real superstars.
There are two other compelling aspects as to why the Browns get more attention than the Indians. Despite their like of winning, it has not been for a lack of trying. They have been willing to spend on free agents. Also, fans look at the stretch of 1996-1998 when there was no football and that was actually far worse than anything the last 17 seasons have given Browns fans. Not having a team around will certainly make you appreciate it ever so much more.
The only way the Indians may ever get ahead or close to the Browns would be if they won a World Series or had another run like the 1990s when they were a division title favorite for more than a half a decade. It would take that kind of success to unseat the Browns as the city’s top sports team.
Consider that the Cavs had that kind of success from 2005-2010, yet they don’t even seem to have the same love from Cleveland sports fans that the Browns have.
Football is Cleveland’s number one sport and the Browns will be the team the city backs more than any other in good times and bad. Unless the Indians go on some sort of historic run, that won’t change. Even a historic run may not change what really is an obsession with team over any other.
Photo: Chuck Crow/Plain Dealer