I'm from Cleveland. Doesn't matter where i happen to be living, if you ask me where i'm from i'll always answer Cleveland. My hometown has always been the whipping boy for the rest of America, a rust belt relic, the butt of jokes about a river that caught on fire and the fact that for a very long time the professional sports teams in Cleveland won fuck all. We'd come close but we somehow always managed to end up on the wrong side of things. The other day, as i did my best to do absolutely nothing other than get stoned and listen to the rain, i sat and watched a documentary, one i had seen before, called Believeland. For a native Clevelander it's a bit like therapy.
There is this ritual that takes place among those of us who grew up on the shores of Lake Erie. It's a discussion of where you were and what you were doing when the heartbreak set in. The Drive? I watched it with my old man and we both sat in stunned silence when we lost. My old man was one of those guys who didn't own any team apparel and refused to buy a ticket to a game (at least after i grew up) but was extremely knowledgeable about every team in Cleveland. I can remember him listening to Browns games on the radio in the garage and the "god dammits" and "Jesus Christs" that would issue forth as those mid-70s Browns bumbled their way to another loss. Red Right 88? I also watched with my dad, a bitter cold day where the last of the straight on kickers couldn't make a fucking extra point. A short field goal would have won it and we were right there but the fact the guy paid to kick the egg through the yellow posts couldn't do it on that cold and blustery day meant we'd try for the touchdown. Instead the ball was intercepted in the end zone... game over, dream over. The Fumble? I was underage drinking in a bowling alley, the beloved Dawg Pound Beer aka colon cleaner, the cheapest and shittiest swill around, One-Eyed Bobby and i were jumping up and down as Ernest Byner was racing towards the end zone to tie the game, we didn't know he fumbled until we realized we were the only ones celebrating and the place had gone quite. Ernest Byner played like a monster that day and the images of him laying on the field will bring tears to my eyes. I love Ernest Byner. The Browns were such shit in the first half of that game we'd have lost by 30 without him. It was one of the cruelest moments in sports i've ever seen. The guy played the greatest game of his life and all people remember is the one mistake.
The Tribe you say? Well in 94 we had the best team in baseball and then the season ended with a labor dispute. In 1995 we finally win the pennant with the added bonus of eliminating the Yankees only to loose to the fucking Braves, the team that went to the World Series i don't know how many fucking times but only ever managed to win that one against us. In 1997 i drove home for Game 7 against the Marlins, jumped in my $400 rattling brown bomber and drove to my dad's place, took a train to the Flats, watched us take a 2-1 lead into the 9th inning, before Jose Mesa came in to close out the game while giving up his obligatory run. Game tied, we lost in the 11th. I was sitting at a table with some people who invited me to watch the game with them, i was 11 beers and 4 Scotch and waters deep when i got up to leave, a woman at the table turned and said to me, you can't leave now! and i responded, you don't want to see a grown man cry like a baby, thanks everyone... i walked out and watched the winning run cross through a window of another bar. 1000,000 plus people in the Flats and it was like the walking dead. Silence and shuffling except for the occasional shouts of "FUUUUUUUUUCCCCKKK!". Then it started to rain. I wandered into a gay bar that i thought was the old club i used to hang out at but that is a story unto itself.
The Cavs you ask? I was just a kid when our lovable band of misfits finally made the play-offs with our star player named World B. Free. When he finally had a championship caliber team some guy named Jordan came along to kill that dream and then we won the lottery and drafted some kid from Akron. I remember sitting in my apartment watching the draft lottery and as the envelope opened i let out a yell that probably woke the neighborhood. Finally! Something had gone our way. Then that kid took us to the Finals only to get swept but Spurs but hey man we weren't even supposed to be there so the future looked bright. And then it didn't. That kid left to win some titles someplace else and we Clevelanders sat and pontificated on why we had such shit luck. And then the kid came back.
June 19, 2016. Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Cleveland was considered done when we went down three games to one. No team in the history of the NBA had ever come back from that deficit in the Finals and we had the added bonus of trying to do it against the team the had the best regular season record EVER. While we may have been resigned to another "almost" the once kid, now man, from Akron was not. And before we knew it the series was tied.
Lost in the memory of that day, what the documentary reminded me of, was that game was played on Father's Day. I made sure i had the DVR set because i knew there was a good chance i couldn't watch the game. I made it through the first quarter but by that time i was an emotional and nervous wreck. I went for a drive. I hit the clubhouse and since Pittsburgh is not a basketball town i knew they'd be watching something other than the game. I hung out and drank some beers, pulled a tube or three and finally after an hour or so asked if they could check the score. The fourth quarter was just starting and the game was tight. I ran out and jumped in my car, drove the two minutes home and began watching the last 9 minutes. I paced, i'd sit down, i'd stand up, i didn't know what to fucking do. I watched the kid from Akron make greatest blocked shot i'd ever seen and then a clutch three by his running mate put us up, i watched the team with the best record ever in the regular season fall to pieces. Up by four points with 8 seconds left i thought of all the ways we could somehow lose the game. It's a habit for Clevelanders, figure out the worst, most heartbreaking scenarios and prepare yourself. It didn't happen. My city, after 52 years, finally had it's title.
As i sat staring at the television i didn't know what to do. Stunned is what you could call me. For the first time in my life my city were champs. I heard the sound of small footsteps on the stairs, Nick Disaster had stayed up to watch and was smiling, "you crying dad?" he asked. "Just a little bit buddy," was my reply. It was 11:30 or so at night. Then the phone rang.
When the phone rang i knew who it was. The joy in his voice brought a huge smile to my face. "Did you see it! Did you see it!" was all he kept saying. The old man was ecstatic. He had waited 52 years for this moment. The last time he got to celebrate was 1964, the year the Browns won the NFL title and my sister was born. In the years past now the title has become secondary. It was the conversation with my father that night that i remember, the pure happiness as we talked late into the night, it was our way of celebrating. Little did i know that it was the second to last Father's Day i would get to speak to my dad. Two years later and he was gone. The running joke in my house is that had the boyos been born after that title they'd have both been named Lebron. There is a bit of serendipity the way it worked out. Really i'm just glad i got to celebrate with him, even if it was over the phone, got to hear the pure joy in his voice that night. As i watched that documentary, watched the end of Game 7, watched the people of my hometown celebrate, watched fathers hug their sons, i wiped the mist from my eyes but kept the smile on my face. Believeland.