Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Top Ten Torturous Cleveland Sports Moments

On my way home from work last Wednesday, did I really hear WKNR's Tony Rizzo, in afternoon drive, plug CST? Did I really hear Uncle Rizzy describe our front-page design in depth, slowly read our tag line (I'm blushing, now), and half our mission statement...verbatim? Sunroof down, I unapologetically pumped my fist into the September sky. For a brief moment, I was John Bender on a vacant football field, Molly Ringwald's diamond hanging from my left lobe. Or I was an aspiring pop star, hearing my song on the radio for the first time. Our fifteen seconds had come without warning, and I was unsure of myself in the aftermath. Do I break off a tweet to Rizzo? Call my longtime friend and CSTer, Kevin, to thank him for sending Rizz the email about our blog? Should I Facebook this? All of the sudden, I was home. Within a few minutes, I was drowning in domestication and had already forgotten about it.


Rizzo's discussion of this town's truly torturous moments was the impetus for CST's on-air mention. Those events have become so cliche, even the most casual Cleveland sports fan can laundry-list them in seconds. Make no mistake: CST was born from that torture. And this blog's cold functionality is dependent on it. Here at CST, we're more machine than fan, now-- twisted and evil. For the glass half-fullers out there, sorry, we won't run from who we are. And, I'll have you know, we run on vitiriol. Four championship-less years after I wrote the following, it's still our sad past that binds us:

The underbelly of Cleveland ain't soft and white. It's hardcore depravity and resignation. But we are rich with identity. We wear our failures and shame like a fucking badge. Misery is exquisite here. Days start with small Lake Erie waves crashing dirty and meaningless on our tortured soil, afternoons toil on in our dying steel mills, the last remains of a once-proud post industrial city that is now overcome with poverty; on to our bars in the evening, free flowing spirits and libations-- while our ballteams eventually prove inferior...and the Cleveland sun will rise hungover again.
SamVox, October 23, 2007.

First, the disclaimers: Ohio State, not included (that's another column). I'm too young to have experienced Red Right 88. Kevin Mackey's arrest outside an East Cleveland crack house was more shocking than torturous. The five honorable mentions go like this-- CSU's one-point sweet sixteen loss to Navy in 1986, Game 6 of the 1998 ALCS when Manny climbed the right field wall at Yankee Stadium for no apparent reason, Game 5 of the 1999 ALDS when Pedro Martinez threw six scoreless out of the bullpen, Game 7 of the 2008 Eastern Conference Semifinals when Boston got every bounce and break, and Game 5 of the NBA 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals when the Chosen One thought it best to stop spoiling us. Thank you, drive thru...

10. ALCS Game 7, Red Sox 11 Indians 2, Fenway Park, October 21, 2007
Joel Skinner's gaffe aside, here's why it really stung: we had a chance to knock off arguably the country's two most popular franchises in the same post-season. We had a 3-1 series lead. We had a chance to have homefield advantage in the World Series against an inferior NL club. This was maybe the best opportunity of our lifetime to win a ring. My dad, JeffVox, swears by the Cleveland Curse. It was put on us by Paul Brown when Art Modell fired him. Dad is not like Sports Guy's dad; he doesn't care for sports. But he's been preaching the curse to me since I was old enough to understand it. I never believed in it until we lost this series. By the way, we had no chance to win this game because it was played on Sunday. The Fumble, The Drive, The Shot, Joe Table, Red Right 88...all happened on a Sunday. Coincidence? Or are Clevelanders skipping church too often?

Yes, the 2007 ALCS collapse was devastating. That team had a lot of Jake Taylor in it; Joe Borowski was cut and played in the Mexican league, working his way back to the majors. Victor Martinez couldn't make the throw to 2nd base all last year, and willed himself to respectability. Kenny Lofton came back to Cleveland for one last good year under the sun. Every bone in my body was telling me 2007 was our year. And, for the record, fuck Cliff Lee. Had he found his Cy Young form just six months earlier (instead of sarcastically tipping his cap to Tribe fans and then working it out in the minors), the Indians would have destroyed Boston. But it's always a Lee-lovefest when fans reminisce about Cliff. How quickly Cleveland forgets. Tell me, how many meaningful games did Lee ever win for the Indians? None and none.

9. AFC Wildcard, Stillers 36 Browns 33, Heinz Field, January 5, 2003
Two days after OSU wins the national championship, Kelly Holcomb and the upstart Brownies choke away a playoff win against our hated rivals when Northcutt drops a bunny. Butch Davis, easily the best Browns coach since Marty Schottenheimer, never recovered from this loss personally or professionally.

8. MISL Semifinals Game 5, Blast 7, Force 4, Baltimore Civic Center, May 1985
See my CST bio. You laugh, but I've never loved anything like I loved the Force between 1983-87. That includes Bono, Bruce Springsteen, the 1991-92 Cavs, soft pretzels, Kelly Leak, Superman II, Liz Shue in the Karate Kid, friday afternoon pick-up games at the JCC, my first high school girlfriend (a raw but potent combination of Gretchen Mol & Janeane Garofalo), the poker room at The Mirage, & the SunDowner.

7. The Move, November 6, 1995
(This would rank higher but Coach Belichick absolutely murdered my fandom with Metcalf up the middle, his handling of Bernie Kosar (see #6) and the media, as well as his determination to make sure all fans understood he diid not give a flying fuck about us or our investment in his team. This is easy to do when you win, but Bill was losing, doing mind boggling shit on game day, and then refusing reporters any insight into his convoluted decisions.)

I was half-sleeping at my college apartment. Not unusual for me on a weekday at 11am back then. I remember overhearing my friend, TitaniumTrout, tell my roommates in our living room that his Mom had just called with the news: Browns were leaving, and it was a done deal. I didn't immediately buy in; after all, the Indians were all but moved to Seattle in 1964, until The Plain Dealer fueled a ticket buying campaign that kept them here. And, in the mid-80s, the Tribe almost relocated to St. Petersburg a few times if you believe the gossip. This had to be a sick power-play from Art Model to finally get his new stadium publicly financed. When reality set in, I told myself I was now a Ravens fan. It wasn't the ideal situation, but I had feelings for many of these players. Tony Jones, Steve Everitt, Michael Jackson, Brian Kinchen, Leroy Hoard, Eric Turner, Anthony Pleasant, Stevon Moore, Matt Stover, etc. I rooted for the person as much as the uniform back then. My support of the Ravens would last about ten minutes. I tuned into their first game, a victory over Oakland, and their uniforms, fans, and stadium were almost instantly poisonous. Everitt threw us a bone, no pun intended, when the cameras caught him sporting a Browns Bandana on the sideline. The stunt cost him $5k, but he'd earn a lifetime of Cleveland allegiance in an interview a few years after retiring:

"I had nothing against Baltimore or its fans," said Everitt, recalling the episode. "But I'd left so many friends in Cleveland that I felt [the bandanna] was the best way to thank them and to get in a dig at the owners."
"The Modells can burn in hell for all I care."

6. Belichick cuts Kosar, November 9, 1993
If you're an outsider, and wondering how Bernie's release could've been more torturous than the extinction of an entire franchise, you should know that Bernard Joseph Kosar Jr. was the Cleveland Browns. He was Cleveland actually-- brains, moxy and awkward delivery. Let's quickly gloss over Todd Philcox and the team falling apart, the alleged punch in the tunnel and Bernie's redemption in Dallas. What most interests me is the Kosar-Belichick reconciliation. I couldn't believe my ears when it was reported that Kosar lobbied Al Lerner and Carmen Policy to rehire Belichick when the Browns returned in '99. And, of course, Belichick offered Kosar a consulting job last January. I would've guessed there was a better chance of Biggie and 2Pac, posthumously, recording an album together. Then again, if Robbie Alomar and John Hirschbeck can start a foundation, if Mr. Myagi and Sato can rediscover their friendship just hours before a planned to fight to the death, if SamVox and Mrs. ExVox can move in together, if Dan Gilbert and LeBr...well, y'all get the picture. Although I've never been the church-going, picket-fence, love-thy-neighbor, everything-is-coming-up-roses type, I find myself striving to live virtuously these days. And forgiveness is the ultimate act of grace, I reckon. Perhaps Don Henley said it best:

There are people in your life who've come and gone
They let you down, you know they hurt your pride
You better put it all behind you, baby, 'coz life goes on
You keep carrying that anger...it'll eat you up inside

5. World Series, Game 7, Marlins 3 Indians 2, Pro Player Stadium, October 26, 1997
If this is the closest we'll ever to get to a ring, then at least I can look back and appreciate my surroundings. CST's own Doug and I watched this, alone, in a quaint bedroom on Chittenden Avenue in Columbus. I often wonder, had we won, if Doug and I would've been forced to make out. I mean, think about it...all of our friends were back in Cleveland...we're in a different city...surrounded by Reds fans...and all we had was each other to celebrate our first championship. Something was going to have to go down (no pun intended) in that situation. You think I'm being off-color, as usual, but after OSU stunned Miami for the national title, I was engulfed in a twenty minute session of awkward yet euphoric, multiple-man-hugs.

4. The Fumble, AFC Championship, Broncos 38 Browns 33, Mile High Stadium, January 17, 1988
Down 21-3 at halftime, Bernie effectively asked Browns offensive coordinator Lindy Infante, "Are we done doing it your way?" With that, Kosar began calling the plays in the second half, and it was an explosion of offensive highlights, potentially the greatest thirty minutes in Browns history until Earnest Byner forgot something in the endzone. In a recent radio interview, Bernie took the credit for getting Infante a head coach's job in Green Bay. Infante, the Browns O-coordinator, was credited with much of the team's success in the late 80s. Apparently, it was all Kosar. That was a secret for years, until Bernie revealed it on The Really Big Show on 9/28/2011. Another plug for Rizzo's show, as CST returns the favor.

3. The Shot, Game 5 NBA 1st Round Playoff, Bulls 100 Cavs 99, Richfield Coliseum, May 7, 1989
This is pure therapy.

2. The Drive, AFC Championship, Broncos 23 Browns 20, Cleveland Municipal Stadium, January 11, 1987
Rich Karlis field goal in OT was no good. No good. Incidentally, where can I get one of those salvation army, tan half-overcoats Marty was wearing...you know, with the old-school Browns patch on his right arm.

1. The Decision, Boys and Girls Club of Greenwich, Connecticut, July 8, 2010
On that fateful thursday night, I never did hear LeBron say "take my talents to south beach." Never made it that far. All I heard was the comment before he made his now-famous masturbation-euphenism errr proclamation. "This is tough," he claimed, preparing Cleveland for the nuclear bomb he was about to drop. I shut off the TV quickly, chucked the remote into the wall, made some swears, slammed my bedroom door and buried my face into the pillow. But let's be clear: I wasn't necessarily mourning the loss of LeBron. I had no real emotions for him the way I did for, say, Kosar, Tony Jones, Hot Rod Williams, Craig Ehlo, Keith Furphy, Kenny Lofton, etc. Instead, I was reacting to the sudden loss of playoff basketball in Cleveland. May has always been my favorite month, especially the previous five years, when deep Cavalier playoff runs turned my ordinary existence extraordinary. I was always a Cavs fan first. It wasn't LeBron I loved; it was the success and notoriety he brought to our beloved franchise, and, obviously, the chance to win the first major pro sports championship of my lifetime.

After about thirty minutes of soul-searching in dark silence, I flipped on Facebook. Now Facebook can be annoying as fuck more often than not, but on that night, there was a real sense of community. We were all comforting each other, and your out-of-town-friends really didn't understand. It wasn't long before someone shared the link to Dan Gilbert's lover-scorned letter. As foolish and unprofessional as it was, Gilbert provided a much-needed call to action. Our feelings of dejection had been transformed into a rallying point. We would pridefully support our team, defend our city, and go to war against our former hero. Sadly, the Cavs' abysmal performance on December 2nd slowed the movement. And the joy of our draft lottery luck was somewhat deflated by the selection of Tristan Thompson, and now the lockout.


The end of Cleveland's title drought is truly nowhere in sight. In case you had any delusions, the Titans' demolition of the Browns two days ago and the Tigers' destruction of the Indians in September were sobering reminders of our weaknesses. I've been chasing that championship for so long, I sometimes think I might give up sports when it happens. After I've raised my daughters, witnessed the parade down Euclid Avenue, and met Bono, there may be nothing left. I could wander the earth or play chess in Washington Square or take a never-ending bus ride into the depths of oblivion. It won't matter; I'll be fulfilled.

Minutes after our first championship since 1964, I will be on my phone like everyone else. Three calls, I'll make:

The first, to my mom, MJ Vox. Mom, a Columbus-transplant, raised me right. Made sure I wouldn't end up like LeBron, rooting for the Bulls, Cowboys, and Yankees. She bought me a Super Joe Charboneau t-shirt from The May Co., took me to Browns training camp, snagged us an autograph from Dave Logan, and always had The Plain Dealer sports page next to my breakfast in the morning, even when I could barely read. I'm not sure what we'll talk about. We probably won't need any words.

The second will be placed to Mrs. ExVox. She'll be somewhere oblivious, and not answering her phone...so I'll text her. Not sure what I'll say, but she earned that text. For over a decade, she's seen me at my worst when our teams lost. Or didn't cover. Or both.

The final phone call will be to God. We're not facebook friends and we haven't talked in years, but I'll want to be respectful and give thanks, of course. They say God hates Cleveland Sports, but he loves CST. And I want to give Him the first shot at renaming this blog. Until then...

Burn on, big river, burn on


I am Randy Newman in the box.
Parting is...inevitable.