If there is any other city in the league that has had it tougher than Buffalo it is Cleveland. It has to be. They lived our nightmare. People are quick to forget that “class act” Art Modell removed football from the Rock and Roll Capital of the World for three seasons. I cannot imagine the heartbreak of watching the team I love pack up and move to some other city. Browns fans did. For three years. Imagine never even making it to the Super Bowl, losing your team to another city, and then that city wins the Super Bowl with your old team the year your new team comes back into the league. That can only be Cleveland. It doesn’t end on the gridiron either. For years sports fans in The Forest City have watched their superstars find their way out. Manny, LeBron, and so many more left for the big lights, paydays, and championships. Cleveland hasn’t had a major sports championship since the Browns beat the Colts 27-0 in the 1964 NFL Championship game. Jim Brown retired the next year. Couldn’t imagine watching Brown, who some still consider the best running back ever, just walk away to go make movies. That can only be Cleveland.
LeBron takes the cake though. When the Cavs drafted him first overall out of St. Vincent-St. Mary in Akron, Ohio the city felt they finally had their chosen one. All who came to see the King would Witness something historic; something unique. Fans got what they wanted as the young prodigy played like a grown man each and every night. We have all become accustomed to LeBron’s high flying act, but watching him do it as an 18-year-old rookie was incredible. He took the Cavs to heights they had never reached, but came up short to a Spurs team that was on a mission then just as they are now. When it came time to for free agency, the King made it clear that he wouldn’t talk about it until the season was over, and boy did he ever. As he sat on that stage and told the world he was, “Taking his talents to South Beach,” I shook my head knowing that the people in Cleveland would watch the prodigal son win in another city. He did; twice. That can only be Cleveland.
Things are changing. Last year most NFL fans would have laughed at me if I predicted that the Bills would play the Browns in a very meaningful game on the last day of November. We are. Last year most NBA fans would have said you were dreaming if you claimed that the King would return to the city so many thought he turned his back on. He did. Few would have imagined that the Cavs would land the two biggest names in free agency this summer. They have. Last year at this time Bills fans wouldn’t allow themselves to believe that everything was going to be ok once Mr. Wilson was gone either. We do. Who is to say what the new owners of the Bills are going to do this spring even without a first round pick. Things are changing. Both cities may be years from the championships they so desperately deserve, but they seem to be much closer than ever. It is an exciting time for these sports towns and I am looking forward to living it come Sunday.
Don’t mistake my knowledge of Cleveland and their tragic history for anything more than that. Other than the usual suspects in the AFC East, I have hated the Browns since Ronnie Harmon dropped that ball in the back off the end-zone back in 1989. The Dog Pound may never be what it once was, but it still exists. I have had the pleasure of traveling to the shores of Lake Erie numerous times to enjoy grown men throwing dog biscuits at us when they were winning, and AA batteries when they weren’t. One of my more recent trips to Cleveland was for the shut lose to Cleveland back in 2007. 8-0 to be precise- two field goals and a safety; in a blizzard. We drove through it on Saturday night to be there and listened in as Patrick Kane scored in his first game against the Sabres. I was supposed to go to that hockey game, but elected to go watch the Bills lay an egg on the road. Two years later, I sat in disbelief as Roscoe Parrish fumbled right in front of me and the Browns went on to kick a field goal to win 6-3. It was the worst professional game I ever watched. I despise the Browns for it, their fans, their orange spray paint, and their beloved dog pound just as much as most Steeler fans probably do. Yet, as both cities and teams continue to move in the right direction I have to tip my hat to the fans. I have to try and be sympathetic. Much like all of us here in Buffalo, Cleveland has waited a long time to be back on top. It won’t happen overnight for either city, and it won’t happen this weekend for the Browns either.