Champions

By on June 22, 2016
 (photo David Richard / USA TODAY Sports)

(photo David Richard / USA TODAY Sports)

CHAMPIONS. It’s a word Cleveland sports fans have longed to lay claim to for over 50 years. It’s a word that has escaped their clutches in devastating and (sometimes) embarrassing fashion on multiple occasions. Every fan in Cleveland can rattle off the heartbreaking moments: Red-Right 88, The Shot, The Fumble, The Drive, The Save, The Move, The Decision. These words stir emotion in the people who have lived through the events that have defined the city for a half century.

The Mistake by the Lake is a nickname Cleveland earned by failing to take pride in itself. In 1969, the Cuyahoga River caught fire due to excessive pollution. That’s right; we are the city that set its own river on fire! Awesome, right? Yet, the greatest effect that came out of this disaster is that it set the wheels in motion for the entire country to reevaluate how we care for our waterways and environment.

And like that embarrassing event, fans of the Indians, Browns and Cavaliers have created a bond between all of us that makes us protective of our hometown teams. We defend and take pride in our teams, even in their most terrible moments. You can stroll through an airport in just about any city, at any time of day and shout O-H and surely receive an I-O in return. There are Browns Backer bars strewn across the country that will, despite the team’s continued futility, still pack in Browns faithful each and every Sunday. Year after year, Cleveland fans have bonded through disaster, heartache, disappointment and failure. Our teams were the easy target, the butt of the joke; but the worst part of our suffering, was when we would meet someone and tell them we’re from Cleveland and they would have pity in their eyes…because they knew we hurt.

My fondest childhood memories were spent watching Sunday afternoon Indians games on my grandfather’s lap. We laughed together and cheered together. He educated me on the rules of the game of baseball and how to play it the right way. He even broadened my vocabulary by introducing me to a few select curse words. My family would often go catch a game at Memorial Stadium, or drive to Cincinnati or Pittsburgh to see the National League play. I don’t remember much about what happened in those particular games, but I do remember the trips. I enjoyed the quality time spent with my mother and father and little brother. Being a fan is not entirely about whether your team wins or loses. It’s also about the memories that are created with the people we love. And yet, there’s a sense of pride that grows out of having invested your time in watching your team reach the ultimate goal of becoming a champion.

I believe the reason so many fans cried when the final horn sounded Sunday night is not simply because Cleveland finally got a championship. I believe it was because each and every one of them had a grandparent, parent, aunt or uncle that they wished were still around to share that moment with. I know that’s why I wept.

As my wife and I stood outside after Game 7 ended, basking in the celebratory fireworks and cheering surrounding my neighborhood, a realization came to me. I realized that nothing has changed for me and my family, and nothing will change for any of the millions of Cleveland sports fans. We will always be the same hard-working, blue-collar town and people that we’ve always been. We will ALWAYS take pride in our people and our city. The real change will be in how we are perceived by the rest of the sports world. We are no longer the laughing stock of professional sports. We are no longer the whipping boy in every major sports league. We are CHAMPIONS.

Categories: Basketball, Featured, Sports
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