Monday, June 20, 2016

How Long It's Been: A Cleveland Team Won a World Championship

Okay, everybody who wasn't born yet the last time a Cleveland sports team won a World Championship, raise your hand.

Not so fast, person who was born in 1965! Nor you, 4-week-old Mackenzie!

Last night, the Cleveland Cavaliers won Game 7, away to the defending World Champions, and won their 1st World Championship in 46 seasons of trying.

Even LeBron James was thought incapable of bringing Cleveland a title -- although he had tried, a few times.

Cleveland has suffered many close calls since their last title. To wit:

* January 2, 1966: The defending NFL Champion Cleveland Browns lose the NFL Championship Game to the Green Bay Packers.

* December 29, 1968: The Browns lose the NFL Championship Game to the Baltimore Colts.

* January 4, 1970: The Browns lose the NFL Championship Game to the Minnesota Vikings.

* May 18, 1976: After beating the defending Eastern Conference Champion Washington Bullets in a Game 7 thriller at the Richfield Coliseum (known as "The Miracle of Richfield"), the Cavaliers lose Game 6 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals at home to the Boston Celtics. No shame in that, and they did well to get to the NBA's Final Four in only their 6th season. But they would win only 2 Playoff games over the next 11 years, and didn't reach the Conference Finals again for 16 years.

* January 4, 1981: The Browns lose an AFC Divisional Playoff to the Oakland Raiders on a late interception.

* January 11, 1987: The Browns lose the AFC Championship Game to the Denver Broncos despite John Elway needing 98 yards in 5:39 just to send it to overtime. ("The Drive")

* January 17, 1988: The Browns lose another AFC Championship Game to the Broncos when Earnest Byner, who'd run wild most of the game, fumbled at the goal line instead of scoring a tying touchdown.

* May 7, 1989: The Cavs lose the deciding Game 5 of a 1st Round series at home to the Chicago Bulls when Michael Jordan hits a last-second jumper. ("The Shot.")

* January 14, 1990: The Browns lose another AFC Championship Game to the Broncos, although this time there was no shocking moment.

* May 17, 1992: The Cavs have probably their best team yet, and reach the Conference Finals. But Jordan and the Bulls, now defending NBA Champions, stand in the way again, and win in 6 games, including winning Games 3 and 6 in Richfield. (To their credit, the Cavs did win Game 2 in Chicago.)

* October 28, 1995: After winning their 1st American League Pennant since 1954, the Cleveland Indians lose Game 6 of the World Series to the Atlanta Braves, 1-0. They only got 1 hit in the game. No shame in losing, but they went out rather meekly.

* November 6, 1995: Browns owner Art Modell announces that he's moving the Browns to Baltimore, where they become the Ravens. Northern Ohio had 20 days to be happy about finally winning their 1st Pennant in 41 years, then this shit happens.

* October 26, 1997: The Indians lead the Florida Marlins 2-1 in Game 7 of the World Series, needing only 2 more outs to win their 1st World Series since 1948. But closer Jose Mesa can't hold the lead, and the Indians lose in 11 innings. They haven't won another Pennant since: That's 2 Pennants in 62 years, and they haven't won the World Series in 68 years.

* October 13, 1998: After beating the Yankees in the previous year's AL Division Series, the Indians lead them 2 games to 1, with Games 4 and 5 at home, and lose 3 straight.

* September 12, 1999: The Browns do come back, as NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue ordered Modell to give up all rights to the Browns' name, records and trademarks, and an expansion franchise created; but their 1st game is a disaster, a 43-0 loss to the arch-rival Pittsburgh Steelers; their 1st season is a disaster, 2-14; and only once in their 1st 17 seasons have they made the Playoffs.

* January 5, 2003: In their only Playoff game so far, the new Browns blow a 24-7 lead and lose to the Steelers, of all teams, 36-33.

* June 14, 2007: The Cavs reach the NBA Finals for the 1st time in their 37-year history, but get swept by the San Antonio Spurs.

* October 21, 2007: After leading the ALCS 3 games to 1 over the Boston Red Sox, with Game 5 at home, the Indians drop 3 straight, getting blown out by an aggregate 30-5. They haven't been back to the Playoffs in the 8 full seasons since. 2016 isn't looking good for them, either.

* July 8, 2010: LeBron James, the Akron native who'd been the Cavs' superstar, announces in an ESPN special titled The Decision that, with his contract having run out, he's going to sign with the Miami Heat, and team with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. He plays 4 seasons with them, and reaches the Finals all 4 years, winning the title in 2012 and 2013. Meanwhile, the Cavs stink.

* June 16, 2015: With LeBron having come back -- local fans were caught on video burning his jerseys, but now all was forgiven -- the Cavs lose the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors in 6 games, with the Dubs winning at Quicken Loans Arena in Games 4 and 6.

* June 19, 2016: The Finals was Warriors vs. Cavaliers again. And the Warriors had set an NBA record, going 73-9 in the regular season. And led the Cavs 3 games to 1. In the NBA's 70-year history, no team had ever overcome such a deficit in the Finals. But the Cavs did, and LeBron ended their Cavs' 46-year quest for their 1st title.

Indeed, it was the 1st World Championship won by any Cleveland/Northern Ohio team since...

December 27, 1964. The NFL Championship Game. "Super Bowl -II," if you prefer. The Browns beat the Baltimore Colts 27-0. Gary Collins (not to be confused with the TV game show host of the same name) caught 3 touchdown passes from Frank Ryan (Number 13 in the photo above, the only man with a Ph.D. in mathematics ever to play in the NFL), Lou Groza kicked 3 field goals, and Jim Brown (Number 32 in the photo above) rushed for 114 yards, for the only championship of his career.

That's 51 years and nearly 6 months. How long has that been?

*

There are 33 players from the '64 Browns still alive, including Ryan, Collins, and Pro Footall Hall-of-Famers Brown, Leroy Kelly and Paul Warfield (better known as a winner of Super Bowls VII and VIII with the Miami Dolphins).

The Browns played at Cleveland Municipal Stadium, which has been demolished, and replaced on the same site by what's now named FirstEnergy Stadium. The Indians also played at Municipal Stadium, and have since moved to what's now named Progressive Field.

The Cavaliers didn't exist yet. They wouldn't until the NBA expansion of 1970, and they moved into the Cleveland Arena, which they shared with the Cleveland Barons, a minor-league hockey team. Together, they moved into the Coliseum, out in Richfield, about halfway between Cleveland and Akron, designed solely for fans with cars. It was awful. The Barons were replaced by an NHL team of the same name in 1976 (the former California Golden Seals), but after just 2 years were merged with another bankrupt team, the Minnesota North Stars.

In 1994, the Cavs moved downtown to what's now the Quicken Loans Arena, and have shared it with a succession of minor-league teams. The Cleveland Arena and the Coliseum have joined Municipal Stadium in the rubble of history.

The only NFL stadiums in use in 1964 that will be in use in 2016 were Lambeau Field in Green Bay and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The only Major League Baseball parks still in use are Fenway Park in Boston, Wrigley Field in Chicago, and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. There are no current NBA or NHL arenas that were in use in 1964.

MLB, the NFL and the NBA had gone coast-to-coast, and MLB and the NFL had gone into the South. But the NHL still had only 6 teams: Montreal, Toronto, Boston, New York, Detroit and Chicago. The NFL was competing with the AFL. There was a pro football team in Baltimore and one in Houston; and an MLB team in Washington and one in Milwaukee; but none of those teams were the teams that are in those cities now. And both the Browns and the team they beat in that '64 title game, the Baltimore Colts, have been moved, and replaced with new teams in those cities -- indeed, the old Cleveland team is the new Baltimore team.

The Astrodome, the 1st domed stadium, was under construction. There was no artificial turf.

Since 1964, between them, the Chicago Bulls, the San Antonio Spurs, the New York Islanders, the Edmonton Oilers and the Pittsburgh Penguins have won 24 World Championships. None of those teams even existed back then.

When the Browns won the 1964 NFL Championship, George Halas, Art Rooney and Curly Lambeau were still alive; and Halas and Rooney were still running the teams they founded. Reggie Jackson, Roger Staubach, Dick Butkus, Gale Sayers and Joe Namath were in college. Nolan Ryan, Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, Mike Schmidt, Mean Joe Greene, Larry Csonka, O.J. Simpson, Terry Bradshaw, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then still Lew Alcindor), Julius Erving, Ken Dryden, Bobby Orr and Bobby Clarke were in high school. Bill Walton and Guy Lafleur were in junior high school. Larry Bird had just turned 8 years old. Earvin Johnson, not yet Magic, was 5. Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky were about to turn 4. Michael Jordan was a year and a half. Scott Stevens was 8 months old.

Current Mets manager Terry Collins was in high school. Alan Vigneault of the Rangers was a toddler. Jeff Hornacek of the Knicks, Todd Bowles of the Jets and Joe Girardi of the Yankees were babies. Jack Capuano of the Islanders, Kenny Atkinson of the Nets, John Hynes of the Devils, Ben McAdoo of the Giants, and, indeed, the Islanders, the Nets and the Devils franchises weren't born yet. Nor was current Cavs coach Tyronn Lue.

The Browns dethroned the Chicago Bears as NFL Champions. The other titleholders were the St. Louis Cardinals, the Boston Celtics and the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Heavyweight Champion of the World, not yet having held that title for 1 year, was Muhammad Ali.

The Olympic Games have since been held in America 4 times, Canada 3 times, France twice, Japan twice, Russia twice, Mexico, Britain, Australia, Germany, Austria, Bosnia, Korea, Spain, Norway, Greece, Italy and China. The World Cup has since been held in America, Mexico twice, Germany twice, England, Argentina, Spain, Italy, France, Japan, Korea, South Africa and Brazil.

The President of the United States was Lyndon Johnson. He had just won a full term in a massive landslide, and most Americans not only approved of his performance in office in the year since John F. Kennedy was assassinated, but many of them couldn't yet find Vietnam on a map. Former Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower were still alive; Herbert Hoover had died 2 months earlier.

Richard Nixon was in political exile. Gerald Ford had just become Republican Conference Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives (making him the 3rd-ranking member of his party in that body). Jimmy Carter was in the Georgia State Senate. Ronald Reagan had not yet run for office. George H.W. Bush had just lost his 1st run for office, for the U.S. Senate from Texas. His son had just -- barely -- graduated from high school and gotten into Yale University (as a "legacy"). Bill Clinton had just graduated from high school and entered Georgetown University. Hillary Rodham was still in high school. Donald Trump had just entered Fordham University. Barack Obama was 3 years old... and already more mature than Trump.

The Governor of the State of New York was Nelson Rockefeller. The Mayor of the City of New York was Robert F. Wagner Jr. The Governor of New Jersey was Richard J. Hughes. In the place in question, the Governor of Ohio was James J. Rhodes, and the Mayor of Cleveland was Ralph Locher. The current holders of those offices? Andrew Cuomo had just turned 7 years old, Bill de Blasio was 3, Chris Christie was 2, John Kasich was 12, and Frank G. Jackson was 18 and in the U.S. Army.

The Nobel Peace Prize had just been awarded to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The Pope was Paul VI. The Prime Ministers of Canada was Lester Pearson, and of Britain, Harold Wilson. Their monarch was Queen Elizabeth II -- that hasn't changed. Liverpool were the holders of the Football League title, and, for the 1st time, West Ham United of East London the holders of the FA Cup.

Notable novels of 1964 included Little Big Man by Thomas Berger, Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, The Pushcart War by Jean Merrill, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, and, both by Ian Fleming, who died the preceding August 12, the James Bond novel You Only Live Twice and, incongruously, Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang: The Magical Car.

Notable films in theaters at the end of 1964 included the James Bond film Goldfinger, the film version of the Broadway musical My Fair Lady with Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn (and Marni Nixon, as she so often did in those days, dubbing the female lead's singing), Father Goose with Cary Grant, Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte with Bette Davis, The Disorderly Orderly with Jerry Lewis, and Kisses for My President, with Polly Bergen as America's 1st female commander-in-chief. (When Geena Davis starred as the 1st female President in the TV series Commander in Chief in 2005, Bergen was cast as her mother.)

Television series that debuted in the fall of 1964 included Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Peyton Place, Shindig!, Bewitched, The Addams Family, The Munsters (only 6 days after the preceding), Flipper, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Daniel Boone, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., Gilligan's Island, and the cartoon Underdog. In December, the TV special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was broadcast for the 1st time.

Of course, 1964 was the year of the Beatles, and when the year ended, the Number 1 song in America was their "I Feel Fine." In December, jazz legend John Coltrane recorded his masterpiece, A Love Supreme, and Sam Cooke was shot and killed under circumstances that are still unclear. Bob Dylan was basking in the glow of his folk music acclaim, but was unsatisfied, and was getting ready to "go electric." Elvis Presley was making silly musicals, and losing his relevance. Frank Sinatra was preparing to record the more mature music that would get him such acclaim over the rest of the Sixties. Michael Jackson was 6 years old.

Man hadn't yet landed on the Moon. There were no hand-held calculators, no digital watches, no video games (arcades were dominated by pinball machines), no means of recording TV shows other than using a home-movie camera and a tape recorder -- even minicasettes had just been invented the year before -- and hoping you could synchronize them. Most people didn't have color TV sets. There was no cable TV, no mobile phones, and no Internet. Computers could take up an entire wall. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Tim Berners-Lee were 9 years old.

In December 1964, students at the main campus of the University of California took over Sproul Hall, the administration building, beginning "the Berkeley Free Speech Movement." Oregon was hit by what becomes known as The Christmas Flood of 1964. Comedian Lenny Bruce was sentenced to 4 months in prison after being convicted of obscenity. The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird made its 1st flight.

Edith Sitwell, and Fred Hutchinson, and William Bendix, who starred in the ridiculous film The Babe Ruth Story, died. Eddie Vedder and Teri Hatcher, and Marisa Tomei were born. So were professional "wrestler" Stone Cold Steve Austin, baseball player Billy Ripken, and basketball legend Arvydas Sabonis.

December 27, 1964. A Cleveland sports team won a World Championship.

It took 51 1/2 years, but it has finally happened. At last, Northern Ohio can hold its head high with the New York Tri-State Area, New England, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area.

And even South Florida. Will the Miami Heat ever win another?

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