Monday, June 27, 2016

This is our story

Years ago a Cleveland sports personality - I think it was late broadcaster Casey Coleman - lamented the shortage of good memories among the local fanbase since the Browns had won the NFL Championship decades before.

Not to say we didn't have warm remembrances of certain seasons, or even stretches of seasons, where one team or another was playing at a championship level. Fun was had. High fives were given. A few second place banners were raised up flagpoles or into rafters.

Prior to last weekend, my most cherished Cleveland sports memory was intermingled with my worst: The improbable, near glorious 1997 Indians post-season run, which found a group of dorky Ohio State students crammed into a downstairs apartment on Chittenden Avenue, passing a souvenir Municipal Stadium bat from one sweaty hand to another as a good luck gesture for each successive Tribe at-bat.

It was a great ride, though tied to a 9th-inning Mesa meltdown that became part of the torturous lore of Cleveland sports; a seemingly perpetual way of existence where we named our failures as if they were our kids.   

For 52 years, our happiest times were inextricably linked to our lowest - for every gleeful playoff push there was a Drive, Fumble or Shot to rip our guts out. Every bad season, blown draft pick and free agent bust was added to a rawly painful book of memories made all the more excruciating due to the lack of any true, final joygasm that every sports fan got to experience at least once.

Then came Game 7 of Cavs vs. Warriors, the capper to a week of history-making playoff hoops. A collection of longtime friends, many of whom were passing around that bat back on Chittenden Avenue, piled into the 11th-floor suite of the Metropolitan at the 9, a downtown hotel that coincidentally once served as the residence of a bad Cleveland sports memory named Johnny Manziel.

CST contributor Tom filmed our reaction during the final 1:30 of the fourth quarter, a video I've since studied with a near obsessive scrutiny better suited to a Warren Commission official analyzing the Zapruder film.

In the clip, eight supposed grown-ass men are lying, kneeling or standing in various stress positions. (I'm the one wearing shoes on the bed -you can't take me anywhere). We're swearing, babbling, pleading and offering half-baked basketball analysis. Hands are held to the sides of faces as if to keep heads from exploding.

I barely breathed during the game's final stop-and-start seconds, a scene no doubt playing out among my fellow sports-tortured city-wide. My brain was encased in frozen numbness, though faintly warmed by a small flame of hope. I could not- would not- believe it was truly over until Marreese Speights's uncontested jumper bounced wide.

And then...euphoria, relief and an overwhelming sense of rightness, as if this moment was the long-delayed payoff for every stupid, sleep-robbing misfortune Cleveland fandom had endured since the original LBJ sat in the Oval Office.

I can't stop watching the near seven-minute video, and baby, I don't want to stop.
The clip represents a shiny new memory, a sparkling new chapter for Cleveland as a city and a fanbase, forever burned both in my mind and in sweet 1080p high-definition.

Though Northeast Ohio didn't necessarily "deserve" a title, we were due a little relief from the often self-flagellating perception that the sports gods hated us. We can now say 'Remember when" and actually smile at the memory. I cannot think of a better reason to celebrate than that.