Being a Cleveland sports fan is like standing on a cliff and waiting to jump. Our sports dreams will all die somehow, whether slowly and painfully or quickly and painlessly. In week 17, the Browns lose to the 2-13 Jets, which were seemingly supernatural forces working against the Browns. In a dream season, fans await the slow and agonizing death of the team’s playoff hopes.
Most NFL fans would be perfectly happy with the prospect of a team to win 10, but Browns fans can’t even really settle for an appearance in the AFC championship. The last time the team was good enough to hold their own was in the 1980s, and instead of a Lombardi trophy that decade, Browns fans were given “Red Right 88”, “The Drive” and “The Fumble” .
Remember, Michael Jordan’s “The Shot” happened in the middle of it all.
In the cruelest way when northeast Ohio became a rust belt, the area’s sports teams became members of The Mistake on the Lake. Sports offer an escape from the harshness of the real world, but not in Cleveland. The industrial economy was long gone, as were the world championship teams.
So Cleveland fans are not satisfied with a mild success, because instead of winning, we’ve gotten used to believing we’re cursed. So this season feels more like something terrible than a bright future for the franchise.
The implausible mistakes never seem to end. The city lost its soccer team and only brought them back for 17 seasons without a playoff appearance (worse, the former Cleveland Browns won a Super Bowl in 2001). The Cavaliers designed hometown hero LeBron James, the greatest basketball player of all time, to be lost without winning a championship. The Cleveland MLB team has made a habit of losing a World Series chance roughly every ten years. This is only the tip of the iceberg, but you get the point.
Skeptics may be quick to point out that James returned and led the Cavaliers to an unlikely 3-1 comeback in the NBA finals to prove the curse is a myth, but remember what happened when James got home came. In one season, James brought the Cavs from the worst team in the league to a competitor, and in the same season, arguably the greatest team of all time, the 2015/16 Golden State Warriors appeared out of nowhere. Cleveland beat them and then they added Kevin Durant to their roster. There was also the business of the Indians blowing up a 3-1 World Championship and leading it to the only team that can damn Cleveland: the Chicago Cubs.
This ongoing agony creates a visceral response to sports that no other city can truly identify with. Three weeks ago I saw the Browns lose in a phenomenal performance against the Baltimore Ravens. But when Justin Tucker nailed a nail in the coffin with a field goal in the late game, I had to worry. Nothing really devastating had happened, but it seemed like the first piece of the Browns implosion had been put into effect by the universe. Then they all lost their broad recipients to a COVID-19 policy that seems inconsistent, and eventually they lost to the New York Jets.
Yes, the Browns could still secure a spot in the playoffs, and this could be a gross overreaction, but Cleveland fans can’t handle the practicality of having been disappointed so implausibly over and over again.
Now, a lot of fans are craving something that might seem illogical: the comfort of being 3-13. While sports fans from Boston and Los Angeles have become used to winning, the Clevelanders have sunk into a reality that has no expectations. The curse hurts a lot less if your dreams die in week 1 instead of week 17. Everyone would be happier with a top 5 draft pick than another “Red Right 88”, but maybe that’s what the universe wants for Browns fans in 2020. Even if it all works out once, don’t expect that Brown’s fans hope for the best.