The Factory of Sadness — The story of the unluckiest city in American sports history
When does a curse become known as a curse? At what point does a run of bad luck and coincidental misfortune turn into a systematic and eternal damning?
These are questions being asked by fans of the most cursed sporting city in the world, Cleveland. The city has three major sports teams, the Indians in the Major League of Baseball, the Browns in the National Football League and the Cavaliers in the National Basketball Association. Each team has a storied sporting history that goes back decades. The only problem for Cleveland fans? None of these teams have won a championship since 1964.
“… we have been witness to the most obscenely unfair 34-year run (1980–2014) in professional sports history” — Bill Simmons (14 year ESPN columnist)
In their early years as a franchise, the Browns were actually one of the most prolific teams in the league. Under the guidance of legendary coach Paul Brown, the franchise’s namesake, the Browns won four championships during a stretch from 1950–1964. Their last championship in 1964 marks the most recent championship of any Cleveland sports team. That’s a 51-year drought. Throughout the 1970s and 80s, the Browns were one of the most consistently good teams in the NFL. The team was marred however by their inability to execute in high pressure situations during playoff games.
Phrases such as ‘Red Right 88’, ‘The Drive’ and ‘The Fumble’ are all infamous plays that have doomed the Browns to defeat, often in the cruelest way possible. The Browns even saw the team moved to Baltimore in 1995, before Cleveland was awarded another franchise in 1999. Since then, the Browns have been one of the most laughably mediocre teams in the NFL.
The Indians are another Cleveland sporting team that, despite having success in the early 20th century, have also felt the cruelty of the Cleveland sports curse. The Indians were winners of two World Series’ in 1920 and 1948, as well as having the best season in baseball history in 1954 in terms of winning percentage. Since then however, the Indians have been unable return to the heights of a World Series victory. The closest they came was in 1997 when the Indians led the Florida Marlins heading into the final inning of game 7 in the World Series. Indians closer Jose Mesa famously blew the save in the 9th inning, opening the door for the Marlins to win the game in the 11th inning. The Indians were almost back in the World Series in 2007, when they held a 3–1 series lead against the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series, with the winner heading to the World Series. The Indians lost the next three games in a row and lost the series, as the Red Sox went on to sweep the Colorado Rockies and win the World Series. Some blame the Indians’ bad luck on the ‘The Curse of Chief Wahoo’. Chief Wahoo is the Native American character on the insignia of the Indians’ caps. The belief is that the Indians are paying the price for using a racist caricature as the brand of their franchise.
Major Sporting Championships by North American cities
The Cavaliers are the final team in Cleveland’s professional sports trio that have felt the full brunt of the Cleveland sports curse. While being a largely forgettable team in the 70s and early 80s, the Cavaliers teams of the early 90s are regarded by many as some of the best to never make it to the NBA Finals. The reason for this of course was Michael Jordan, who made a habit of eliminating the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. His most notable victory against the Cavaliers was in game 5 of the first round of the 1989 Eastern Conference Playoffs, when he scored a buzzer-beating basket to win the game and the series. The image of Michael Jordan jumping in the air to celebrate the victory with an inconsolable Craig Ehlo in the background is regarded as one of the most defining images of Cleveland sports.
The Cavaliers were largely inconsequential after the early 90s, until the team drafted LeBron James in 2003. James led the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in 2007, where they were ultimately swept by the San Antonio Spurs. In 2010, James left the Cavaliers after more disappointing playoff results, as he opted to take his talents to the Miami Heat. After 4 NBA Finals appearances and 2 championships with the Heat, James chose to return to the Cavaliers in 2014. The Cavaliers made the NBA Finals again in 2015 with James at the helm, however they were crushed by injuries and fell to the Golden State Warriors. Now, with James ready to go for another season, and stars Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving signed to long term contracts, the Cavaliers are one of the favourites to win the 2016 NBA championship and are arguably the most well placed team to end the Cleveland sports curse ever.
“ I got a goal, and it’s a huge goal, and that’s to bring an NBA championship here to Cleveland, and I won’t stop until I get it.” — LeBron James
Over the years, Cleveland sports fans have been beaten and battered by the fortunes of their teams. But one thing doesn’t change. They keep coming back. While the exterior perception of Cleveland sports is one of failure and mediocrity, the fans of these teams themselves see something different. Cleveland sports fans are some of the most persistent, devoted and loyal supporters anywhere in the world. And their luck will change. One day. For now, the fans don’t mind waiting.
“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm” — Winston Churchill