"I am I plus my surroundings, and if I do not preserve the latter, I do not preserve myself."
—JOS� ORTEGA Y GASSET (1883-1955), SPANISH PHILOSOPHER
"This town is my town."
—MICHAEL STANLEY BAND
DURING GAME 4 OF THIS YEAR'S AL DIVISION SERIES I was exchanging text messages with my friend Danny, who is, like me, an expat Northern Ohioan. I sent one asking if he could believe how much the TBS announcers were fawning over Paul Byrd, who was doing his best to make my existing ulcers (thanks, Borowski) start bleeding. Danny's response: WHAT DID THEY SAY? NOT WATCHING YANKS HIT.
It struck me that he might be taking this whole superstition thing a little too seriously—apparently Byrd pitched better when Danny wasn't watching—but I was really in no position to talk. At that moment I had a fork in my pocket, a fork I had stolen from a restaurant not an hour earlier. In my defense, I really had no choice. I was eating with my family, keeping one eye on the game. When everyone decided it was time to leave, the Tribe was up 4-0. As much as I wanted to get home to watch the game, I didn't want to switch anything up. I felt I owed it to the players and Indians fans everywhere not to screw up a good thing. My sister was there with her kids, though, and bedtime was approaching, so staying in the restaurant was not an option. So I did the next best thing: I took a little bit of the restaurant with me.
The fork trick worked: Byrd held on, and the Indians won 6-4. (You're welcome.) Of course, every team's fans have their own good-luck rituals or lucky shirts or, in my case, talismanic flatware. But I've always thought that Cleveland fans rely on things like that a little more than most. For instance, my family watched the 1987 AFC Championship Game at Danny's house. Like good guests, we didn't come empty-handed. We brought the footrest of the chair that I had moved into just as the Browns began their comeback against the Jets a week earlier. (After much discussion it was decided that taking the entire chair was impractical; Danny's house had a lot of steep steps out front.)
Why do Cleveland fans feel that the onus is on them to produce a big win? Simple. Leaving it up to the players clearly isn't working. But the bigger question is: Why do we live and die with these teams in the first place?
Well, where you come from is a big part of who you are, and most Indians, Browns and Cavs fans come from a place that could use the services of a top-notch p.r. firm. Upon leaving Northern Ohio, one finds that most people know three things about Cleveland: The river caught fire, the city nearly went bankrupt, and the mayor (Dennis Kucinich in 1978) once threw out the first pitch at a baseball game wearing a bulletproof vest because he feared the mob had a hit out on him.
When I was in college, Major League came on TV, and my roommates started laughing uncontrollably during the opening scenes—a montage of shots of downtown Cleveland, its mills belching smoke. In the movie Beverly Hills Cop there's a scene in which Eddie Murphy is pretending to be a customs inspector, and he's ripping the security people in Beverly Hills: "I do security checks all over the nation, and with the exception of Cleveland, this place has the worst security in the nation." When I saw it at a theater in Alabama, people roared. Why? Who knows. It's not especially funny. There's just something inherently punch-line-esque about Cleveland.
Of course, anyone who's lived there feels differently. For all its shortcomings, there's plenty to love: Stadium Mustard, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Orchestra, the Lake. But more than that, it's home. And as such it inspires feelings of intense loyalty. All we're looking for is something we can hold up to the rest of the world as proof that the town isn't the Mistake by the Lake at all. And what's more visible than the Lombardi Trophy or the Commissioner's Trophy?
We'd be well within our rights to give up hope. The Browns won the city's last championship in 1964. Since then, once or twice a decade, one of our teams has taken it upon itself to try to rip the heart out of the citizenry. They don't just lose big games, mind you, they do it in a way that leaves you feeling hollow inside.