Opinion: Mistakes by the lake

Mike Crissman

Northeast Ohioans are among the most dedicated, steadfast sports fans in the world. They are also the most tortured. Through thick and thin, the Cleveland Cavaliers, Indians and especially the Browns have maintained the support of a truly die-hard fan base – more die-hard than Bruce Willis.

Last week the city of Cleveland saw its third sports coach fired in 15 months. Cleveland Browns president Mike Holmgren fired head coach Eric Mangini, after yet another severely disappointing season for Cleveland football fans.

Before that termination was the Cavs’ firing of coach Mike Brown in May 2010. Before that was the Indians’ firing of Eric Wedge in September 2009.

The firing of the head coach of a professional sports team generally means the start of a re-building phase. That, of course, has been the case for the Browns, Cavs and Indians. As of late, each team has struggled to hit its stride and find its own identity amid the instability at the coaching position. Let alone the fact that there is a serious lack in the talent department.

Cleveland fans have been suffering especially hard recently, ironically, because of how successful one of our teams was just last season. I’m referring to the Cavs and the pathetic let down they have been this season.

Dec. 2 was supposed to be the day we got back at LeBron James for slapping us in the face. The Cavs’ first game against their former teammate was one of the most highly anticipated basketball games in recent memory. Sadly, it ended up being yet another bruise on the tattered sports history of Cleveland.

In case you are unaware, LeBron and the Heat rolled into town, pulled the Cavs’ pants down and spanked the team into obscurity. They haven’t been the same since, losing every game, except one, the rest of the month. As the Heat vies for the best record in the NBA right now, the Cavs continue to slip to one of the worst in the league. It’s all chutes and no ladders. All of this after finishing the past two seasons with the best record in the league. It hurts.

For the first time in a while, the Cavs join the Indians and the Browns as one of the worst teams in their respective sports. The Indians have underperformed since 2007 when they were one win away from reaching the World Series. The last couple of seasons the Tribe finished near the bottom of their division with the lowly Kansas City Royals. Much of this can be attributed to the front office trading away anyone worthwhile.

And the Browns… well, the Browns are the Browns. They’re the ever-dismal football team that destroyed all their historic rivalries by simply not competing. Many Clevelanders think of the Steelers as our great rivals, but they’re not – anymore. Not as long as they continue to beat us down like they did in their 41-9 win last week. With yet another head coach vacancy, the Browns are in the midst of great uncertainty. Though terrible, they are Cleveland’s greatest hope at the moment. If Holmgren selects the right coach, whether it’s him or someone else, and we are able to add some real wide receivers, then playoff contention next season is not out of the question.

An outsider looking in at Cleveland sports may see three struggling teams that are not worth anyone’s time. And after getting their hearts broken time and time again, why should Clevelanders think otherwise? For whatever reason, we do.

The Cavaliers are averaging the second highest home attendance in the NBA (behind the Chicago Bulls), people still attend Indians games on days that aren’t fireworks nights and Browns fans truly believe we have a shot at going all the way – every year.

Does it matter that the Cavs are without LeBron, or that the Indians traded away two Cy-Young pitchers in consecutive years, or that the Browns have had 16 starting quarterbacks since returning to the NFL in 1999 or that Cleveland hasn’t won a championship since 1964? Not to Cleveland.

The city’s sports fans have good reason to be pessimistic about the future of their teams. However, there’s not an offseason that goes by where they don’t become consumed with optimism and championship predictions.

A city that can put The Drive, The Fumble, The Shot and The Decision behind it is a strong one. Our blind support and belief in our sports teams, year in and year out, may be the cause of much heartache and stress, but it’s also the source of our character and the deep pride we hold in our struggling town.

Call us resilient. Call us stubborn. That’s Cleveland.

Mike Crissman is a sophomore newspaper journalism major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].