Cleveland: The city that brought us Lebron James, Doug Dieken, Ellis Williams, and Sandy Alomar. The city that’s the home of three major sports teams – the Browns, the Guardians (formerly the Cleveland Indians), and the Cavaliers.
Known for its fiercely loyal fans and impressive runs in championship games, Cleveland sports are at the cultural center of this proud city – from soccer to football to rugby. Ask any Cleveland local, though, and they’ll tell you, there have been some highs and lows in the stands for the city's professional sports teams.
Keep reading to see some of the best and worst days in Cleveland sports fans’ lives.
Let’s start with the positives. These are the five nail-biting moments in Cleveland sports history that still bring tears to our eyes.
It was October 3rd, 1995: Cleveland was up against Boston in the first game of the ALDS Championship. These were the glory days of the Indians – they were one of the most exciting teams to watch in the league, winning 100 out of their 144 in-season games. Delayed by rain and driven to extra innings, this game went late. Like 2 a.m. late. The teams battled it out through the 13th inning until Tony Pena stepped up to the plate. Pitch, swing, crack. Pena hit a homer and led the successful team to a series sweep.
Imagine a world where Lebron James has not yet won an NBA Championship. The Cavs were on the precipice of something great, having come so close to the National Basketball Association finals in ’06. But they’d have to work for it, losing the first two games of their series with Detroit. They snuck out wins for Games 3 and 4, but in Game 5, Lebron James showed what he was made of. He scored 29 of the Cav’s last 30 points, including the final victory-earning layup. One win later, the Cavs took their franchise-first trip to the NBA finals.
The Cleveland team ran a rare perfect season before the Browns joined the NFL and were still running plays in the AAFC, going undefeated over 29 games. When the team was absorbed into the National Football League in 1950, the decision was made to lose the records from the AAFC rather than carrying them over, so the Browns’ historic run is sadly lost to the history books. It's sad because they definitely would have gone to the Super Bowl with that record.
But don’t let that stop you from getting a brown and orange Cleveland wall flag from Allegiant for your shrine.
After the heartbreaking announcement that the kid from Akron would be swapping in his Cavs jersey for The Heat (more on that later), things were looking grim for Cleveland fans. After four Lebron-James-less years, the Cavs welcomed the King home, ushering in one of the most glorious eras in the Cavaliers’ history. His mission? To win a trophy for his hometeam. And two years later, the mission was accomplished. Standing on the court after winning, James shouted, “Cleveland! This is for you!”
Leaving and returning seems to be something of a tradition with Cleveland sports. Despite massive protests from both players and fans alike, in 1995, the Browns were taken out of their hometown of Cleveland and relocated to Baltimore. Art Modell’s move marked an end of an era for the Browns, losing its luster. But in 1999, the Browns came home, and the energy in Cleveland was nothing short of electric.
A heartfelt pre-game speech from Drew Carey, fireworks, and a revived fanbase contributed to one of the most memorable nights in the Browns’ history. Did they win? No. But the Browns were home, and that’s all that mattered.
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As you can see, some of Cleveland’s finest hours are closely tied to some of its worst. All three teams have struggled through long-standing droughts or curses. Let’s take a walk down memory lane through some of the worst moments in Cleveland sports history. Ohioans, you may want to avert your eyes.
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: There was magic on the Indians’ roster in the late '90s. In 1999, the team was poised to win its first Major League Baseball World Series since 1948 – until they didn’t. After 11 grueling innings, pitcher Charlie Nagy failed to hold off the Marlins, giving up a hit and watching the sad sight of Craig Counsell touching home to a jubilant Florida team. Since the Cubs won in 2016, the Indians (now the Guardians) hold the record for longest drought without a world series win. Ouch.
Just the words “The Fumble” cause most Cleveland fans to tremble. After losing to the Broncos in 1987 due to another infamous event called “The Drive,” the Browns were desperate for redemption.
After a massive rally in the second half, it looked like they were about to achieve it. The team scored four touchdowns in 15 minutes and were one seemingly inevitable touchdown away from a tie. Quarterback Earnest Byner went for the drive to the end zone, but his wide receiver, Webster Slaughter, stopped to watch, allowing the Bronco’s Jeremiah Castille to chase Byner, tackle him, and recover the dropped ball.
The Fumble remains one of the most heart-wrenching moments for the Browns and in league championships history, considering how preventable it was.
As joyous as his return was, Lebron James’ 2010 decision to leave the Cavs for The Heat remains one of the most controversial moments in Cleveland sports history. Desperate to win a championship, James said, “This is a business, and I had seven great years in Cleveland. I hope the fans understand – maybe they won't."
It was a freezing cold night when the Raiders and the Browns met in 1981. The field was covered in ice, and strong winds were blowing off Lake Erie. Down by two points in the game’s final minute, the Browns were set up for a potentially game-winning field goal. But with such terrible conditions, they decided to go for a touchdown instead with the now infamous play, “Red Slot Right, Halfback Stay, 88.” Long story short, QB Brian Sipe threw an interception, Raiders took the W, and Browns fans got a new piece of painful folklore.
In 1989, Michael Jordan was making his name on the Chicago Bulls. In Game 5 of the NBA playoffs with the Cavaliers, he got an opportunity Cavs fans will not soon forget. With just three seconds left, the Cavaliers were up 100–99. Sadly, Michael Jordan did what Michael Jordan does, hitting a buzzer shot from the foul line in what is known now as “The Shot.”
No one said it was easy being a Cleveland fan, but if the Cavaliers’ have taught us anything, it’s that the trophies are worth the wait. We’re ready to see the Guardians and the Browns back in the winner’s circle and getting their share of glory.
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Guardians chosen as new name for Cleveland’s baseball team | AP News
Tony Pena will never forget his game-winning homer in Game 1 of the 1995 ALDS | Cleveland.com
Top Moments: LeBron James dominates Pistons en route to Finals | NBA
Browns put together a forgotten perfect season in 1948 | Cleveland.com
Top Moments: LeBron James returns to Cleveland in 2014 | NBA
The Best And Worst Moments in Cleveland Sports History | The Richest
The Cleveland Browns NFL Return in 1999 | Cleveland Browns YouTube
Now that Cubs are champs, Indians have MLB's longest World series drought | CBS Sports
A Complete Look At The History Of “The Fumble” | Browns Nation
LeGone: LeBron James announces he's leaving Cleveland Cavaliers for Miami Heat | Cleveland.com
Revisiting Raiders-Browns and 'Red Right 88': 'That was a hell of a play in our history’ | ESPN
Legendary Moments In NBA History: Michael Jordan hits iconic shot to eliminate Cavaliers | NBA