Cleveland sports curse
The Cleveland sports curse was a sports superstition involving the city of Cleveland, Ohio, and its major league professional sports teams, centered on the failure to win a championship in any major league sport for a period of 52 years, from 1964 to 2016. Three major league teams based in Cleveland contributed to belief in the curse: the Browns of the National Football League (NFL); the Cavaliers of the National Basketball Association (NBA); and the Indians of Major League Baseball (MLB). Combined with the short-lived Barons franchise of the National Hockey League (NHL), Cleveland teams endured an unprecedented 147-season championship drought, having not won a title since the Browns defeated the Baltimore Colts in the 1964 NFL Championship Game two seasons prior to the first Super Bowl.
Cleveland's 52-year championship drought finally ended when the Cavaliers beat the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, an event widely interpreted as having broken the curse.
Much of the discussion of the "curse" is centered on the NFL's Cleveland Browns, who have not won a championship since 1964 and have suffered a series of questionable coaching decisions, disappointing losses and draft busts.
Prior to Art Modell becoming majority owner of the team, the Browns had dominated the NFL and the earlier All-America Football Conference (AAFC), winning seven championships in 17 years. After three non-playoff seasons, the 1964 Browns' team finished 10–3–1 and appeared in the 1964 NFL Championship Game against a heavily favored Baltimore Colts team coached by Don Shula with Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas as its signal caller. The Browns beat the Colts 27–0 at Cleveland Stadium. This particular Browns team consisted of many players initially drafted and acquired by Paul Brown, the Browns' former long-time head coach and architect of the team's earlier successes, who had been fired by Modell early in 1963. During the next 30 years in Cleveland, not a single Modell team won the league or conference title, although they did appear in a total of seven NFL/American Football Conference (AFC) championship title games during the period.
In 1981, trailing by two points to the Oakland Raiders and in field goal range with less than one minute remaining in the AFC divisional playoff game, the Browns executed a passing play that was intercepted in the end zone. The play, called by Browns head coach Sam Rutigliano, has become known as "Red Right 88".
In the 1986–87 NFL playoffs, the Browns were one game away from playing in what would have been the franchise's first Super Bowl when they fell short in one of the most memorable games in NFL history. The Browns were leading the Denver Broncos 20–13 in the fourth quarter when Broncos quarterback John Elway led a 98-yard game-tying drive in just over 5 minutes. The game went to overtime, and the Broncos kicked a field goal to seal the victory. Elway's fourth quarter march and the game itself became known as "The Drive", a title that both signifies Elway's brilliance in the clutch and the Browns' inability to close out important games.
The Browns and Broncos both returned to the AFC Championship Game the next year. With the Browns down 38–31 late in the fourth quarter, Browns' running back Earnest Byner was handed the ball near the goal line. Byner, who was in the midst of a great performance, was stripped of the ball and the Broncos recovered on their 2-yard line. The Broncos surrendered an intentional safety and went on to win 38–33, while Byner's blunder became known as "The Fumble".
The Browns returned to the AFC Championship game in the 1989–90 season, again losing to the Broncos. As of the 2016 NFL season, the Browns have not returned to the AFC Championship Game since and remain one of four teams to never play in a Super Bowl, along with the Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, and Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Browns were at the center of a relocation controversy in 1995. The decision by then-Browns owner Art Modell to move the Browns, which had been an 11–5 team the previous season, to Baltimore infuriated and confused Browns fans. After negotiations with the NFL and the city of Cleveland, Modell was allowed to move the team's personnel to Baltimore, where it became a new franchise known as the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens won a Super Bowl in only their fifth year of existence, doing so with former Browns tight end Ozzie Newsome as their general manager. In addition to Newsome's success, coach Bill Belichick, who was fired as Browns' head coach soon after the 1995 season, became head coach of the New England Patriots five years later. With the Patriots, Belichick has coached only one losing season and won seven AFC Championships and five Super Bowls. The struggles of the Browns since rejoining the NFL, as well as the success of both Newsome and Belichick, were chronicled in the NFL Films feature A Football Life: 1995 Cleveland Browns.
The Browns returned to the NFL in 1999, after a three-year period of deactivation. In the 1999 NFL Draft, the Browns selected Tim Couch, hoping he would be a franchise quarterback. Ty Detmer was brought in to usher in the planned "Couch era", but after a string of dismal performances, Couch was rushed into the starting position. Couch struggled to perform without a talented roster around him, which led to his eventual departure from the Browns after the 2003 season. Although only winning 22 games in 59 starts, Couch led the Browns to their only playoff berth since their return, in 2002.
By the end of the 2015 season, the Browns had started 24 different quarterbacks since their 1999 return to the NFL, a league-high in that period. The Browns have not won a playoff game since beating the New England Patriots on January 1, 1995, and have lost nine or more games each season since 2008.
On November 30, 2015, the Browns played the Baltimore Ravens in their first Monday Night Football game in six years. After trailing 17–3 in the second quarter, the Browns rallied behind quarterbacks Josh McCown and Austin Davis to tie the game at 27 with 1:47 left. Then Browns cornerback Tramon Williams intercepted a pass at mid-field with 50 seconds left. Cleveland attempted a 51-yard field goal with 3 seconds left to win the game, only to see the attempt blocked and returned by the Ravens for a touchdown, handing the Browns their most painful loss in recent history. The event was called "The Block" by some disgruntled fans on Twitter only moments after the end of the game.
Over the franchise's first 16 years, the team produced just three winning seasons, the highlight being the 1975–76 "Miracle at Richfield" team, whose improbable playoff run was doomed by an injury to Jim Chones. The late 1970s and early-mid 1980s saw the franchise ruined by owner Ted Stepien's decision to trade away every first-round pick the Cavaliers held for inferior talent, while those picks turned into players such as James Worthy and Derek Harper. In 1989, the Cavaliers faced the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. In the decisive fifth game, Craig Ehlo had given the Cavs the lead with :03 to play. However, the Bulls' Michael Jordan then jumped over Ehlo to make the game-winning shot, and the Bulls won the best-of-five series 3–2. The play, which earned the Bulls a 101–100 victory, became known simply as "The Shot." Despite six trips to the playoffs between 1988 and 1994, including a 1992 Eastern Conference Finals appearance, the Cavaliers never made it to the NBA Finals, as Jordan's Bulls defeated them in the playoffs five times during the Daugherty–Nance–Price era.
In 2007, Ohio native LeBron James led the Cavaliers to their first ever NBA Finals appearance. They lost, however, to the heavily favored San Antonio Spurs, who swept them in four games. Two years later, the Cavaliers, despite winning the most regular season games in the NBA since 2007 (66–16), lost the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals to the Orlando Magic in six games. In the following season's playoffs, though his teams always possessed home-court advantage, the reigning two-time MVP James and the 2009–10 Cavaliers (61–21) were blown out by the visiting Boston Celtics in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, 120–88. The Cavaliers went on to lose the series in Game 6 (4–2), which was James' final game with the team for more than four years.
During the 2010 NBA free agency period, LeBron James was featured in a television special titled The Decision. Having notified the Cavaliers just moments prior to the television event, James announced "In this fall — this is very tough — in this fall I'm gonna take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat." The quote was heavily criticized. Three upset Cavaliers fans were seen burning LeBron James merchandise such as jerseys and posters and heavily booed James in his first game in Cleveland as a member of the Heat. James, along with the help of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, led the Heat to four consecutive NBA Finals appearances, winning twice, while the Cavaliers fell to the bottom of the NBA echelon with their record and attendance. In those four years without LeBron, they acquired three number-one picks (Kyrie Irving in 2011, Anthony Bennett in 2013 and Andrew Wiggins in 2014). Despite these windfalls the team struggled to win games, setting an NBA record for most consecutive losses with 26 in the 2010–11 season.
After the 2014 season, James opted out of his contract early and rejoined the Cavaliers. After signing James, the Cavaliers traded their two most recent number-one draft picks, Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, for Minnesota Timberwolves star Kevin Love to form their own "Big 3", which was rounded out by Kyrie Irving. They also signed Mike Miller and James Jones to replicate the Miami Heat's formula and eventually made it to the 2015 Finals. However, several Cavaliers players were injured during the season, including Anderson Varejão with a ruptured Achilles tendon during the regular season, Love with a dislocated shoulder during the first round of the playoffs, and Irving with a fractured patella in Game 1 of the Finals. Though losing nearly all of James' supporting cast, the Cavaliers won Games 2 and 3 to take a 2–1 series lead before falling to the Golden State Warriors in six games.
Even though the Cavaliers were 30–11 on January 22, 2016, the team fired coach David Blatt and replaced him with top assistant Tyronn Lue. It was revealed that Blatt had a turbulent relationship with James as well as several other players. The Cavaliers lost to the Chicago Bulls 96–83 at home in Lue's debut as Cavaliers' head coach. After that first loss the Cleveland Cavaliers went on to win the division and Eastern Conference top seed (57–25), earning them home court throughout the first three rounds of the playoffs. They would face the 8 seed Detroit Pistons, sweeping the series 4–0, although it was a hard-fought series as the Pistons led the Cavaliers in the 4th quarter in three of the games. The Cavaliers would then face the Atlanta Hawks, where they would sweep that series as well. During the series against the Hawks, the Cavaliers made a run at the record books, making 18 three-point field goals in a half that would give them a 38-point halftime lead over the Hawks in Game 2; the Cavaliers would go on to set a new record for made three-point field goals in a game (25). The Cavs went on to defeat the Toronto Raptors, 4–2, to clinch the Eastern Conference title.
The Cavaliers defeated the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals which was a rematch of the previous season's NBA Finals. Through the first four games, the 57-win Cavaliers were trailing the record-setting 73-win Warriors in the series, 3–1. However, the Cavaliers won the next three games to capture their first NBA Championship in franchise history, becoming the first team in NBA Finals history to overcome a 3–1 deficit, and the first team since 1978 to win a Finals Game 7 on the road. A particularly memorable moment in Game Seven was when James successfully pursued and blocked Andre Iguodala on a fast break late in the fourth quarter, a defensive play known among Cavs fans as The Block. Following would be a three-point shot by Kyrie Irving, to put the Cavaliers ahead for good at 92–89 with exactly 53 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Following that, Cavaliers' forward Kevin Love was switched and forced to play one-on-one defense against Stephen Curry. Curry tried an array of dribbling moves but ultimately missed his 3-point attempt, with the typically slow-footed Love staying in front of and pestering the Warriors guard. This game is being called "The Comeback" and "The End" as this win ended Northeast Ohio's 52-year championship drought.
The Cleveland Indians, like the Browns and Cavaliers, also experienced the curse. The Indians' failure to win a World Series since 1948 has led Cleveland Scene to dub the team's shortcomings The Curse of Chief Wahoo. Chief Wahoo is a Native American caricature which serves as the Indians' cap insignia. The Chief Wahoo insignia has been controversial. The Indians considered changing it in 1993, but the logo was retained on the cap until 2013, when it was moved to the jersey sleeves and replaced on the cap with a block C. The Curse of Rocky Colavito is another phenomenon that is supposedly preventing the Indians from winning a World Series. The 1989 film Major League was based on the Indians' poor performance since 1959, finishing third or worse in the division for 29 of those seasons.
In 1954, the Indians had one of the greatest seasons in Major League history, with their .721 winning percentage being the third-highest since 1903 (the year of the first World Series). In Game 1 of the World Series, with the game tied 2–2 in the top of the eighth, Willie Mays made an improbable running catch on a ball hit by Vic Wertz that would have been a home run in almost every ballpark except the 483-foot center field at the Polo Grounds. The catch put a hold to an Indians rally and the Giants went on to win the game 5–2 in 10 innings. The Giants then swept the Indians in four games in one of the biggest upsets in World Series history. The Indians would not return to the playoffs until 1995.
The historic 1995 season saw the Indians win 100 games and make it to the World Series for the first time in 41 years. However, they lost in six games to the Atlanta Braves, led by the Braves' Big Three of Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and World Series MVP Tom Glavine. The Braves' victory was their only World Series win in 17 postseason appearances since 1991, including every year from 1991 to 2005.
The Indians returned to the World Series in 1997 and were leading 2–1 heading into the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7, only for José Mesa to blow the save to Craig Counsell's sacrifice fly, allowing the Marlins to tie the game in the ninth and win in the eleventh on a walk-off single by Edgar Renteria that deflected off the glove of Indians pitcher Charles Nagy.
After winning division titles six times in seven seasons from 1995 to 2001, the Indians only appeared in the postseason twice in 14 years under the often frugal Dolan family ownership (Larry Dolan bought the team in 2000). In the 2007 American League Championship Series, the Indians were up 3–1 and one win away from advancing to the World Series, but they lost the last three games to the Boston Red Sox, denying the team a World Series berth. The Red Sox went on to sweep the Colorado Rockies to win the World Series. In 2013, the Indians won their final ten games of the season to make the playoffs again, but lost the play-in Wild Card game at home to the Tampa Bay Rays by a score of 4–0.
Four months after the Cavaliers had won the NBA championship in 2016, the Indians made it to the World Series, giving Cleveland a chance to become the first city since Los Angeles in 1988 to have both NBA and World Series championships in the same year (the Lakers and Dodgers won their respective titles that year). The Indians held a 3–1 lead against the Chicago Cubs, but Chicago rallied to win the last three games and break a 108-year championship drought; as a result, the Indians currently hold the longest active championship drought.
The Indians returned to the playoffs in 2017, a year in which they won the most games in the American League, highlighted by an American League record 22-game winning streak from August 24 to September 14. After winning the first two games in Cleveland, the Indians held a commanding 2–0 lead in the best-of-five series. But the Indians lost the next three games to the New York Yankees, eliminating the Indians from the playoffs and extending their championship drought to 70 years.
The Cleveland sports curse has generally centered around its major teams. However, other teams based in Cleveland won championships during the city's major title drought, and one Greater Cleveland native won a world championship individually.
The Cleveland Crunch, a defunct indoor soccer club, won three championships in the National Professional Soccer League (NPSL) during the 1990s. The Crunch beat the St. Louis Ambush three games to one in a best-of-five championship series, clinching the team's first title in a double overtime Game 4 win at the CSU Convocation Center on April 27, 1994. The team went on to win two more titles, in 1996 and 1999, before the league itself disbanded in 2001.
Lake Erie Monsters
On June 11, 2016, the Lake Erie Monsters of the American Hockey League won the Calder Cup, defeating the Hershey Bears at Quicken Loans Arena to win the series 4–0. The team, also owned by Dan Gilbert, shares its arena with the Cavaliers, who won the NBA title eight days later.
It was the tenth overall Calder Cup won by a Cleveland team. The original Cleveland Barons that played from 1937 to 1973 won nine Calder Cups, with the last in 1964, coincidentally the last time one of the major sports franchises in the city won a championship prior to the 2016 Cavaliers.
On May 14, 2016, mixed martial artist Stipe Miocic, a native of Euclid, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb, won the UFC Heavyweight Championship at UFC 198 in Curitiba, Brazil, knocking out Brazil's Fabricio Werdum. Three hours prior, ESPN had aired a 30 for 30 episode called "Believeland," documenting Cleveland's major-league title drought. The Indians and Cavaliers Twitter accounts congratulated him shortly afterwards. They and the Browns had earlier wished him luck. He tweeted encouragement to the Cavaliers, who hoped to keep the winning streak alive in the 2016 NBA Playoffs. Some media outlets characterized Miocic's title as having ended Cleveland's 52-year championship drought. Most either continued to portray the curse as ongoing with the Cavaliers poised to break it, or recognized the Cavaliers as having ended the title drought following their win in the 2016 NBA Finals.
Comparisons with Pittsburgh
Cleveland's lack of success in sports has often times been compared to the contrast of nearby Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which has been very successful in sports despite being very similar to Cleveland within the Rust Belt. Pittsburgh won twelve world championships during Cleveland's 52-year title drought between its three major teams (Steelers, Penguins, Pirates), which also saw a major tilt in the Browns–Steelers rivalry in favor of the Steelers during that period, with the Steelers now holding a 14-game advantage in the all-time series after the Browns had at one point an eight-game advantage.
The contrast between the two cities extends beyond on-the-field competition. Cleveland fans often cite Pittsburgh media as being among the first to report news on Cleveland sports topics. For instance, an email controversy between a fan and then-Browns GM Phil Savage was first reported by Pittsburgh radio station WXDX-FM. Even after the Cavaliers ended the curse in 2016, the offices of Cleveland mayor Frank G. Jackson called the offices of Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto on advice on how to throw a championship parade, as it had been decades since Cleveland was able to throw one.
Despite the comparisons, the two cities rarely compete against each other outside of the NFL. The Indians and Pirates play in different leagues and lack of interest in developing a regular Interleague rivalry. Lacking an NBA team, Pittsburghers tend to give mixed responses on rooting for the Cavaliers. The NHL considers the Cleveland market "shared" between the Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets, but the Penguins have rarely tried to market in Cleveland since the team-owned Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins replaced the Cleveland Lumberjacks as the team's top minor league affiliate in the late 1990s; the Monsters currently serve as the Blue Jackets top farm team.
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