LeBron James did all he could do to beat the Golden State Warriors…in spite of the hex that seems to linger over the city he represents.
Whether you believe in curses or not, it’s impossible to deny the run of bad luck for Cleveland sports since their last championship in 1964.
Here are a few of the low-lights for a town during its all-too-long drought.
Red Right 88
The Browns were Cleveland’s last winner – capturing the NFL Championship nearly 51 years ago. Keep in mind, this was three years before the NFL Champion played the AFL Champion it what’s now known as the Super Bowl. With the myriad of grand opportunities the Browns have had, it’s hard to believe they never reached a Super Bowl.
Take 1980, for instance. The AFC Central-winning Browns, known as the “Kardiac Kids,” were giving their fans another heart-stopping finish in a bitterly cold AFC Divisional Playoff.
Cleveland, led by quarterback Brian Sipe, was driving down field with just under two minutes play, lagging by two points to the Oakland Raiders. From the 13 yard line, feeling that a short field goal would be too difficult in the frigid conditions, head coach Sam Rutigliano decided to go for six.
The pass play, called “Red Right 88” was directed toward tight end Ozzie Newsome in the end zone. But Raiders Mike Davis intervened to make a dramatic interception to win the game and go on to win Super Bowl XV.
The 1986 AFC Championship Game featured a moment that helped turn John Elway into a legend in a game that kept the Browns feeling snake-bitten.
A touch over five minutes stood between the Browns and trip to Super Bowl XXI. Down by a touchdown, Elway led his Broncos into the teeth of the ‘Dawg Pound’ at Cleveland Municipal Stadium, on a memorable 98-yard march.
As the Browns yielded more yards to Denver, the usually boisterous fans grew quieter. The final silencer was Elway’s third-and-one, five-yard bullet pass to Mark Jackson in the end zone.
The touchdown and extra point knotted the game at 20 apiece but the Broncos would ultimately go on to win in overtime on a Rich Karlis field goal.
Maybe the one that hurts the most is the 1987 AFC Championship Game in Denver. The Browns were looking to enact revenge on the Broncos and John Elway, from their playoff loss one year earlier.
This time, the Broncos held a late lead – 38-31 with 1:12 remaining. Cleveland was at the eight-yard-line when running back Earnest Byner took a hand-off and appeared to head in for the touchdown.
The good news is Byner crossed the goal line, the bad news is, the ball didn’t. Just prior to reaching the end zone, Broncos defensive back Jeremiah Castille stripped Byner of the pigskin. Denver recovered and once again advanced to the Super Bowl at the Browns’ expense.
The only thing worse for a city than losing big games is to lose the team altogether.
That’s exactly what happened after the 1995 NFL season. Just under two months prior, owner Art Modell had announced that the franchise would relocate to Baltimore – citing better funding for a new stadium.
Not surprisingly, the move caused great anger amongst the loyal fan base. Neither protests, nor an injunction by the city could alter a change.
Although a new version of the Browns came in 1999, the pain of the original version leaving still stings – especially when the team, now renamed the Ravens, went on to win two Super Bowls after leaving Cleveland.
1997 World Series
The Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox had become most renowned for their respective championship curses.
Therefore, not enough attention has been placed on the Indians – who last prevailed in 1948. After decades of futility, the Tribe finally became a contender in 1995. After beating the Seattle Mariners in the ALCS, the Indians dominant offense couldn’t quite overcome the Atlanta Braves pitching in the World Series.
A year later, the Indians managed back-to-back AL Central championships, but lost once again to the Baltimore Orioles in the division series.
Two years later, Cleveland was back in the Fall Classic, this time against the Florida Marlins. Although Florida was only in its fifth year of existence, fate once again wouldn’t side with the title-starved Indians.
In Game 7, the Indians let a ninth-inning lead slip away sending the deciding game into extra innings. Two innings later, Edgar Renteria’s single off Charles Nagy’s glove drove in Craig Counsell for the winning run and set off the Marlins celebration.
For a time, it seemed as if one of Ohio’s best athletes didn’t even want to be a part of the Cleveland jinx. Instead, he added to it.
LeBron James grew up in Akron and dominated at nearby St. Vincent-St. Mary’s. Skipping college, he went directly to the NBA – where he would be drafted No. 1 overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003.
Instantly, he brought credibility to a relatively dreadful franchise.
Four years into his NBA career, LeBron led the Cavs to the NBA Finals, only to be swept by the veteran San Antonio Spurs. Although it was another disappointing loss, all indications were that James was the real deal and would eventually lead Cleveland to a championship.
When attempts to create a solid supporting cast continued to fail, LeBron used his free agency status to explore other options. During a nationally televised broadcast in July 2010, James announced that he would be “taking his talents to South Beach” and joining the Miami Heat.
The reaction in Cleveland was one of immediate contempt. A player once beloved was reviled in a heartbeat. Like Modell, LeBron’s move resulted in a pair of championships.
Now that he’s returned to the Cavaliers, all is now forgiven in Cleveland. All that’s left is to make nice with lady fate.