"The Cleveland Browns' name is perfect. Everything in Cleveland is brown. The grass is brown. The sky is brown. The snow is brown."
Hanks, who worked in Cleveland as a young stage actor
Zev was not the only one to ask us not to put Cleveland on the cover of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. The best man at my wedding asked. The concierge at my hotel asked. The guy sitting next to me at the ice cream place asked. The Cavaliers are playing otherworldly basketball and are one series away from the NBA Finals. LeBron James is unstoppable. Mo Williams is making open threes. Anderson Varejão is blocking shots. Delonte West moves mountains with his hustle and intensity. It's beautiful. And nobody wants to wake the ghosts.
The ghosts are everywhere in Cleveland, of course—it always makes me laugh to hear fans from any other city claim sports heartbreak. What do they know about it? The Indians have not won a World Series since 1948; they have the second-longest frustration streak in baseball, behind the Cubs. The Browns have never reached a Super Bowl, and you might recall they bolted town for a while. The Cavaliers have never won an NBA championship and were once the joke of all sports. No city can touch that heartbreak trilogy.
I drive to the spot where Municipal Stadium towered over Lake Erie and my life. It's a parking lot now. The out-of-town papers always called it "cavernous Cleveland Municipal Stadium," and it was cavernous; it could hold 80,000 people and often did for Browns games and baseball on July 4. It also could hold 4,000, as it usually did for Indians games not on Independence Day. Municipal was uniquely designed so that no matter how many people attended, every person had a view blocked by a steel beam. The lake effects made it 25° to 60° colder in the stadium than it was anywhere else in the world. You could always tell the out-of-town fans; they were the ones who didn't bring a coat and blanket to baseball games in summer.
And heartbreak? It was leaking from the Municipal roof. The list of Browns failures, topped by John Elway's Drive in the 1986 AFC Championship Game, could fill two phone books. The Indians, meanwhile, were not good enough to provide much heartbreak. The most prominent Indians moment of my childhood, without a doubt, was on June 4, 1974, when more than 25,000 people showed up for Ten Cent Beer Night. It was a brilliant promotion: The idea was to allow desperate Clevelanders to drink as many cups of Stroh's as felt right, at a dime apiece. After two streakers ran on the field, and a father and son got into the outfield and mooned the bleachers, and more fans ran on the field, and people threw hot dogs, and someone tried to steal Texas outfielder Jeff Burroughs's cap—there was this vague sense that things were not going well. That's about when the fans rioted, and the Indians forfeited. "That's Indians baseball," Drew Carey told me once.
For me Indians baseball was 1977, when the team was so cheap and so broke, it actually refused to put air conditioners in the home clubhouse. Pitcher Wayne Garland—over the angry objections of management—bought the air conditioners himself. His reasoning: "It was [bleeping] hot."
But there have been moments of heartbreak here at old Municipal Stadium too. The worst was 1987, when we had been led to believe that the Indians were the best team in the American League. Who led us to believe this?
Right. SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. The cover line read BELIEVE IT! CLEVELAND IS THE BEST TEAM IN THE AMERICAN LEAGUE.
We did believe it. Unfortunately, it failed to persuade any other teams in the American League. The Indians lost 101 games and finished dead last.