On Dec. 27, 1964, the Cleveland Browns defeated the Baltimore Colts 27-0 in the NFL Championship game. Times were great in Cleveland, as the city celebrated its first championship of any kind since 1955. It was a nine-year drought. Little did anyone know that the moment should have been savored and clung on to for dear life.
No major Cleveland sports team has won a championship since those Browns. The NFL is going to hold its 48th Super Bowl on Feb. 2. The Browns have not made it to that game even one time. The Cleveland Cavaliers, in existence since 1970, have been to one NBA Final and were swept out of it. The Cleveland Indians have lost a pair of World Series since 1964.
Heartbreak and heartache have defined Cleveland’s sports teams ever since the Browns shut out a Colts team that has long since moved to Indianapolis. The Browns went to four AFC championship games in the 1980s. They came oh-so-close to reaching the Super Bowl on three occasions. Of course, terms like Red Right 88, The Drive and The Fumble have become house-hold names because of the team’s inability to get the job done.
Likewise, the Cavs of the late 80s and early 90s had great teams with players like Mark Price, Larry Nance and Brad Daugherty. Those teams may have won a title or two if not for Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. The Cavaliers of 2005-2010 were also championship contenders with the great LeBron James. However, the team did not quite have enough pieces around its superstar to snag the town’s first title in decades. The Spurs of 2007 were simply too much for a young Cavs team in that year’s Finals.
The Indians have actually come closer to bringing home a world championship than any Cleveland team in the last 49-plus years. In 1995, they lost to a Braves team that simply had too much great pitching with guys like Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. In 1997, they were two outs away from defeating the Marlins in the Fall Classic. Closer Jose Mesa blew a 1-0 lead in the ninth inning of Game 7 and the Indians lost in extra innings.
Cleveland is now in grave danger reaching the 50 year mark of zero championships. The Browns missed the playoffs at 4-12. They fired head coach Rob Chudzinski after only a single season on the job and do not have a proven, quality quarterback. They are tied with the Lions for worst record in the league since their rebirth in 1999. Even if they were to have a miraculous turn around next year, the Browns would not be in the Super Bowl until after Dec. 27.
The Cavs, likewise, are a mess. Ever since James left for Miami in the summer of 2010, the Cavs have come nowhere near the playoffs. At 10-21, Cleveland is not heading toward the postseason, much less the city’s first championship since ’64. Odds are exceedingly high that the Cavaliers will stop the bleeding before the big 5-0 hits.
That leaves the Indians. Coming off a 92-win, trip to the playoffs, campaign, the Tribe seems to be Cleveland’s last only hope to keep the city from celebrating a dubious milestone next year.
The Indians have the American League’s reigning coach of the year in Terry Francona. They have an excellent young nucleus of players. They have a solid front of the rotation with an offense that underachieved last year. With a couple more small tweaks in the offseason, there is little reason to think the Tribe can not again compete for a playoff spot in 2014.
The Indians do not have the star power of teams like the Tigers or Red Sox. However, they are solid all the way up and down the lineup. To predict a World Series title this coming year would be a little foolish. They have a little more to prove. They need to prove that last season was not a fluke, but more of a sign of things to come.
While it is hard to predict a title for the Tribe, there at least is hope. There is a lot more hope with the Indians than the other two teams in town. That is something a depressed sports city like Cleveland needs – hope.
The Browns give hope every year at the NFL draft. That hope is usually replaced by frustration around mid-October. Clevelanders were hopeful that a young Cavs team was going to figure things out this year. It appears they have been poorly built over the last few years and struggle to win games against good teams.
The Indians, on the other hand, have excellent management. They have been built with a clear direction and purpose. General Manager Chris Antonetti has done a very good job of collecting talented players on a budget. Right now, he is hands down the best GM in the city. Francona is as good as they come. He has seniorship among the coaches in Cleveland. Unlike Browns coaches, who last, two or three years, Francona should be around a while.
The Indians have a tightknit team that is hungry for more success after tasting a little last year. It is a young team that is growing up before our eyes. The Indians may not stop the 50-year mark from hitting. However, they have a chance to stop Cleveland’s winless streak BEFORE Dec. 27, 2014 comes about. Having a chance is all that Cleveland sports fan can really ask for these days.
Photo: Jim Miller/Getty Images
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