No matter the disappointment, no matter the ridicule & rage, you’ll thank me for what I pass to you – this losing record, that last second folly, the endless blooper reel that will be your life as a sports fan. You’ll have moments, no doubt, bursts of pure hatred. Heartbreak will become your most stable relationship.
You won’t remember these times we now share, of me tossing a ball at your toes while you clap your hands & belly laugh, when you tap your little toe against the soccer ball as your attempt at saying “ball” comes out as a hearty “bah.” Or, of my lifting you through the air at our Nerf hoop & yelling “dunk dunk” over & over. You won’t remember these times, but I will. I’ll relive these days in the fog of nostalgia, over a drink or a coffee, or at a computer reconstructing memories of your childhood.
One day you’ll watch your own newborn son sleep, his eyelids twitching as he dreams unfettered dreams, and you’ll want nothing more than to still-frame every moment with him, no winners & no losers. A shared experience, a rite of passage, a game you hope will never end. You’ll remember where you were, what you talked about, who was in the room, and though a loss is a loss & thus will weigh heavy- particularly when replayed time & again whenever one of your teams plays a big game- it’ll be nothing more than backdrop, excess color, the frame around a far more interesting image. You’ll realize then that sport shared between father & son is victory in and of itself.
You’ll visit me one Sunday, many years from now, and I’ll be there on the couch, zoned out, baseball game muted in the background. I’ll look old to you, wrinkles circling my squinting eyes. You’ll call out to me several times before I answer, my voice distant, the back of one of my hands rubbing against my upper cheeks. I’ll apologize & force a smile. You might ask me what’s wrong & I’ll tell you that I’m remembering my own Dad. Still distant, digging through mental archives of heartbreaks past, I’ll nod at a chair, go ahead sit down, & then begin what will become a generational tradition, the passing down of this family’s heirloom: the epic, ever-growing, well-documented lowlight reel of Cleveland sports. Just remember it’ll all work out, okay? Besides, it’s just a game. The real lesson is in how you handle it.
Red Right 88 – January 4th, 1981
Six years old and too young to paint the picture yet old enough to be wearing a jersey. I know now that it was 14 – 13, Oakland. Seconds remaining. Cleveland with the ball closing in on a game winning TD. Coach Rutigliano, whose name even my father butchered, calls Red Right 88 with an asterisk. “Don’t force it,” he told Brian Sipe- same name as the one on my back that day. If nothing’s open “throw it into Lake Erie.” The lake that day was a defensive back named Mike Davis, a man who not only secured the victory that opened the door to a run that ended with a Super Bowl win, but who also intercepted my fate as a sports fan, that heartbroken Sunday my first, and least bitter, taste of what was to come.
The Drive – January 11th, 1987
Browns sweatpants, sweatshirt, orange face paint, and a box-full of dog bones in honor of the Dog Pound, home to rabid Cleveland fans, then a source of pride and now of utter disgust and embarrassment. Up 7 with 5:00 to go, Elway’s Broncos with the ball on own 2-yard line. Even my father is sensing victory. Our first Super Bowl! Our year!
I eat a dog bone because that’s what you do when your football team is going to the Super Bowl.
Except they didn’t. Because these dogs weren’t the fighting type and horse-toothed Elway ran, passed, flipped, flopped, danced, jiggled, and finger-picked his way 98 yards.
Heartbreak still tastes like sharp shards of regurgitated dog bone.
The Fumble – January 17th, 1988
Same teams, different stadium. Confidence recharged. Fully costumed. Game tied 31-31, little over a minute remaining. Cleveland’s driven down to Denver’s 8. Ernest Byner, star back, gets the ball and there’s open grass, clear route to the end zone…
Five yards of pure joy, jumping up and down, Dad screaming “go, go, go,” Mom clutching my shoulder, even my sister’s hands are clasped in mock prayer.
And then as he glides, one step left to glory, the ball pops out. Denver recovers.
No bones about it, this one hurt.
The Shot – May 7th, 1989
Michael Jordan. Turn on your television and you’ll see the damn shot. Okay? Let’s move on. Again, Michael Jordan. It is what it is.
‘Another Forgettable Championship’ Championship Game – January 14th, 1990
Another game against Denver, another loss. Get over it, okay? It’s only a goddamn game.
Say, you might look good in orange and blue.
Indians Win the Pennant! The Indians Win the Pennant! – 1995
100 wins, 44 losses. Strike-shortened season. Simply put, the greatest baseball team I’ll ever have the fortune to witness. You’ll be lucky to see a team this good, got it? But they choked, so it doesn’t matter. They lost. Game 6, World Series.
I was in college, okay? Let’s see how damn sober YOU are when you’re a sophomore in college.
Jose Mesa’s Lifeless Eyes – 1997
Don’t give me that look. Let’s see what you do with that remote control when you watch a team blow a lead with 1 out in the bottom of the 9th in Game 7 of the World Series only to lose in extra innings.
It’s only a television. It’s replaceable. The bulb was about to burn out anyway. I did that television a favor!
Now stop looking at me like that, okay? Just stop it.
OSU wins National Championship over Miami Hurricanes – 2003
Yes, I thought I could act and I earned that role as Heck Tate in a Chicago production of “To Kill A Mockingbird.” It was the final dress rehearsal and let’s just say I needed the practice, okay?
Watch me act like I don’t care I missed this game, the one and only time my team wins a championship and then tell me I didn’t deserve that role. I reckon I’ll never talk about this again. Now enough with the cross-examination, Atticus.
OSU Loses Football Nat’l Championship – 2006
I lived in Chicago. That’s what you do, okay? You get drunk and pretend to forget everything. It was Tebow, too. And Florida. They were good, remember?
OSU Loses Basketball Nat’l Championship – 2006
Yes, THAT Florida. Go away.
OSU Loses Football Nat’l Championship – 2007
Okay, you really need to do your own research. They never should’ve been in this game anyway and you’d know that if you cared enough about your team to know the details. 18 teams, got it? That’s how many teams had to lose in the final few weeks to force OSU into this game. What the hell else do you want me to say?
Cavaliers Lose NBA Championship Series in 4 Games – 2007
Lebron was young. He had no support. He was tired. They made it way deeper than anyone expected. It’s fine. They’ll be back. He’s from Cleveland! He’ll stay here forever! See? I’m not worried. It’s one year. I mean, he’s only 21 for God’s sake!
Indians Blown 3-1 ALCS Series Lead to Red Sox – 2007
Whatever. Do you even KNOW how much Boston spent on that team? Do you? Well it was a lot.
And another thing… Paul Byrd? Really, Boston? Pick on a guy who isn’t the same age as Fenway Park.
The LeBacle – May 12, 2010
He quit. Did you see that? That son of a bitch quit! Walked off the court like he didn’t give a shit.
But it’s fine. He’s still young! Do you even know what I was doing when I was 24? It’s fine. He’s from Cleveland. He’ll stay forever. See? I’m not worried. It’s one year.
The Decision – July 8th, 2010
So what? We always knew he was an overhyped, self-aggrandizing, spoiled man-child with a shitty jump shot. He’s no Jordan, that’s for sure. Give me World B. Free any day of the week. Now he was a player.
Say, how about we turn off this television & read a book?