A Tale of Three Cities
By: Eric Davenport
Fifty years is a long time. Just ask the people of Cleveland, San Diego, and Buffalo. In three cities where sports are engraved into the fibre of their history, they have waited nearly half a century for the sweet taste of victory to touch their dry lips. Together, these cities have experienced jubilation and heartbreak in their seemingly unending quest for a professional championship.
The city of Cleveland lives, breathes, and dies with their sports teams. At the core of Cleveland, you will see the old glory days, when Otto Graham led the Browns to NFL Championships, when the Indians took their two World Series titles, and when LeBron rose from the streets of Cleveland itself to become the world’s greatest basketball player. At the heart of Cleveland, one pulse will triumph over the others, and define the heartbeat of the city – this pulse is sports.
For years, however, this pulse has broken the city’s heart. Year after year, season after season, the people of Cleveland have watched their teams deliver defeat and disappointment to a championship starved city. Amongst the Cleveland sporting history, you will see The Drive, when John Elway and his Denver Broncos went 98 yards for a last second touchdown to crush the Browns’ hope at a Super Bowl berth. You will see The Fumble, when, only a year after The Drive, with Cleveland mere inches away from a victory over Denver and a spot in the Super Bowl, running back Earnest Byner fumbles the ball on the goal line.
You will watch as Michael Jordan twice sinks the Cleveland Cavillers into last-second playoff defeat, and Willie Mays robs the Indians of a World Series title. Finally, you will see with unbearable anguish as Cleveland’s two most iconic sporting icons, forward LeBron James and running back Jim Brown, leave the city in heartbreaking fashion. In every one of these moments lies a little bit of the soul of Cleveland. In Cleveland sporting history, the defeats mean more than the victories.
However, there has been renewed hope in Cleveland this year, with the return of their hero, LeBron James, and the dawn of a star, quarterback Johnny Manziel. The Indians finished the baseball season with a successful record, once again propelling themselves above the five hundred mark, and although they didn’t make the playoffs, they are largely regarded as a team with extreme potential for future years.
The Cleveland Cavillers, who regained LeBron James as well as bringing in Kevin Love this offseason came into competition this year touted by many experts as the favourites for the championship and the powerhouse in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. These predictions have proven to be true. After a mediocre start to the season, James and the Cavs have picked up the level of their game over the past few weeks, rocketing themselves into first in their division with six straight wins.
The Browns shocked the NFL landscape with a tremendous start to the season, going 6-3 in their first nine games. However, the team has slowed in recent weeks, dropping from 6-3 to 7-6 in a span of only four short weeks. The Browns suffered a setback on Sunday when they lost their fourth game in five weeks in a squeaker against Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts. Despite this, the Browns have rookie quarterback and college prodigy Johnny Manziel ready for action, and it won’t be long until they bring him in.
The city of Cleveland has paid its dues. After fifty years of heartbreak since their last professional championship, the people of Cleveland have begun to hope again. It won’t be long. Whether it be the Browns, the Indians, or the Cavillers, the people of Cleveland can see it coming. They can see the promise land over the next hill. They can see glory shining on the horizon. It won’t be long, Cleveland. It won’t be long.
It’s hard to think of a city which has attracted worse sports teams than San Diego. Ever since the dawn of their first professional sports team – the San Diego Chargers in 1960 – the coastal city has been treated to terrible teams and terrible performances from baseball to football and back to baseball for over fifty years. If it weren’t for the sparkling azure ocean, warm white sand and clear blue skies, the people of San Diego might very well have just packed up and left years ago.
Few moments in San Diego sporting history shine as bright as the California sun, but that doesn’t mean that the city has been completely starved of success. Quarterback Dan Fouts and a high powered Charger offence dominated the AFC in the 1980’s, but never reached the Super Bowl. San Diego’s first and only Super Bowl berth came in 1995, when the Chargers defied all odds to make their way to football’s biggest stage. Despite their miraculous journey however, the Chargers were blown out by their cross state rivals – the San Francisco 49ers – by an embarrassing tally of 49-26. San Diego played host to one of the nation’s most prolific rushers, halfback LaDainian Tomlinson in the early 2000’s, but he couldn’t lead them to another spot in the Super Bowl.
As for the San Diego Padres, they rarely had notable seasons, but did win the National League pennant in 1984 and 1998. However, despite two chances in the World Series, the Padres were never able to capitalize – following the pattern set by the Chargers. Despite a lack of championships, San Diego did play host to one great player, speedster Tony Gwynn, who won numerous batting titles with the Padres before retiring in 2001. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2011 and passed away earlier this year.
In recent years, things have picked up for the city of San Diego – or at least for their football team – as the Chargers have recently made multiple playoff appearances under the leadership of quarterback Philip Rivers. They currently stand at 8-4 – second in the AFC West.
San Diego sports have never been at the level the city and its vibrant fans deserve, with only three championship appearances since the dawn of the Super Bowl and creation of the San Diego Padres. It looks as though it might be a while until the Chargers and Padres get to where they need to be for a championship, but until then, the people of San Diego are going to need to do a little more waiting, lucky for them, it’ll be under the gleaming California sun.
A Super Bowl loss is disappointing. Two Super Bowl losses is heartbreaking. Three Super Bowl losses is gut-wrenching. But four consecutive Super Bowl losses – that’s unbearably painful. If you live in Buffalo, you know. In a city that breathes football with every ounce of its being, its inhabitants were hit to the core when a star studded Bills team that included Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, and Steve Tasker made it to football’s biggest stage four times in a row, only to lose – every single time. They are the greatest team that never won. They became pioneers in the modern game of football when they popularized the no-huddle offence, and lead all teams in offensive prowess throughout their reign as AFC Champions between 1989 and 1993.
The Buffalo Bills have never recovered. The stories of the Bills from the 1990’s are now long gone dreams in the annals of Buffalo sporting history. The Bills now sit at 7-6 and third in their division following a Sunday afternoon loss to the Denver Broncos, but the memories of old are far from gone. It has been over 45 years since Buffalo has claimed a professional sporting championship, and by the looks of things right now, it’ll be a while until the city of Buffalo finally has its day of glory.
The Buffalo Sabres, Buffalo’s only other professional sports team besides the Bills, joined the National Hockey League in 1970, yet have not been able to muster a Stanley Cup since their birth. They have not been completely unsuccessful however, making their way to three Stanley Cup Finals in 1975, 1980, and 1999 – as well as playing host to a core of talented players that included Gilbert Perreault, Pat LaFontaine and Dominik Hasek. Currently, the Sabres are one of the most pitiful teams in the NHL, sitting at last place in the Atlantic Division. It will take a major rebuild and franchise turnaround for the Sabres to finally break Buffalo’s drought.
A city and its sports team are bound inseparably by the hope of its inhabitants. A loss from a team may be heartbreaking for a city, but the bonds between the city and its team only strengthen in defeat. From the hottest fires comes the hardest steel. The cities of Cleveland, San Diego, and Buffalo have seen the hottest fires. Their sporting traditions have been wrought with trials and tribulation, littered with controversy and adversity, and paved with hardship and defeat. But out of these traditions have emerged three of North America’s most proud and dedicated fan bases. Their struggles may very well continue. For many loyal fans, the end of the drought is not in sight. But after every season, every loss, every heartbreak, three words will triumph over all the others. Three words will ring from the mountains of New York State, from the banks of the Ohio River, from the coast of the Pacific: Hope springs eternal.