Tuesday, October 18, 2016

How to Be a New York Basketball Fan In Cleveland -- 2016-17 Edition

The New York Knicks open the 2016-17 season by traveling to Cleveland, to play the defending NBA Champion Cavaliers next Tuesday night, October 25. They will also go there on February 23, 2017. The Brooklyn Nets will play there on December 23 and January 27.

Before You Go. You've no doubt heard the legends of wind blasting off Lake Erie and "lake-effect snow." Well, in spite of it being early November, Cleveland.com, the website connected with the city's main newspaper, The Plain Dealer, is predicting temperatures for Tuesday and Wednesday to be in the high 50s by day, the high 40s by night. And a 40 percent chance of rain, most likely in the mornings.

Cleveland is in the Eastern Time Zone, so you won't have to change your timepieces.

Tickets. The Cavaliers averaged 20,562 fans per home game last season, trailing only the Chicago Bulls. That's a sellout every game. That's because of the return of LeBron James. Apparently, after 2 trips to the Finals and Cleveland's 1st World Championship in any sport since the Great Society, all is forgiven for his 4-year adultery with the Miami Heat.

In the lower level, the 100 sections, seats between the baskets can run over $200, behind them over $100. In the upper level, the 200 sections, they can go for $118 and $54.

Getting There. Cleveland is 500 land miles from New York. Well, not quite: Specifically, it is 465 miles from Times Square to Public Square. Knowing this, your first reaction is going to be to fly out there.

This may be a good idea, because you can get a round-trip ticket on American Airlines for under $600 -- if you don't mind changing planes in Philadelphia. United Airlines goes nonstop, but the fare can be twice as much.

Like New York, Boston and Chicago, but unlike most of the American League cities, Cleveland has good rapid transit from the airport to downtown. In fact, with the extension of the RTA Rapid Transit's Red Line in 1968, Cleveland became the first city in the Western Hemisphere to have rapid transit direct from downtown to its major airport. If you don't mind flying United Airlines out of LaGuardia, you could get a nonstop round-trip fare for under $700.

Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, named for William R. Hopkins, a City Manager in the 1920s and an early pilot, is about 12 miles southwest of downtown, and the Red Line takes 24 minutes, 9 stops, to get from Hopkins to Tower City. The cost for a single ride on any RTA line is $2.25, which is now cheaper than the New York Subway.  An all-day pass is a bargain at just $5.00.

From Tower City, underneath the iconic Terminal Tower on Public Square, there is a walkway directly toProgressive Field and the adjoining Quicken Loans Arena – meaning you could fly in, ride in, walk in, see a baseball or basketball game, walk out, ride out and fly out, all in one day. But you really should take a day to see the city.

Train? Bad idea.  Not because of the price, which is just $162 round-trip -- only a little more expensive than Greyhound, for once -- but because of the schedule. The Lake Shore Limited
(formerly known as the Twentieth Century Limited when the old New York Central Railroad ran it from Grand Central Terminal to Chicago's LaSalle Street Station) leaves New York's Penn Station at 3:40 every afternoon, and arrives at Cleveland's Lakefront Station at 3:27 in the morning. In reverse, the train leaves Lakefront Station at 5:50 AM and arrives back at Penn Station at 6:23 PM. Time-wise, this is incredibly inconvenient.

And, unlike the Cleveland Union Terminal, now known as Tower City Center but hasn’t had long-distance passenger rail traffic since 1977, Lakefront Station, at 200 Cleveland Memorial Shoreway, is not exactly one of the great rail terminals of this country. To make matters worse, while the RTA Green Line and Blue Line both serve Lakefront Station, the RTA doesn't run overnight, and thus any Amtrak train that comes into the station will not be serviced by it.

How about Greyhound? There are 9 buses leaving Port Authority every day with connections to Cleveland, but only 2 of these are nonstop: The rest require you to change buses in Pittsburgh or Buffalo. The ride, including the changeover, takes about 13 hours. Round-trip fare is $158, although it can be as little as $92 with advanced purchase.

The terminal, at 1465 Chester Avenue, adjacent to the Cleveland State University campus east of downtown, was a hideously filthy hole on my first visit in 1999, but apparently they got the message and cleaned it up, because it’s tolerable again. At least on the inside; on the outside, it’s a magnet for panhandlers. It’s a 7-block walk from the terminal to Public Square, but it’s better to take a cab, or to walk 3 blocks to the corner of 13th Street & Superior Avenue and take the Number 3 bus in.

If you decide to drive, the directions are rather simple, down to (almost literally) the last mile. You'll need to get into New Jersey, and take Interstate 80 West. You'll be on I-80 for the vast majority of the trip, through New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio. In Ohio, in the western suburbs of Cleveland, I-80 will merge with Interstate 90. I point this out merely to help you avoid confusion, not because I-90 will become important. You'll take I-80's Exit 173, and get onto Interstate 77 North. Take Exit 163 toward E. 9th St. This will take you into downtown. If you’re driving, I would definitely recommend getting a hotel, and there are several downtown, including some near the ballpark.

If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and a half in New Jersey, 5 hours and 15 minutes in Pennsylvania, and a little over an hour in Ohio. Counting rest stops, preferably at either end of Pennsylvania, and accounting for traffic in both New York and Cleveland, it should be no more than 10 hours.

Once In the City. Cleveland, which once had a city population of over 900,000, but is now under 400,000 with a metro area population of 3.5 million, was founded in 1796 by Moses Cleaveland, a hero of the War of the American Revolution, a General in the Connecticut militia, and a shareholder in the Connecticut Land Company. When the Northwest Ordinance was passed in 1787, a lot of New Englanders moved to what's now the Great Lakes States, and many "original" Ohio families can trace their roots back to Connecticut and Moses' expedition to what was known as the Western Reserve.

Supposedly, the reason for the difference in spelling is that, in 1830, the city's first newspaper was established, but the editor found "Cleaveland Advertiser" was too long to fit on the incorporation form, so he dropped an A.

The city is centered on Public Square, at the intersection of Ontario Street and Superior Avenue (U.S. Route 6), with Euclid Avenue (U.S. Route 20) flowing into it. The Terminal Tower, a 708-foot Art Deco masterpiece, is at the southwest corner of Public Square, and includes the Tower City rail hub and shopping mall. It opened in 1930 and, until 1964, was the tallest building in North America outside New York.

At the southeast corner is the Soldiers & Sailors Monument, probably the best memorial to the American Civil War outside of that war's preserved battlefields. And at the northeast corner is the Key Tower, at 948 feet now the tallest building in the State of Ohio; Richard Jacobs, who owned the Indians for a time, also owned the real estate development company that built the Key Tower (named for Key Bank) in 1991.
Cuyahoga County Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument,
at Public Square

The sales tax in Ohio is 5.75 percent, and in Cuyahoga County (which includes Cleveland), it's 8 percent. ZIP Codes in Cleveland begin with the digits 441, and the Area Code is 216.

The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) runs a heavy rail Red Line, similar to New York's Subway, and light rail Blue and Green Lines. They converge at the Tower City, and all 3 run together from there to East 55th Street. The Blue and Green Lines both start at South Harbor, and run together to Shaker Square before diverging. The fare is $2.25, and is the same for RTA buses. A 5-trip farecard is $11.25 -- no savings at all.
An RTA train at Tower City

Going In. Quicken Loans Arena, a.k.a. "The Q," and named Gund Arena from 1994 to 2005 for the brothers George and Gordon Gund who owned the Cavaliers (and also both of the NHL teams in the Bay Area, the Oakland Seals and the San Jose Sharks), is 2 blocks from Public Square, bordered by Ontario Street, Bolivar Road, 6th Street and Huron Road. Quicken Loans is a mortgage company which, like the Cavs, is owned by Dan Gilbert.

It is the home of the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers, a minor-league hockey team called the Lake Erie Monsters (but there's no monster in Lake Erie, the way some people say there are in Loch Ness and Lake Champlain), winners of the 2016 Calder Cup as American Hockey League Champions.

It also hosts an Arena Football team called the Cleveland Gladiators. It was home to the WNBA's Cleveland Rockers from the league's debut in 1997 until the team folded in 2003. It hosted the 2014 ArenaBowl, although the Gladiators lost it. It hosted the Republican Convention next summer. Hopefully, now that Donald Trump and his Deplorables have left, they've fumigated it.

The official address is 1 Center Court, and it's across Bolivar Road from Progressive Field, home of the Cleveland Indians. Parking at lots around the ballpark runs from $5.00 to $20. As I said, a walkway runs from Tower City into a parking deck, and it extends into the arena itself. The court is laid out north-to-south.
Food. Ohio -- much more than New Jersey and Maryland, which get into the conference last year -- is part of Big Ten Country, where college football tailgate parties are practically a sacrament. You would think that an Ohio basketball team would have good food options, and you'd be right.

They have Quaker Steak and Lube, Rocco's at The Q, Michael Symon's B Spot, Cheers & Beers, Twist and Stout, and 2 stands each for Dippin Dots and real ice cream from Cold Stone Creamery.

Team History Displays. The Cavaliers have won their Division 5 times: in 1976, 2009, 2010, 2015 and 2016. They've won the Eastern Conference 3 times, in 2007, 2015 and 2016. And, while it took them 46 seasons, they've finally won the NBA title.

Those are their high points. Their low points have been pretty low. When they were founded in 1970, they reached a level of ineptitude even expansion teams hadn't reached before, or have since: They lost the 1st 15 games in franchise history. In the early 1980s, they were so bad, they were called the Cadavers and the Cavalosers. Even in the early LeBron years, they looked hopeless. It's almost enough to say the kid from Akron couldn't be blamed for skedaddling when he did.

In spite of this weak history, the Cavs have 7 retired numbers. From the '76 "Miracle of Richfield" team that got all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals before falling to the Boston Celtics, the've retired 7 for forward Bobby "Bingo" Smith, 34 for guard Austin Carr, and 42 for center Nate Thurmond.

From their good teams of the early 1990s, who unfortunately got stuck behind Isiah Thomas' Detroit Pistons and the Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls, they've retired 22 for forward Larry Nance, 25 for guard Mark Price, and 43 for center Brad Daugherty. And from the 2007 Conference Champions, they've retired 11 for center Žydrūnas Ilgauskas. Since things have been patched up between the organization and LeBron, it's likely that his Number 23 will be retired when he calls it a career. 

They've also honored longtime broadcaster Joe Tait with a banner. The earlier players' banners are to the left of the championship banners, the more recent ones to the right. They hang from the east end of the arena, a section nicknamed Loudville.
They haven't yet raised their 2016 NBA Championship banner.

Thurmond, who died this past July 16, is in the Basketball Hall of Fame, and was named to the NBA's 50th Anniversary 50 Greatest Players. Lenny Wilkens (2 seasons), Shaquille O'Neal (1 season), and the Knicks' own Walt "Clyde" Frazier (the last 3 of his career) also played for the Cavs, and are also in the Hall. But there are no Cavaliers' Hall-of-Famers, unless you want to count Wilkens as a head coach (7 years) or Wayne Embry as general manager (13 years).

Stuff. The Cavaliers Team Shop is on the lower level of the north side of the arena, on 6th Street. Among the items they sell are foam "cavalier swords" and LeBron-style headbands. (Chalk powder, no.)

In 1994, to celebrate the team moving back into town after 20 years in the suburbs, Joe Menzer and Burt Graeff wrote Cavs from Fitch to Fratello: The Sometimes Miraculous, Often Hilarious Wild Ride of the Cleveland CavaliersMore recently, Vince McKee and Mary Schmitt Boyer wrote Cleveland Cavaliers: A History of the Wine & Gold

The title has led to several books about the 2015-16 Cavs. Not surprisingly, the great Cleveland sports columnist Terry Pluto has written (or, in this case, co-written with Brian Windhorst) the definitive LeBron book, The Comeback: LeBron, the Cavs & Cleveland.

Finally, having won an NBA Championship, a commemorative DVD is available from the NBA offices. ESPN's 30 for 30 documentary Believeland is also available.

During the Game. A November 13, 2014 article on DailyRotoHelp, written just as LeBron James returned to Cleveland, ranked the NBA teams' fan bases, and listed the Cavs' fans at 14th, slightly to the good of the middle. They cited what happened when LeBron left, but not what happened when he came back. Yes, he's now led them to an NBA title, but they forgave him a little too soon.

Cleveland fans really hate the Yankees. Which is understandable, as the Yankees ruined many a season for them. But the Cavs are not the Indians, and neither the Knicks nor the Nets is the Yankees. (Actually, if you added the Knicks', Nets', Mets', Giants', Jets', Rangers', Islanders' and Devils' titles together, you'd have fewer titles than the Yankees: 27 to 24.) As long as you don't start any rough stuff -- or the classic "Cleveland Jokes" (like about the city going broke or the Cuyahoga River catching fire), your safety will not be at risk.

However, since this will be Opening Night, there will be a ceremony for the raising of the title banner. The Cavs may also be presented with their championship rings before the game.

The Cavs have 2 mascots: A dog named Moondog, named for Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed, who coined the phrase "rock and roll," nicknmed himself "Moondog," hosted the first true rock concerts at the old Cleveland Arena, and then came to New York and introduced the Tri-State Area to the phenomenon over radio station WINS; and Sir C.C., for "Cleveland Cavaliers," a man in a Three Musketeers-type uniform.

The Cavs do not have a regular National Anthem singer, and hold auditions. Before Game 6 of the 2015 NBA Finals, they brought in Marlana VanHoose, a 19-year-old blind girl with cerebral palsy, from Kentucky, and she brought the house down. The team's entrance sword was written especially for them, and is titled "Fear the Sword."

On June 4, 2015, during the Finals, the Plain Dealer printed a column on "11 phrases every Cavaliers bandwagon fan should know." Or, rather, everybody who was rooting for the Cavs, and then the Heat, and now the Cavs again, because their loyalty isn't to any one team, but to LeBron.
This included 1970s star turned broadcaster Austin Carr's "Get that weak stuff out of here!" and a line from a rap song that Iman Shumpert recorded for the Playoff run, "The only way to pick up is to get your funky jazz down." 

After the Game. Cleveland has some rough areas, but you should be safe downtown. There are a number of places you could go after the game, with names like the Greenhouse (2038 East 4th Street at Prospect Avenue) and the Winking Lizard (1301 E. 9th Street at St. Clair Avenue). A House of Blues is at 308 Euclid Avenue, 5 blocks from the park.

The aforementioned Winking Lizard, a.k.a. "Winks," is the local hangout for Jet fans. Anthony's, at 10703 W. Pleasant Valley Road, is known as a bar for Giant fans. But it's hard to reach by public transportation: Bus 45 to 7360 York Road, then a 12-minute walk.

There was a restaurant called the New York Spaghetti House on East 9th Street, just a few steps from the ballpark, but it went out of business in 2001. Original owner Mario Brigotti, who died in 1998 at age 99, was a friend of another Italian Clevelander, Mario Boiardi – a.k.a. Chef Boyardee.

If your visit to Cleveland is during the European soccer season, which is now underway, the best place to watch your club is probably The Old Angle Tavern, at 1848 West 25th Street in the Ohio City neighborhood, acros the Cuyahoga, west of downtown. Red Line to West 25th-Ohio City.

Sidelights. Cleveland has a losing reputation. The Indians haven't won a World Series since 1948, the Browns haven't won an NFL Championship since 1964 -- Super Bowl –II, if you prefer. But the Cavs have now won the big one, and the Indians are on the verge of their 3rd Pennant in the last 20 seasons, so maybe it's turning around. It should be:Cleveland is still a great sports city.

As I said, Quicken Loans Arena, home of the Cavs, is next-door to Progressive Field. Originally known as Jacobs Field for the brothers who owned the Indians, it opened with the arena, as part of "The Gateway Project," in 1994. The Indians immediately went from 33 years without so much as a Pennant race to a run of Playoff contention that lasted from 1994 to 2001. Actually, it was the other way around: Richard Jacobs, his brother David having already died, and general manager John Hart had been making moves to build the team in the hopes that, by the time the ballpark opened, they'd be ready to take advantage of the more comfortable surroundings.

The Indians have won the American League Central Division title in 1995, '96, '97, '98, '99, 2001, 2007, and now in 2016. They reached the AL Championship Series in 1995, '97, '98, 2007, and now in 2016. They won the AL Pennant in 1995 and '97, but lost both World Series. Games 3, 4 and 5 of the 1997 World Series were 3 of the 4 coldest Series games ever measured, and aside from a Chicago game in 1906, Game 4 in 1997 is the only World Series game known to have had snow fall during play. Still, especially now that they're knocking on the door of yet another Pennant, the park can be viewed as more of a factor toward postseason play than part of any jinx over the team or the city. (They won 1 Pennant playing at League Park, 2 at Municipal Stadium, and are on the verge of a 3rd at the new park.)

Renamed Progressive Field in 2008, the naming rights bought by the Cleveland-based insurance company (with TV spokesgal Flo) -- once "The Jake," it's now "The Prog" -- the official address is 2401 Ontario Street.

The Browns' new stadium, now named First Energy Stadium, stands on the Cleveland Memorial Shoreway at West 3rd Street, across from Lakefront Station to the south. To the east are the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and the Great Lakes Science Center – good museums, but expensive.

Formerly named simply Cleveland Browns Stadium, the new stadium was built on the site of Municipal Stadium, which was the Indians' part-time home from 1932 to 1946, and their full-time home from 1947 to 1993.

An NFL team named the Indians played at the Stadium in its 1st season, 1931. The NFL's Rams played there from 1936 to 1945, winning the 1945 NFL Championship Game there, but moved to Los Angeles due to lousy attendance.

The Browns, founded with the All-America Football Conference in 1946 and moving into the NFL in 1950, played there until 1995, before being moved to Baltimore to become the Ravens and being reborn in 1999.

Built in 1999, FirstEnergy Stdium has hosted U.S. soccer games. The men's team won a friendly 2-0 over Venezuela on May 26, 2006; lost a friendly 4-2 to Belgium on May 29, 2013. The women's team won a friendly 4-0 over Germany on May 22, 2010, and won a friendly 2-0 over Japan on June 5, 2016. (UPDATE: The men's team won a CONCACAF Gold Cup Group Stage game 3-0 over Nicaragua on July 15, 2017.)

The Browns won the AAFC Championship in all 4 seasons of that league’s existence, then won NFL Championships in 1950, 1954, 1955 and 1964. In fact, the Browns played in a league championship game every season they played, from their 1946 debut until 1955. The 1950 NFL Championship Game, won by a Lou Groza field goal in the last 30 seconds of a chilly Christmas Eve encounter over, ironically, the Rams, is regarded as one of the greatest games in pro football history, although the Rams got revenge in the 1951 title game in Los Angeles. The Browns lost the 1952 Title Game at home to the Detroit Lions, lost to the Lions in Detroit in 1953, beat the Lions at home in 1954, and beat the Rams in Los Angeles in 1955. A new generation of Browns won the 1964 NFL Championship Game at home against the Baltimore Colts – though i'’s hard to argue that Baltimore taking the Browns in 1995 was revenge.

Still, that '64 Title remained the city's last World Championship until the 2016 Cavs. No city with at least 3 major league sports teams has ever waited longer. Most Clevelanders who watch college football are Ohio State University fans, even though Ohio Stadium is 145 miles away in Columbus, which is further from FirstEnergy Stadium than the Steelers' Heinz Field, 135 miles. Still, while O-State has won many Big Ten titles and some National Championships over the years, including since 1964, they are a team for the entire State, not Cleveland-specific, and have played very few home-away-from-home games in Cleveland. And Cleveland State only restarted their football program in 2010. So while Cleveland is a great pro football city and a great high school football city, it is not a good college football city.

Municipal Stadium hosted a Beatles concert on August 14, 1966. The Beatles also played Cleveland's Public Auditorium on September 15, 1964. That building, which opened in 1922, not only still stands, it now hosts the annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Elvis Presley sang there on November 6, 1971 and June 21, 1974.

Public Auditorium hosted the Republican Conventions of 1924 (nominating Calvin Coolidge) and 1936 (Alf Landon). It also hosted the only Presidential debate between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan in 1980, when Carter mentioned asking his daughter Amy what issues mattered to kids, and she said the nuclear threat -- contrary to the Reagan mythmakers' story, he did not ask her for advice on said threat. But, at that debate, Reagan did break out the lines, "There you go again" and "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" 500 Lakeside Avenue East, a 6-block walk from Public Square and across from City Hall.

There were 2 different ballparks known as League Park, constructed at East 66th Street and Lexington Avenue on the city's East Side. The 1st was built in 1891, and was the home of the National League’s Cleveland Spiders until 1899 and the American League team that became the Indians from 1901 to 1909. A 2nd park built there in 1910 was the Indians' home until 1946. A pro football team called the Cleveland Indians played there from 1916 to 1921.

League Park was also the home of the Cleveland Buckeyes, who played in the Negro Leagues from 1943 to 1950, and won the Negro World Series in 1945.

Unlike most parks of the pre-World War I era (or even before the 1960s), something remains of this park: The ticket office that stood in the right-field corner still stands. And there is a baseball field, a public park, on the site today.

This is a poverty-stricken neighborhood – it has never really recovered from a race riot in 1966 – so do not visit at night. The Number 3 bus will take you up Superior Avenue to 66th, and it’s a 6-block walk. A bus called “The HealthLine,” which can be picked up on Euclid Avenue across from the Soldiers & Sailors Monument at Public Square, will take you up Euclid Avenue to 66th, and it’s a 7-block walk.

There is a Baseball Heritage Museum, inside the 5th Street Arcades shopping center at 530 Euclid Avenue. It began as a private collection of Negro League memorabilia, and it grew to include stuff from the Indians and all kinds of baseball, including amateur, industrial/semi-pro, women's and international leagues.

The Cleveland Arena was home to one of the great minor-league hockey teams, the Cleveland Barons, from 1937 to 1974 and the World Hockey Association's Cleveland Crusaders from 1972 to 1974. It was home to the Cleveland Rebels in the 1st NBA season of 1946-47, and the Cavaliers from their 1970 debut until 1974.

It was here, on March 21, 1952, that local disc jockey Alan Freed hosted the Moondog Coronation Ball, which is often called the first rock and roll concert (which is why Cleveland is the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame). The place held about 10,000, but about twice that tried to get into Freed's show, launching him on a career that would take him to his pioneering job on New York’s WINS and then WABC.
Elvis sang at the Arena on November 23, 1956. (While the 1988 film Heartbreak Hotel shows him, played by David Keith, in concert at the Cleveland Arena in 1972, that film is fiction, and the website elvisconcerts.com clearly states that he gave only one concert in the State of Ohio that year, at the University of Dayton Arena.)

The Arena was demolished in 1977. The HealthLine bus will drop you off at 36th Street; but, again, this is an uneasy neighborhood, so be aware of your surroundings.

From 1974 to 1994, between the Cleveland Arena and the Gund/Quicken Loans Arena, the Cavs played at The Coliseum at Richfield, a.k.a. the Richfield Coliseum. This was also the home of the minor-league Barons in the 1974-75 and 1975-76 seasons, and the NHL version of the Barons (who had been the Gund-brothers owned Oakland Seals/California Golden Seals) in the 1976-77 and 1977-78 seasons, before money problems forced them to be merged with the Minnesota North Stars.
On March 24, 1975, in his first fight after regaining the heavyweight title from George Foreman, Muhammad Ali fought a journeyman fighter from North Jersey, Chuck Wepner, a.k.a. the Bayonne Bleeder. Wepner actually knocked Ali down in the 9th round, and that pissed Ali off: He clobbered Wepner, but the Marine veteran refused to go down, until he had nothing left and fell to an Ali punch with 19 seconds left in the 15th and final round. Supposedly, seeing this fight on TV led Sylvester Stallone to create the character of Rocky Balboa. Wepner is still alive at age 76, and recently retired from running a liquor store in Carlstadt, Bergen County.

Like the Meadowlands Arena and the Nassau Coliseum, the Richfield Coliseum had two levels of seats and one level of concourse – and, when a full house of 20,000 showed up, this was a mess. The location was also bad, picked because it was halfway between downtown Cleveland and downtown Akron, but it didn’t exactly help people of either city. When the Cavs moved out, its days were numbered, and it was demolished in 1999. The site is now a wildlife sanctuary. 2923 W. Streetsboro Road, and don’t expect to take public transportation: The closest bus, the 77F, drops you off almost 6 miles away.

Elvis sang at the Coliseum on July 10 and 18, 1975; and on March 21 and October 23, 1976. Elvis actually gave concerts in Cleveland before becoming nationally famous. As I said, he played the Arena in 1956, but, before that, on February 26, 1955, nearly a year before “Heartbreak Hotel” hit the charts as his first national hit single, he did 2 shows at the Circle Theater, at 105th & Euclid (built 1920, demolished 1959 for the expansion of the Cleveland Clinic, hence the bus is called the "HealthLine," and this area is a bit safer). On October 19, 1955, he again played 2 shows at the venue.  The next day, he did a matinee at Brooklyn High School (9200 Biddulph Road, Number 45 bus to Biddulph and walk a mile west) and an evening show at St. Michael’s Hall (Mill Road & Wallings Road, 77F bus to Wallings, walk a mile west and a couple of blocks south on Mill).

Since the NHL version of the Barons folded, the closest NHL team has been the Pittsburgh Penguins, 134 miles away. But the Cleveland-Pittsburgh NFL rivalry spills over. Clevelanders would rather stick with their home State and root for the Columbus Blue Jackets (142 miles), or head up Interstate 90 for the Buffalo Sabres (193 miles), or go around Lake Erie and root for the Detroit Red Wings (167 miles, and the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry doesn't seem to come into play). Given its population, Cleveland would be the 18th-largest market in the NHL.

Cleveland's highest-ranked soccer team is AFC Cleveland, which plays in the National Premier Soccer League, the 4th tier of American soccer. Their home field is Stan Skoczen Stadium, in Independence, 10 miles south of downtown. Bus 77 will get you to within a mile away.

I once asked Drew Carey, through Twitter, if he loves soccer so much, why didn't he try to get a Major League Soccer franchise for Cleveland, instead of buying into the group that owns the Seattle Sounders? Especially since Cleveland had done so well in the Major Indoor Soccer League. He said there was no suitable playing facility, unless they wanted to play before 50,000 empty seats at the new Browns stadium. This made sense, which is why the nearest MLS team is the Columbus Crew, 138 miles away. The next-closest is Toronto FC, 289 miles away.

No NCAA Final Four has ever been held in the State of Ohio. Ohio State won it in 1960, and lost Finals in 1939, 1961, 1962 and 2007, but they're in the State capital of Columbus, and considerably closer to Cincinnati. The most notable college in the area is Cleveland State University, whose Vikings notably reached the Sweet Sixteen as a 14th seed in 1986, upsetting Indiana and St. Joseph's of Philadelphia before David Robinson and Navy beat them by 1 point to keep them out of the Elite Eight, but that's as close as any Northern Ohio team has come to the Final Four. Their campus is headquartered on Euclid Avenue between 17th and 26th Streets.

There is a Cleveland Museum of Art, but it's way out on the East Side of the city, at 11150 East Boulevard at Wade Oval Drive, near the campus of Case Western Reserve University. It's a 15-minute walk from the Euclid-East 120th Street Station on the Red Line, or a 35-minute ride on the HealthLine bus.

Cleveland was home to a President, James Garfield, elected in 1880 but assassinated just a few months into his Presidency. Although he died near us, at his “Summer White House” in Long Branch, New Jersey, he was born in the Cleveland suburb of Orange (now Moreland Hills, and he was the last President to be born in a log cabin), and his home, Lawnfield, stands at 8095 Mentor Avenue in Mentor, northeast of the city. It takes 4 buses to get there: The 3, the 28, the R2 and the R1, but it is possible to get there without a car or an expensive taxi.

William McKinley, elected in 1896 and 1900, was from Canton, 60 miles away, and there are some historic sites there relating to him. We Yankee Fans also know Canton as the home town of Captain Thurman Munson. But most sports fans know it as the home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, selected because it was the location of the NFL's founding meeting on September 17, 1920, at the Hupmobile showroom of Ralph Hay, also the owner of the Canton Bulldogs. The Frank T. Bow Federal Building is now on the site. 201 Cleveland Avenue SW.

The Hall of Fame itself is 3 miles to the northwest, at 2121 George Halas Drive NW, off Exit 107 on Interstate 77. Just to the south is Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, named for the owner of the New Orleans Saints, who made a big donation to renovate the Hall and the adjoining Fawcett Stadium, which was renamed for him. Originally built in in 1938 for McKinley High School, just to the south, it replaced the old 8,000-seat League Field. It now seats 22,375, and annually hosts the NFL's exhibition season-opening Hall of Fame Game.

The Canton Bulldogs played at League Field from 1905 to 1926, winning Ohio League titles in 1915, 1916, 1917 and 1919, and NFL Championships in 1922 (10-0-2), 1923 (11-0-1) and 1924 (7-1-1 -- that's 28-1-4 in 3 seasons). They featured eventual Pro Football Hall-of-Famers Jim Thorpe, Joe Guyon, Guy Chamberlin, Pete Henry, Link Lyman and Greasy Neale, though not all at the same time.

But starpower meant big salaries, and their owners couldn't afford them. After the 1926 season, the NFL cast off several weaker franchise, and the Bulldogs were among them. Thus passed the 1st great professional football team.

The Akron-Canton Regional Airport, where Thurman Munson died on August 2, 1979, is at 5400 Lauby Road in North Canton. He is laid to rest at Sunset Hills Burial Park and Memory Gardens, 5001 Everhard Road NW. Thurman Munson Memorial Stadium is a 5,700-seat minor-league ballpark at 2501 Allen Avenue SE. It was built in 1989, before Camden Yards in Baltimore revolutionized ballpark construction in both the majors and the minors, so it is an all-aluminum stadium, and the Canton-Akron Indians left after the 1996 season to become the Akron Aeros.

It is possible to get from Cleveland to Canton via public transportation, via GoBus, but it takes 2 hours and 20 minutes. Each way.

Akron is about 30 miles south of Cleveland on I-77, a little more than halfway to Canton. There is a Bus C that goes there, taking a little under an hour and costing $10, each way. Since 1997, the Double-A Eastern League team known as the Akron Aeros, and now the Akron RubberDucks (1 word), has played at Canal Park, 300 S. Main Street at Exchange Street.

The 1st NFL Champions were the Akron Pros, in 1920. Their coach was also their best player, two-way back Frederick Douglass "Fritz" Pollard -- the 1st black head coach in any major league sport. (Well, sort of: He was, unquestionably, the head coach; it's the NFL's status as "major league" up until 1933 or so, or even until after World War II, that's questionable.) Another great black football player of the era, the 1917 and '18 All-America end at Rutgers and later actor and singer Paul Robeson, played for them in the 1921 season. (He also played for the Milwaukee Badgers in 1922.)

The Pros played under various names, in various leagues, from 1908 to 1926, but financial problems made them part of the NFL's post-1926 purge, and they folded. They played at League Park, at the southeast corner of Carroll and Beaver Streets, a mile and a half east of downtown. The area is industrial now.

Also associated with Ohio are Presidents William Henry Harrison, Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Harrison and William Howard Taft, but they were from the Cincinnati side; Rutherford B. Hayes, whose hometown of Fremont was closer to Toledo; and Warren G. Harding, whose birthplace of Blooming Grove and adult hometown of Marion are closer to Columbus.

If you're a fan of The Drew Carey Show, and you remember the cast's hangout, the Warsaw Tavern, you should know that there is a real-life bar with that name, in Brooklyn (a separate city) south of downtown, on West 22nd Street at Calgary Avenue. Take the Number 35 bus.

The House from the film A Christmas Story, in which Cleveland stands in for Chicago and author Jean Shepherd's hometown of Hammond, Indiana, is at 3159 W. 11th Street at Rowley Avenue, and was restored by a fan to its exact appearance in the movie, made in 1983 but set around 1939 or so. Take the Number 81 bus. The Higbee's store was also real, but was most likely based on Chicago's real-life Marshall Field's chain.  Higbee's still stands on Public Square, and the sign visible in the movie is still there, but the store closed years ago, and is now home to the Cleveland Convention & Visitors Bureau and Horseshoe Casino Cleveland.

Toledo is 115 miles west of Cleveland, where the Maumee River flows into Lake Erie. Megabus can get you there in 2½ hours. In fact, it's closer to Detroit: 60 miles. For this reason, their Triple-A baseball team, the Toledo Mud Hens, has been a farm club of the Detroit Tigers for much of their history, including continuously since 1987.

What's a "mud hen"? It's a bird that flocked near Bay View Park, where the team played from 1886 to 1896. It's also known as an American coot. The team left the next season, but the name stuck. The stadium remained in place, and was used as the site of the Heavyweight Championship fight of July 4, 1919, when Jack Dempsey won the title by destroying Jess Willard. It's all parkland now, except for the clubhouse of the Bay View Yacht Club. 3900 Summit Street, 3½ miles northeast of downtown.

Originally known as the Toledo Blue Stockings, they played at League Park from 1883 to 1885, before moving to Bay View Park. It was here, in the 1884 season, that they fielded catcher Moses Fleetwood "Fleet" Walker and his brother, outfielder Weldy Wilbeforce "Welday" Walker, the 1st 2 black players in what we would now call Major League Baseball, but were forced by the baseball establishment to let them go.

The Taylor Body Shop is now on the site of this important, but shunted-aside, piece of baseball history. 1400 Monroe Street, just west of downtown. 

The Mud Hens moved to Armory Park, playing there from 1897 to 1909. This was the home of an early pro football team, the Toledo Maroons, from 1902 onward. In 1922, they entered the NFL, but it became too expensive for them, and they folded after the 1923 season. Armory Park was demolished in 1934, and the site is now part of the Civic Center Mall, on Jackson Street between Spielbusch Avenue and Erie Street.

Swayne Field opened in 1909, and was the home of the Mud Hens until 1955. This stadium, eventually reaching 14,800 seats after a 1928 expansion, would have been "home" to the M*A*S*H character Max Klinger, played by Toledo native Jamie Farr, who made the Hens' jersey and block-T cap nationally famous. For this reason, the modern version of the team retired Number 1, which Klinger wore, for Farr.

In 1927, they won their 1st Pennant at Swayne Field. But they were never prosperous, and in 1955, they moved, and the ballpark was soon demolished. A shopping center, including a McDonald's, is on the site now. 3000 Monroe Street, at Detroit Avenue (U.S. Route 24), 2 miles west of downtown, and a mile and a half's walk down Monroe from the site of League Park.

The team was revived in 1965, when the 10,197-seat Lucas County Stadium opened, thanks to the efforts of County Commissioner Ned Skeldon. They won the Pennant in 1968. In 1988, when it was learned Skeldon was dying, the County government renamed the stadium for him. He lived long enough to see it, dying 3 months later.

Ned Skeldon Stadium remains a home for amateur baseball, as part of the Lucas County Recreation Center. 2901 Key Street in suburban Maumee, 8 miles southwest of downtown.

In 2002, the Mud Hens moved back downtown, to the 10,300-seat Fifth Third Field, named for an Ohio-based bank (which also holds naming rights to Dayton's ballpark and the University of Cincinnati's arena). They won Pennants there in 2005 and 2006. 406 Washington Street at Huron Street, downtown.

And while Adam's Ribs, the Chicago barbecue joint mentioned in one of the better M*A*S*H 
episodes, isn't real (though many places with the name have popped up since that 1974 episode), Klinger’s beloved sausage emporium, Tony Packo's Café, is absolutely real. The original is at 1902 Front Street at Consaul Street, 2 miles across the river from downtown, and they have another across from the ballpark at 7 S. Superior Street.

Elvis sang at the 5,230-seat Toledo Sports Arena on November 22, 1956, and at the University of Toledo's 8,300-seat John F. Savage Arena on April 23, 1977. The old Sports Arena stood at 1 Main Street at Riverside Drive, a mile across the river from downtown, from 1947 to 2007, hosting concerts and minor-league hockey. It was replaced by the 5,000-seat Huntington Center, at 500 Jefferson Avenue at Huron Street, downtown. It is home to minor-league hockey's Toledo Walleyes. The Savage Arena is at 2025 Douglas Road, on campus, 4 miles west of downtown.

Bowling Green State University, of the Mid-American Conference, is 112 miles west of Public Square, and 22 miles south of downtown Toledo. They won hockey's National Championship in 1984. The 5,000-seat Slater Family Ice Arena is at 417 N. Mercer Road.

The 24,000-seat Doyt Perry Stadium, built in 1966 and named for their former football coach, who from 1955 to 1964 won 5 of the school's 12 MAC Championships, is next-door, at Stadium Drive & Alumni Drive.


A visit to Cleveland can be a fun experience. These people love basketball. And, for the moment, they are the holders of the NBA Championship. Their city should be able to show you a good time. Again, don't mention that The Boss was a Clevelander. And, for your own sake, don't mention the name of Art Modell.

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