Friday, July 09, 2010

Buffalo and Cleveland: Let’s Make a Pact!

I'm a Buffalo sports fan, but I found myself acutely disappointed when LeBron James choose the Miami Heat over the Cleveland Cavaliers. You see, it's not easy being a Buffalo sports fans, with the Bills' four Super Bowl losses and the Sabres' inability to win the Stanley Cup. I've always felt that the only fans who truly understand the continual disappointment and ache of no championships are Cleveland sports fans.

So, somewhere along the way, I've become a stand-in Cleveland fan, and I always cheer for Cleveland teams to win when they make the playoffs (excepting on the rare occasion when the Browns and Bills meet in the post-season, when I root for the Bills). This year was no different, and I really thought it was the Cavs' year and LeBron would lead them over the top.

It was obviously not to be, though. But the Cavs' loss to the Celtics and LeBron's decision to play for Miami got me thinking about other famous sports letdowns and disappointments in Buffalo and Cleveland sports. The similarities were striking, and I am now more convinced than ever that the two fan bases are united in shared misfortune by their sports teams.

Below is a comparison of significant Buffalo and Cleveland sports failures, misfortune, and near misses. I should note that my purpose in compiling this list is not to dwell on the negative and find company in misery, but to issue a clarion call of sorts for both fan bases to consider coming together and supporting each other's teams, at least until both cities win a modern day professional sports championship.

The List

Buffalo Cleveland

No Goal


Team: Buffalo Sabres
Sport: NHL
When: 1999 Stanley Cup Finals
Opponent: Dallas Stars

No Goal is associated with the controversial goal scored by Brett Hull of the Dallas Stars in the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals. When Hull scored the series-clinching goal in triple overtime of game six, his foot was in the crease but the puck wasn't.[1]

Beyond the controversy surrounding the goal, Sabre fans painfully remember the loss to this day because it represented the best look the Sabres had at a Stanley Cup, possibly ever. It was also the closest they got with all-world goalie Dominik Hasek.

The Drive


Team: Cleveland Browns
Sport: NFL
When: January 11, 1987
Opponent: Denver Broncos

The Drive refers to an offensive series in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship Game played on January 11, 1987, between the Denver Broncos and the Cleveland Browns.[2]

Broncos quarterback John Elway, in a span of 5 minutes and 2 seconds, led his team 98 yards to tie the game with 37 seconds left in regulation. Denver won the game in overtime with a field goal, 23-20.[2]

Music City Miracle

Team: Buffalo Bills
Sport: NFL
When: January 8, 2000
Opponent: Tennessee Titans

Music City Miracle is the name commonly given to the game winning kickoff return that took place as time expired on January 8, 2000, during the 1999-2000 NFL Payoffs when Tennessee pulled off a nearly impossible cross-field lateral to create daylight for returner Kevin Dyson.[3]

After the Bills's first Super Bowl loss, this might be the most painful Bills playoff defeat.

The Fumble

Team: Cleveland Browns
Sport: NFL
When: January 17, 1988
Opponent: Denver Broncos

The Fumble refers to Earnest Byner's fumble in the AFC Championship Game between the Cleveland Browns and the Denver Broncos on January 17, 1988. With 1:12 left in the game, running back Byner appeared to be on his way to score the game-tying touchdown, but lost a fumble at the 3-yard line.[4]

The Drop

Team: Buffalo Bills
Sport: NFL
When: January 6, 1990
Opponent: Cleveland Browns

The Drop describes the play when Bills' running back Ronnie Harmon dropped a potential game winning catch in the end zone on January 6, 1990 during a wildcard playoff game versus the Browns.

Red Right 88

Team: Cleveland Browns
Sport: NFL
When: January 4, 1981
Opponent: Oakland Raiders

Red Right 88 was the designation of a Cleveland Browns passing play that was infamously called during a Browns playoff game against the Raiders in 1981 that led to an interception and eventual loss.[5]

The Disappointing Finish

Team: Buffalo Sabres
Sport: NHL
When: May 19, 2007
Opponent: Ottawa Senators

The Disappointing Finish describes the failure of the Buffalo Sabres in the 2006-07 season to win the Stanley Cup, despite winning the Presidents' Trophy for most regular-season points for the first time in franchise history.

The suffering of Sabre fans did not end with the elimination by Ottawa, as the offseason saw the exit of two of the teams most productive and popular players, Chris Drury and Daniel Briere.

The Wedge

Team: Cleveland Indians
Sport: MLB
When: October 21, 2007
Opponent: Boston Red Sox

The Wedge recalls the 2007 ALCS when the Indians held a 3-1 lead in the series over the Boston Red Sox with a 19-game winner going at home in Game 5 -- and still lost the series.[6]

The series loss is generally characterized in Cleveland as a major choke, such that the term "The Wedge", named for former manager Eric Wedge, is now synonymous to Cleveland fans with this series loss.

The Wrist Shot

Team: Buffalo Sabres
Sport: NHL
When: May 10, 2001
Opponent: Pittsburgh Penguins

The Wrist Shot describes the game-winning goal and overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals of the 2000-01 season. Darius Kasparaitis beat Hasek 13:01 into overtime with a long 30-foot wrist shot from around the left faceoff circle.

This series and its aftermath will forever haunt Sabres fans. In Game 6, the Sabres were leading 2-1 and 1:18 away from advancing to the Eastern Finals when Pittsburgh tied the game on a fluke bounce and eventually won the the game in overtime. The Sabres would blow a lead in Game 7 as well and lose in overtime on the Kasparaitis goal.

This would prove to be Hasek's last game with the Sabres, as he was traded in the offseason.

The Shot

Team: Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport: NBA
When: 1989 NBA Playoffs
Opponent: Chicago Bulls

The Shot is the game-winning basket made by Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls in the fifth and final game of the first round of the 1989 NBA Playoffs against the Cleveland Cavaliers, on May 7, 1989, on Cleveland's home floor in Richfield, Ohio.[7]

The buzzer-beater gave Chicago the best-of-five series, 3-2. It was both a game and series winner. The Shot is considered one of Jordan's greatest clutch moments, and the game itself is considered a classic.[7]

Wide Right

Team: Buffalo Bills
Sport: NFL
When: January 27, 1991
Opponent: NY Giants

Wide Right describes kicker Scott Norwood's missed 47-yard field goal attempt during Super Bowl XXV on January 27, 1991.

Wide Right (and the loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XXV) is widely regarded by Buffalo fans as the most heartbreaking professional sports moment of all. Wide Right is sometimes associated with the Bills' loss of four straight Super Bowls, and has become viewed as the one consummate game the Bills should have won. 

Two Outs Away (Jose Mesa)

Team: Cleveland Indians
Sport: MLB
When: October 26, 1997
Opponent: Florida Marlins

Sometimes associated with the labels Two Outs Away or just Jose Mesa, Cleveland's loss in the 1997 World Series is best remembered by the team entering the ninth inning of Game 7 with a 2-1 when closer Jose Mesa blew the lead, culminating in a Marlins win in the eleventh inning.

In the modern era, this series is the closest a Cleveland team has come to winning a championship and is bitterly remembered by Indians fans.

Championship Drought

Despite reaching the Super Bowl in four consecutive years from 1990-1993, the Bills have never won a Super Bowl. The Sabres have also failed to win the Stanley Cup.

The Buffalo Bills did win the AFL championship in 1964 and 1965, and the Buffalo Bandits of the NLL have won 4 Championships in 1992, 1993, 1996, and 2008, but fans want what they consider the real thing, a modern day championship in football or hockey.[8] 

Championship Drought

Cleveland has waited longer than any other city with three major sports franchises to win a title. The last time a Cleveland professional sports team won a championship was in 1964 when the Cleveland Browns won the NFL Championship (pre-Super Bowl era).

The Cleveland Indians last won the World Series in 1948 (the second-longest drought in MLB, after the Cubs) and the Cleveland Cavaliers have never won an NBA championship. The city even had a short-lived NHL hockey team called The Barons, which never won a championship either.[9]

Abandonment

During the early years of the 1970s, Buffalo hosted three professional sports teams: the Bills (NFL), the Braves (NBA), and the Sabres (NHL). The era was short-lived, though, as the Braves left Buffalo forever after the 1977–78 season. The departure stands as one of the early sports losses endured by the city and came about because the team's ownership prized short-term financial gain over building an enduring NBA franchise in Buffalo.[10] In some ways, the loss of the Braves was also a sign of serious sports disappointments to come.

Over the past 30 years, Buffalo has shed population and jobs, giving rise to the notion that the market may not be big enough or viable for the Bills in the future. This uncertainty is exacerbated by Bill owner Ralph Wilson's refusal to discuss succession plans for the team. The Bills currently play one of their home games in nearby Toronto as part of an ongoing to regionalize the team, but skeptical fans view the move as a sign that the Bills already have one foot out the door.

So the Bills endure, but with a veritable Sword of Damocles hanging over the franchise and fanbase.

Abandonment

For a three year stretch, from 1996–1999, Cleveland lost the Browns and there was no football in Cleveland. Art Modell's decision to move the franchise has made him as one of the most reviled figures in Cleveland sports history. The city did get the Browns and the NFL back, but the scar from the relocation of the original franchise remains.

With his decision to leave the Cavaliers for the Miami Heat, LeBron James immediately joins Modell as one of the most self-centered figures in Cleveland sports history. There's no doubt that the sting of the departure was heightened tremendously by the manner in which James made his decision: during a prime time ESPN special, but it would have hurt no matter how he announced it.

As it was, though, to Cleveland fans, "The Decision" special was an hour long knife in the heart, and it's doubtful they will ever forgive him.


References
  1. 1999 Stanley Cup Finals. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1999_Stanley_Cup_Finals. Wikipedia.org. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  2. The Drive. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Drive. Wikipedia.org. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  3. Music City Miracle. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_City_Miracle. Wikipedia.org. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  4. The Fumble. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fumble. Wikipedia.org. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  5. Red Right 88. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Right_88. Wikipedia.org. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  6. Cavaliers' failures are something that could only happen in Cleveland. http://www.cleveland.com/dman/index.ssf/2010/05/only_in_cleveland_1.html. Cleveland.com. Wikipedia.org. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  7. The Shot. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Shot. Wikipedia.org. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  8. Drought (sport), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drought_(sport). Wikipedia.org. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  9. Drought (sport), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drought_(sport). Wikipedia.org. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  10. Comment, buffalonationhttp://ravenhost.blogspot.com/2010/07/buffalo-and-cleveland-lets-make-pact.html#comments. ravenhost.blogspot.com. Retrieved July 14, 2010.

6 comments:

  1. The Braves left Buffalo not so much because of the "city's shrinking population and jobs during that same period" but because of a catatonic ownership that was more interested in short term financial gain than having a legacy of NBA basketball in Western New York. The Braves sold out the Aud when the product was good and showed up in good numbers until the team roster became a revolving door of good players being sold for quick money and cheap replacements. By the way, a great book came out last year that tells the Braves' story with vintage photos and a compelling narrative description of each of the team's eight seasons (Buffalo, Home of the Braves).

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  2. Buffalonation - Thanks for the insight regarding the Braves, as well as the tip about the book, Home of the Braves. I was just a kid when the Braves left and unfortunately never got the chance to see them play. It's great that your site, among other things, chronicles the Braves' legacy.

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  3. When I first read this post I thought about the obvious rust belt/Great Lakes connections that Buffalo and Cleveland share, and wondered if there was some explanation to be found there. Then I thought of Detroit's success in baseball, basketball, and hockey in the last 30 years despite the decline in the Motor City's fortunes and realized that explanation had its limits (I don't include Chicago in this comparison because of its diversified economy). For what it's worth, I know a lot of people outside those cities were cheering for the Bills in the Super Bowl and Cleveland in the World Series because they know how much a championship would mean to their long suffering fans. Great post--let's hope it helps reverse the fortunes experienced to date.

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  4. Great comparisons of both cities pivotal sports moments. I only hope that in this day and age that smaller market teams from places like Buffalo, Cleveland (and now Detroit) can still compete on an even field. ESPN makes this worse with their coverage and created news favoring the larger market teams (ie. Yankees, Red Sox).

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  5. Buffalonation - I have tuned the "Abandonment" section of the post that discusses the Braves' departure based on your comment.

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  6. Im a Buffalo fan trough and through. I have always been an Indians fan. I also recently adopted the Cavs as my NBA team (never had one). If the Bills ever left Buffalo I would support the Browns.

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