Believing in Sports Curses Is Fun

For over a half-century, Cleveland sports fans were stuck in Groundhog Day. Only Clevelanders’ providence wasn’t being forced to relive Punxsutawney Phil Day like Bill Murray’s arrogant weatherman character. No. Their fate was something far worse. They were forced to experience ulcer-inducing, faith-shattering losses at the hands of their beloved native teams.

In June, Kyrie Irving and LeBron James played Andie McDowell to Murray’s character and removed Clevelanders from their endless, stuck on losing time loop, bringing the Cleveland Cavaliers back from the brink to defeat the defending champion Golden State Warriors to deliver the city’s first major sports title in 52 years.

Flash forward five months later, and the Cleveland Indians become the first team in 31 years to blow a 3-1 lead in the World Series, running their title drought to 68 years. The Browns, four days earlier, dropped a three-point contest to the New York Jets to fall to 0-8 on the season and ensure another year would end without a playoff or Super Bowl appearance.

It doesn’t take a Department of Justice lawyer to make a case out of the Indians and the Browns being cursed. It has been 24,916 days since the Tribe’s 4-2 World Series victory against the Boston Braves while the Browns’ championship win against the Baltimore Colts came 18,999 days ago. In all, it has been 43,915 days since either team has brought a title home to Cleveland. The only question left is which team is more cursed.

I have come up with a few metrics to measure which team has the higher probability of being cursed. One is the number of seasons have passed since each team has won a championship. Another is the number of seasons since each franchise’s founding that have ended with a championship. I’ll also examine the most painful losses in each squad’s history and study it for instances of hexes, hocus-pocus or conjurations. Lastly, I’ll study the significance of each one of these losses.

Cleveland Browns Postseason History:

Last Title: 1964 (Also their last NFL Championship game appearance)

Championship Seasons Since Founded: 8

The Agony: Red Right 88, The Drive, The Fumble

For the Browns, 52 seasons have come and passed since their last championship or appearance in a championship game. Since the inception of the Super Bowl in 1967, the Browns have appeared in five AFC Championship game and lost all of them with two of these defeats making the agonizing loss list.

The Browns used to be football royalty, making their futility even more frustrating for fans. Cleveland has won four All-America Football Conference championships (Exception note: the NFL doesn’t count these victories, but the Pro Football Hall of Fame does, leading to their inclusion). When the AAFC folded in 1949, the Browns joined the NFL and dominated the league in the 1950s, winning three titles and then one more in 1964. Overall, the Browns have won eight championships, but are one of four teams to have never made the Super Bowl.

Gut Punch Losses 

Red Right 88 (AFC Divisional game vs. Oakland)

Trailing by two with less than a minute remaining, the Browns drove the ball down to the Raiders’ 13-yard line to get in position for a potential game-winning field goal. However, a mix of cold weather and the recent misfortune of Browns’ kicker Don Cockroft led to head coach Sam Rutigliano to call a pass play. Cleveland’s quarterback, Michael Sipe, forced his attempt into Ozzie Newsome that Raiders’ safety Mike Davis picked off in the end zone to end the Browns’ season.

The verdict: Sorry Browns fans. No curse here. Bad play calling by Rutigliano and decision making by Sipe cost the Browns this game.

Significance: Even if the Browns had won this game, they would’ve still had to win two more games to pick up their first title in 17 years. On a scale of one to three, this game is ruled as one on the magnitude scale.

The Drive (1987 AFC Championship game vs. Denver)

With the Browns in front 20-13, John Elway and the Broncos took over on their own 2-yard line with 5:32 remaining. What happened next was a miracle: Elway led his team 98 yards down the field and tied the game with 37 seconds left. The Browns didn’t score again, and the Broncos won the game 23-20 in overtime.

The verdict: They say defense wins championships. Well, the Browns’ defense failed to show up down the stretch of this game, costing them the win. Sure, the Browns faced a little hard luck facing Elway – one of the greatest of all-time – but the Browns still should’ve been able to stop Elway to preserve the victory.

Significance: Even with a win, the Browns probably would’ve been destroyed, like the Broncos were, by the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XXII. Still, you don’t have a shot at winning if you don’t make the game. On a scale of one to three, this loss shows up as a two.

The Fumble (1988 AFC Championship vs. Denver)

Down by seven with less than a minute to play, Earnest Byner takes a handoff and appears to be on his way to the game-tying touchdown. However, he fumbles the ball on the 3-yard line, giving the ball and the game to the Broncos.

The verdict: Okay, Browns fans. There’s some voodoo involved in this loss. The Browns rallied back from an 18-point halftime deficit to tie the game in the middle of the fourth quarter. Once again, though, Elway strikes and puts the Broncos back in front with six minutes left. Cleveland advances the ball to Denver’s 8-yard line with 1:12 left, setting the stage for the fumble. If this loss wasn’t cursed, then my name isn’t Davin Wilson.

Significance: Let’s say Byner holds onto the ball and gets into the end zone to tie the game, there’s no guarantee Elway doesn’t lead another drive to win the game. In addition, there’s no way to tell the Browns would’ve picked up the Super Bowl victory. On a scale of one to three, this one ranks as a two.

Now let’s move to the Indians …

Cleveland Indians Postseason History:

 Last Title: 1948

Championships Since Being Founded: 2

The Agony: The Catch, 1997 World Series, 2016 Series Collapse

For the Indians, 68 seasons have come and passed since the Indians picked up a 4-2 World Series win against the Boston Braves. Yes, the Braves were in Boston. That’s how long it’s been. In that span, the Indians have appeared in five American League Championship Series – losing two of them – and three World Series.

Ulcer-Inducing Losses

 The Catch (Game 1 of 1954 World Series vs. N.Y. Giants)

The game is tied 2-2 entering the top of the eighth inning. A walk and a single put Indians’ runners on first and second base with no outs. Cleveland’s Vic Wertz steps up to the plate and drills a long shot to center field that would have been a home run in most parks, but the Polo Grounds is larger than average and Willie Mays runs from shallow center to make an on-the-run, over-the-shoulder catch on the warning track to make the out. Two strikeouts and no runs later, the game enters the top of the ninth tied. New York wins the game, setting the tone and helping them sweep the Indians.

The verdict: Bad luck abounds in this game. If anybody other than Mays is playing center or the game isn’t being played at the Polo Grounds, then this ball drops in or leaves the yard giving the Indians the lead and possible win. However, there is no guaranteeing the Indians take the rest of the series if they win this game. Sorry, Indians fans, the Tribe caught a bad break, but no curse here.

Significance: As mentioned above, no guarantee the Indians win the Series even if they win this game. However, since it was a World Series game, this one gets a significance rating of three.

Game 7 of the 1997 World Series vs. the Marlins

The Indians lead the Marlins, 2-1, entering the top of the ninth inning. Three more outs, and Cleveland has its first championship in 49 years. Jose Mesa, the Indians’ closer, fails to get the outs, and the Marlins win the game in 11 to take the series.

The verdict: Bad pitching and a crucial error by Tony Fernandez on what should have been an inning-ending double play are the reasons for the Tribe’s loss, not Rocky Colavito. Sorry, Tribe fans. However, this one does get a half a point on the curse scale due to Fernandez’s error resembling Bill Buckner’s costly mistake.

Significance: It doesn’t get much bigger than Game 7 of the World Series. On a scale of one to three, this one receives a score of three.

Game 7 of the 2016 World Series vs. the Cubs

Rajai Davis’ two-out, two-run homer against Aroldis Chapman of all people ties the game in the bottom of the eighth. Ben Zobrist’s RBI double to left and Miguel Montero’s RBI single to right give the Cubs a two-run cushion heading into the bottom of the 10th. Davis’ RBI single pulls the Indians within one. Michael Montgomery gets the final out on the Tribe’s next at-bat. Cubs win the series, coming back from a 3-1 deficit.

The verdict: No doubt there was a hex working against the Indians in this one. I mean, the Indians rally back from a three-run deficit against Chapman down to their final four outs only to lose the game in extra innings. Hello, Colavito.

Significance: Once again, it gets no larger than Game 7 of the World Series. Rank this one on a head-pounding, heartbreaking 3 on the significance meter.

Let’s take a look at the final tallies …

  • The Browns are the last team to win a championship (Advantage: Browns)
  • The Browns have won more championships (Advantage: Browns)
  • Only one of the Browns’ losses is considered curse compared to the Indians’ one-and-a-half (Advantage: Browns)

Most importantly, all of the Browns most agonizing moments have occurred in games before the championship round. Even if the Browns had won, they still would have had one more chance to lose in excruciating fashion. Meanwhile, the Indians have suffered gut-punch losses in Game 7 of the World Series. Additionally, the Indians now hold the longest championship drought in Major League Baseball.

And now for the big reveal … The award for the most cursed team in Cleveland goes to …. (insert drum roll) … the Indians.

 Don’t despair though Indians fans. Like Young MC said, “But every dark tunnel has a light of hope,” and your light comes in the return of Andrew Miller, Michael Brantley and your sensational starting pitching rotation. And, the addition of Edward Encarnacion can’t hurt your cause. Compare that to the fact Robert Griffin III will most likely be leading the Browns next year, you’ll be winning a World Series title long before the Browns can even make the Super Bowl.

 

 

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