Remember October 1997. Game 7, middle of 9, Tribe clinging to a 2-1 lead. Did you feel safe? Did anyone feel safe? This wasn't about Mesa trotting in from the humid lat summer Florida bullpen. This wasn't about the potent Marlins lineup, or the stranded runner at third base with 1 out. That feeling of dread was related to what we've all come to accept as the Cleveland Sports Experience.
Not only fearing the worst, but expecting the worst, and usually witnessing the worst. In the last 12 years alone:
Dave Justice, Robbie Alomar, Albert Belle, Shawn Kemp, Edgar Renteria, Pedro Martinez, The last game of 2000 Tribe Season, Tim Couch, Chris Palmer, Ichiro, Dwayne Rudd, Tommy Maddux, John Hart.
Our worst fears came true. Every time. In a given contest, there is always a winner and a loser. When it's all boiled down, it's generally about 50/50 in the long term. By the long term I mean that if they were to play in 2005 the Steelers would obviously beat the Browns more often than now, but if they were to play in 1968, it would be the other way around. So if you were to say The Browns against the Steelers, there's about a 50 % chance we'll win. (Unless Foge Fazio is involved)
However, all of the luck of the above tribulations, went against Cleveland. I know about the curses, and the cheap owners, and the diaspora from the city. But over a given period of time, something good is bound to happen. When those 80,000 walked away from Cleveland Stadium on December 27th 1964, they had to feel confident about the next 44 years, not because of their solid football team, and hall of fame fullback - but because sometime the chips fall your way. Even in Cleveland.
That's what happened 4 and a half years ago. It wasn't a new coach, a great play, or a ticker tape parade. It was a set of ping pong balls, and it affected the town, and the mentality more than anyone has stopped to realize.
The mentality took some time to matriculate, but at least this optimistic blogger feels different.
Tonight, there were 4.9 seconds left, and the Cavs were down 1. All things being equal, odds were about 20% that they would score. But I think we felt confident. 5 years ago, we would have been up 1, and the other team would have had the ball. 5 years ago, our guy might have gotten tripped and no whistle would be heard on the home court. The result doesn't matter. Whether or not Lebron snaked his way through 3 NBA starters, changed his shot in mid-air, and shot a reverse lay-up, blind, with his left hand - and the game on the line is irrelevant.
What's important is that we expected him to do it.
Remember the Seahawks game. Overtime. 4th and 1 for the Seahawks on the brink of field goal range. Think about how it even GOT to that moment. Hassleback GOT the first down. They were marching. 5 years ago, the review doesn't come down from the booth. 5 years ago it definitely doesn't get reversed. And 5 years ago Sean Jones doesn't drag down an NFL running back behind the line of scrimmage. But again that's not the point.
Once we got the ball; once DA trotted back onto the field; we all knew we would win. The final drive was irrelevant, we believed we would win. I know this has more to do with the offensive line and the rejuvenated team spirit than Lebron James, but not to our mentality. We expect to win now.
I'm not saying we have reason to breathe now. We're still damn far from a championship. Will the Tribe be able to outlast the Tigers again. Will the Browns be able to make the jump from a good team to a great one with a tough schedule. Howabout the Cavs getting over the hump. This stuff is the real meat, but the attitude has changed.
We feel good about the future, we feel confident about what's next. Put the ball in Lebron's hands and let him light this shit up. It feels good to be here today.
Now will pitchers and catchers please report.
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