Being a Cleveland sports fan is like standing on the precipice of a cliff waiting to jump. Our sports dreams will all die somehow, whether it be slow and agonizing or quick and painless. Heading into week 17, the Browns are coming off a loss to the 2-13 Jets that included what seemed like supernatural forces working against the Browns. Now, what was a dream season has fans anticipating the slow and agonizing death of the team’s playoff hopes.
Most NFL fans would be completely content with the prospects of a 10-win team, but Browns fans can’t even truly be content with an AFC championship appearance. Last time the team was good enough to contend was the 1980s, and instead of a Lombardi trophy that decade, Browns fans got “Red Right 88,” “The Drive” and “The Fumble.”
Keep in mind, Michael Jordan’s “The Shot” also happened in the midst of all of this.
In the cruelest way possible, as Northeast Ohio became the rust belt, the region’s sports teams became members of “The Mistake on the Lake.” Sports offer an escape for the harshness of the real world, but not in Cleveland. The industrial economy was long gone, and so were the world champion teams.
So, Cleveland fans aren’t content with mild success because, instead of winning, we have grown accustomed to believing we are cursed. That’s why this season feels more like it’s headed toward something awful than a promising future for the franchise.
The implausible failures never seem to end. The city lost its football team and then got it back only to go 17 seasons without a playoff appearance (worse yet, the former Cleveland Browns won a Super Bowl in 2001). The Cavaliers drafted hometown hero LeBron James, the greatest basketball player of all time, only to lose him without winning a championship. Cleveland’s MLB team has made it a habit to lose a chance at a World Series roughly every decade. This is just the tip of the iceberg, but you get the point.
Skeptics may be quick to point out that time James returned and led the Cavaliers to an improbable 3-1 comeback in the NBA Finals as evidence the curse is a myth, but keep in mind what happened when James came home. In one season, James took the Cavs from the league’s worst team to a contender, and that same season, arguably the greatest team of all time, the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors appeared out of thin air. Cleveland beat them, and then they added Kevin Durant to their roster. There was also the business of the Indians blowing a 3-1 World Series lead to the only team that can rival Cleveland in cursedness: The Chicago Cubs.
This perpetual agony creates a visceral reaction to sports no other city can truly relate to. Three weeks ago, I watched the Browns lose in a phenomenal performance against the Baltimore Ravens. But as Justin Tucker put a nail in the coffin with a late-game field goal, I couldn’t help but worry. Nothing truly devastating had happened, but it seemed like the first piece of the Browns implosion had been put into place by the universe. Then, they lost all of their wide receivers to a COVID-19 policy that seems inconsistent and, finally, they lost to the New York Jets.
Yes, the Browns could still secure a playoff spot, and this could be a gross overreaction, but Cleveland fans can’t deal in practicality when they’ve been let down so implausibly time after time.
Now, a lot of fans are longing for something that might seem illogical: the comfort of being 3-13. While Boston and Los Angeles sports fans have grown used to winning, Clevelanders have sunk into a reality devoid of expectations. The curse hurts a lot less when your dreams die in week 1 instead of week 17. Everyone would be happier with a top-5 draft pick than they would be with another “Red Right 88,” but maybe that’s what the universe wants for Browns fans in 2020. Even if everything works out for once, don’t expect Browns fans to hope for the best.