It's a simple, 3-syllable noun, common in the English language. Yet it was absent from the Cleveland vocabulary for 52 years.
Thanks to LeBron James and his Cavaliers, the noun can now be used to refer to Cleveland.
As a Browns fan, you're wondering, 'Why is Joe writing about the Cavs? The parade and rally were yesterday!'
Well, I decided to write an open letter to my future kids (if I'm lucky enough to have children one day). It's my firm opinion that the "Cleveland Curse" died on Wednesday, June 22. Our next drought won't last 52 years (knock on wood, just in case), but future Browns fans need to know how much we've endured.
I find it strange that only a few books and documentaries have solely focused on the Cleveland Curse. Sure, we have an ESPN 30 For 30 documentary, but that's about it.
Without some form of concrete evidence, future generations might not understand the kind of suffering we endured before winning.
So, I wanted to write a letter to my future kids explaining the first portion of my life under the curse. Will this letter stand the test of time? Probably not. But it's a start in preserving our history, good and bad.
Dear Son or Daughter,
Life is a journey. At the time you're reading this, yours is just beginning and mine is approaching the middle or beginning of the end. Before I depart from this world, you should know some things about my life and about the history of the city you call home.
This is a story of your hometown and the beginning of my life in it, before the Cleveland Curse ended in '16.
Just like your grandpa, I was born and raised in Cleveland. Like many Clevelanders, including my dad, sports shaped my early years. My father, your grandpa, trudged through a lot of Cleveland heartbreak.
At the age of 5, your grandpa witnessed Cleveland's last championship for 52 years. He listened to the 1964 NFL Championship game on the radio, hearing the Browns defeat the favorite, the now-extinct Baltimore Colts, 27-0. Then, things got bad.
Jim Brown retired and the Browns became just good, not great. The Indians built a dwelling in the cellar of the American League. The Cavaliers came into existence in 1970 but missed the playoffs for five seasons before the "Miracle of Richfield," which is an awesome story your grandpa can tell you.
In addition, the Cuyahoga River caught fire due to water pollution, manufacturing jobs vanished, and the city experienced numerous recessions.
Then, the Kardiac Kids came along before Red Right 88 ended a magical season (your grandpa was there). Quarterback Bernie Kosar came along a little while later, but his Browns failed, too. The Denver Broncos ended Super Bowl hopes with The Drive and The Fumble, both ending in heartbreaking playoff losses. And then Michael Jordan, perhaps the second best basketball player ever, came in to ruin the Cavs' heyday in the late 80's and early 90's.
Then, I was born. September 1993. A year before the resurgence of the Indians and in the midst of a solid era for the Cavs.
Two years later, the bomb dropped: The Browns were leaving. I was too young to remember it, but it broke the hearts of nearly every Clevelander. Never forgive Art Modell.
Another couple of years later, the Indians lost to the Marlins in Game 7 of the World Series. Thanks to the game's start time, I was forced to bed before the end, so I don't remember the game. But your grandma did cry and your grandpa was heartbroken.
The first year I remember vividly is 1999, the year I started kindergarten. From 1999 until 2016, Cleveland sports largely sucked.
The Browns returned in '99, and I quickly fell in love. For whatever reason, I loved that ugly, dark shade of brown, and the quarterback, Tim Couch. However, the Browns went 2-14 in 1999 and Couch crumbled without any offensive line.
The Indians were at the tail end of their big run, and it was becoming clear the Tribe wouldn't break the Curse. My first baseball memory is the 1999 ALDS. The Indians won Game 1, 3-2, and then Game 2, 11-1, before the club lost three straight to the Red Sox (including a 23-7 beatdown in Game 4), choking away a chance to advance to the ALCS.
The Cavs were a mess. Starting in 1998-99, the Cavs missed the playoffs for seven years in a row. And looking back, the uniforms weren't exactly beautiful.
From 1999-2006, my three teams compiled a 918-1052 record, or a .466 winning percentage. In a combined 24 seasons, my teams made the playoffs five times. That's awful.
The Browns did make the playoffs in 2002, but bowed out in the first round to the Steelers. And yes, we blew a lead. But even that couldn't top Helmetgate, the home opener of the season. The Browns were ahead heading into the final play. Linebacker Dwayne Ruud apparently made a sack before flinging his helmet skyward. But wait, the play wasn't ruled dead. And yes, throwing your helmet is a penalty. So, out trotted old Morten Anderson to win the game for the Chiefs. My dad had to wipe away my tears after that one.
Even amidst heartbreak, the emergence of LeBron James in 2003 gave us hope. I once watched a young LeBron play at the Gund Arena (now The Q) as a high schooler at St. Vincent-St. Mary. And yes, he was always really damn good.
But his first two NBA seasons proved he couldn't do it on his own. We saw him blossom from a high school stud into an awesome NBA all-star, but the Cavs' front office could never seem to find the right pieces. The Cavs made the Finals in 2007, but the San Antonio Spurs swept us in four games and showed us we weren't there yet.
Meanwhile, the Browns enjoyed a remarkable year in 2007. The team went 10-6, narrowly missing the playoffs, but Derek Anderson led a scoring machine of an offense that led us to believe that 2008 might be our year.
The Indians similarly fired on all cylinders in 2007. Damn, that was a magical season. CC Sabathia and Fausto Carmona (as it turns out, his real name is Roberto Hernandez) pitched incredibly while Victor Martinez led the offense. Kind of like 1999, the Indians faced the Red Sox in the playoffs. The Tribe built a 3-1 lead in the ALCS before it all came crashing down and the Sox won in 7. And yes, I cried after an awful Game 7.
So you might be thinking, gee, 2008 must have been a great year! Nope.
The Browns went 4-12. The Indians slid to 81-81 and then 65-97 in 2009. The Cavs lost to the Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
And so it went until the summer of 2010, when LeBron James was set to become a free agent.
I still remember the night he made his "Decision." I was working my summer job at Dunkin Donuts. It was a beautiful, July evening, a gorgeous night in West Park. With no access to a television, I relied on a customer's radio. With the store's regular customers, I waited with baited breath. Then, the phrase LeBron uttered that left a lasting impression was said on the radio: "I'm taking my talents to South Beach."
I couldn't believe it. Sadness. Anger. Confusion. How could he leave us? That SOB! Who could abandon his hometown, on national television, no less?
Many Clevelanders shared my emotions, burning his jersey and taking down his banner. It was a funeral. Owner Dan Gilbert promised us a championship, and we appreciated the sentiment of the heartful letter he wrote us fans, but we knew it was a lie. The Cavs missed the playoffs the next four years.
Mediocrity remained in Jacobs Field, renamed Progressive Field. The oft-injured Grady Sizemore was the only highlight, when he wasn't injured or receiving cat calls from admiring women. The Browns still sucked, but in a less fun way. I won't bore you with names, but the Browns were a rotating door at quarterback and every other position, including the front office. Randy Lerner eventually sold the club to truckstop magnate Jimmy Haslam, but little changed.
I then graduated from Saint Ignatius High School in 2012. Thankfully, the Wildcats were good because Cleveland teams largely stunk, as you saw above, during my high school career.
In the fall of 2012, I proceeded to John Carroll University. I finally saw another playoff game in 2013, as the Indians earned a wild card berth thanks to an incredible late season run. Jason Giambi willed the Tribe to the playoffs for the first time in six years, the first Cleveland team in three years to make a postseason appearance.
But in typical Cleveland fashion (at the time), the Tribe lost the wild card game and the playoff run ended after one game. I was in attendance, and boy, was it magical before first pitch. I sat in a packed bleachers section in a sold-out Progressive Field. It was awesome, but depression set in afterwards.
Then, in the fall of 2014, between my sophomore and junior years of college, the Cleveland sports scene vastly changed. LeBron returned.
Due to my morning Dunkin shift, I missed the news, which came on a Saturday. But upon coming home, I read every article I could to read about him coming back. To be honest, I was skeptical. I still felt burned from the Decision and still didn't forgive him.
To this day, I will always remember the Decision. But winning forgives much.
His return prompted a wave of pro-Cleveland vibes. That summer, we also hauled in the Republican National Convention (RNC) as well as Johnny Manziel. Both were a big deal for Cleveland, at least at the time.
However, as LeBron likes to say, "In Cleveland, nothing is given, everything is earned."
In fall 2014, Manziel busted and the Browns blew a 7-4 start to the year, the Indians missed the playoffs by 5 games, and the Cavs scuffled at the start of the year. The Cavs did figure things out at the end of the 2014-15 season, but injuries hampered the club in the playoffs. The Celtics took Kevin Love out of the playoffs early with a cheap shot and Kyrie Irving broke his kneecap in Game 1 of the 2015 NBA Finals. The Warriors cruised as we cursed our luck.
The script remained the same in 2015. The Tribe started slow and missed the playoffs for the second straight season, the Browns plummeted to 3-13, and the Cavs couldn't seem to find a rhythm. The club fired head coach David Blatt and promoted Tyronn Lue.
"LeBron is done," the critics said. "The Warriors are the best team ever." "Steph Curry is the best shooter of all-time.
By now, you obviously remark all of these as ridiculous.
But Clevelanders had a tough time proving the haters wrong. Especially when the Warriors dominated the Cavs in Games 1 and 2 of the NBA Finals, then took Game 4 from the Cavs at home, leaving the Cavs in a 3-1 hole heading to Oracle Arena in Oakland. The Warriors had lost just twice there at home in the regular season.
Even I had my doubts. Your grandpa kept telling me to steel myself, that the Cavs would lose. I had a slightly good feeling, but I didn't feel that confident. I'm an optimistic guy, but no NBA team had ever come back from a 3-1 deficit i the Finals.
Then LeBron took over.
The King slayed the Warriors at home in Game 5, combining with Kyrie for 82 points. Then the Cavs came home and beat the Warriors in Game 6. Not too bad, right?
Still, heading into Game 7, everyone was nervous and cautious. You have to remember, 52 years without a title will mess with your head. We were used to heartbreak at every turn, so many felt as if Game 7 had the makings of our next horror story.
Due to coincidence or purposeful scheduling, Game 7 was scheduled for Sunday, June 19: Father's Day. As it turned out, I missed a chance at tickets to the watch party, so your grandma and I took your grandpa out for dinner. We enjoyed some nice steaks, though to my chagrin, we missed much of the first quarter, due to wait time at the restaurant. We listened to the radio on the way back before catching the second quarter at home.
I had expressed an interest in watching the game with other people, so your grandpa and I walked to our favorite neighborhood restaurant and bar, The Public House. Hopefully it still exists today, as it's a gem. It's a beautiful Irish pub with wonderful food and great company.
We joined in progress in the third quarter, miraculously finding open seats at the bar. By chance, we sat next to a childhood friend of your grandpa's, the daughter of a dear friend of your great-granddad. It was fate.
Being of age, I ordered a Miller Lite and tensely watched with your grandpa. As the quarter ended, the Cavs and Warriors were going back-and-forth. Basketball is a game of runs, and each team enjoyed one in the third.
The fourth quarter was nuts. Every player on the court seemed nervous, including LeBron. Don't let anyone tell you different.
Neither team could stake a long-term claim on the lead. The whole bar nervously watched, reacting to every possesion, shot, and call. The minutes slowly ticked by. 12, 11, 10, 9, 8 ... all the way down to 2.
Then, The Block.
After a missed Kyrie layup, the Warriors had a fast break. Golden State's Andre Iguodala had a seemingly easy layup from the right side. But LeBron blocked Iguodala's easy bunny and saved the Cavs from falling down by 2. The score remained 89-89.
Then, The Shot.
From the left wing with just over a minute left, Kyrie Irving worked against 2-time NBA MVP Steph Curry. The game still tied, Irving had the ball outside the arc with time expiring on the shot clock. At the bar, we yelled "Pass it!" and "Shoot it!"
Kyrie chose the latter option. Swish.
We went nuts. 92-89 Cavs.
At that moment, we believed we might win. The Warriors didn't call a timeout, Kevin Love played exceptional, game-saving defense against Curry, the so-called MVP missed a 3, and the Cavs grabbed the rebound.
In the ensuing possession, LeBron took the ball to the hole with about 10 seconds left. He went up as if to lay down a master dunk on behalf all of Cleveland, but fell to the floor in agony after he was fouled by Draymond Green.
At that moment, dread filled my insides. "LeBron broke his wrist. Oh my God."
Then miraculously, James stood up, shook it off, and insisted on shooting the free throws. Only leading by 3, we watched in apprehension. He missed the first.
Curse words filled the air in the bar. The FCC would have been apoplectic with us.
But then LeBron hit the second shot. The Warriors still had a shot to tie it if Curry could manage a 3 and draw a foul, and with 4 seconds left, he got off a shot as "We Are the Champions" began playing on the jukebox. I held my breath, but the ball avoided the net, and the Cavs became NBA Champs.
Pure euphoria filled my veins. I yelled as loud as I've ever shouted. Your grandpa lept out of his chair after sitting the whole time before. Hugs were exchanged, tears were shed, music was played. My arms went numb, my heart soared, I hugged my dad.
It was one of the happiest moments of my life.
As Queen's classic song blasted, we absorbed the moment and sang. I sang loudly and terribly, missing half the lyrics but not losing any joy. We kept saying "Unbelievable" over and over again.
It was unreal.
We soon decided to walk home, high-fiving others and raising our arms in the air as horns blared, including a tinny one emanating from an old VW bug (Google it) that didn't belong. Everyone was joyous and happy. For one brief moment in time, every West Parker, every Clevelander, every Ohioan, every Cavs fan was united by one beautiful emotion: Unbridled joy.
The emotions did not cool off the next day, as thousands flocked to the airport to greet the Cavs on Monday morning, and others ran to stores to grab championship gear. I had work at Saint Ignatius, so I did neither, but I watched the coverage and soaked it all in. I also received Wednesday off, parade day.
Hopefully TV coverage, pictures, and videos are still around of the parade. It was insane. Official estimates placed it between 1 and 1.3 million people. Unless the Browns have won it by now (doubtful), there will never be that number of people in downtown Cleveland at once ever again.
The result of so many people, as you might imagine, caused chaos. People camped out downtown to line Mall B and Mall C to see the rally and then up and down East 9th Street for the parade. Clevelanders watched from parking garages, tops of building, the top of a few bus stations, sign poles, trees, bridges. Everywhere.
For as long as the eye could see, there was a wine, gold, and white throng. I stood by the Q, near the corner of Huron and Ontario, by the start of the parade, with my friends Dave and Kevin. Scheduled to start at 11 a.m., I did not see the first float until 11:30 a.m. I'm sure you've seen a championship parade during your life by now, but if not, you'll have to rely on my memories.
About 60 or so vehicles participated in the parade, including one for each player, for the rapper MGK (Machine Gun Kelly, a musical artist from Cleveland), Ohio State head football coach Urban Meyer, the Lake Erie Monsters (Calder Cup Champs) Mayor Frank Jackson, and every Cleveland celebrity imaginable. The highlights included MGK doing a pullup on a signpole, JR Smith taking pictures on fans' phones, and Kyrie letting random people onto his float to take pictures.
You would never see this today, but since city officials didn't want to jinx the Cavs by planning the parade, no one thought to order metal barricades to prevent fans from approaching the vehicles. So, fans came within inches of the Cavs, slowing down the parade to a crawl. The whole thing did not end until after 3 p.m., a 4-hour parade.
I left after the parade finished passing me, around 1:15 p.m. or so. I got a bite to eat and headed over to the rally. After waiting in the hot sun for a little less than 3 hours, surrounded by a literal sea of people, the rally started. Everyone spoke, from the owner to mayor to coaches to the GM to the players. Finally, LeBron James took the stage.
If you want to get a glimpse of how the Cavs were built and how the Cavs operated, listen closely to LeBron's speech. It's a telling speech that will give you a lot of insight into how the players gelled together and what kind of a leader LeBron was to this team. At the end of the day, he's "just a kid from Akron" who was never a fan of the Cavs as a kid. However, he does love this city and it was freeing for him to win here. It cemented his legacy as one of the best players to ever play the game.
Before heading home, I caught the Indians game with Kevin and enjoyed the last gasps of a beautiful day.
All in all, it was one of the most memorable days of my life.
By now, you're probably saying, "Dad, why did you have to write so much?" Well, it's because I want you know what we went through as a city before you were born. People say sports don't matter, but they do.
The Curse had a huge influence on the people of this city, who shape it and make it what it is. We suffered for so long. We endured so many jokes. We received national attention for being bad. People mocked and ridiculed us, even when trying to be sympathetic.
"Sticks and stones may break my bones but words may never hurt me" is a load of crap in this instance. It hurt.
But the losing made the championship so much sweeter. We enjoyed every second and cherished it more than any city ever has. Other cities may beat our attendance record, but no city will ever be so joyful to win a championship.
The moral of the story is to always keep the faith. Remain hopeful and optimistic. You will be rewarded one day for your patience. We were.
In times of trouble, remember, "This too shall pass." Remember, if your team loses this year, "There's always next year." Because one day, as I did, you'll be saying "There's always this year."