Saturday, May 15, 2010

Canon Review List-A-Mania: Top Ten Losses in Cleveland Sports History

In case you haven't heard, the Cleveland Cavaliers lost their playoff series to the Boston Celtics on Thursday, in a fashion that has drawn plenty of criticism and cries to fire head coach Mike Brown. Not only that, the loss might be the last game in a Cavaliers uniform for the best player in the NBA, LeBron James, and if it was, he couldn't have gone out in a worse fashion. After winning a league high 61 games and getting past the Chicago Bulls in five games, nearly everyone watching felt that the Cavs would easily blow by Boston and reach the Eastern Conference Finals with ease. After Game 3, in which Cleveland handed the Celtics their worst home playoff loss ever in their long history, that opinion was only reinforced. But something completely unexpected happened, as Boston rallied to win game 4, and inexplicably annihilated the Cavs in Cleveland in Game 5. In that game, the Cavaliers looked overmatched and worse, looked as if they didn't show up. Even Charles Barkley, a huge supporter of LeBron James, said he was "100 percent disappointed" by LeBron's showing in that game. On Thursday, Boston finished the biggest upset of the postseason thus far, beating the Cavaliers 94-85 and throwing the entire future of the Cleveland Cavaliers in disarray. In Cleveland, the fans have seen too much of these devastating losses over the years, in fact, the city has not seen a championship since 1964. Even the city of Atlanta has at least one title over that same time span. Here is a list of the top 10 worst losses in Cleveland sports history.

10. 2007: Cleveland Indians take a 3-1 lead on the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS, lose in 7 games

For some reason, not many people seem to remember that the Indians, after losing game 1, won three straight against the Red Sox, a team thought to be superior to the Indians. With only one win away from the World Series, and with eventual 2007 Cy Young Winner C.C. Sabathia starting the game in Cleveland, the Indians had to feel confident, and even if Sabathia couldn't get the job done, they had 19 game winner Fausto Carmona ready to pitch game 6. So what happened? The Indians lost the next three games by a combined score of 30-5, as they seemed to forget both how to hit and pitch at the worst possible time. The Red Sox went on to win the World Series in four games that year, while the Indians haven't been close to the postseason since and don't look like a playoff team this year either.

9. 2002: Cleveland Browns blow 17 point 2nd half lead to their arch-rivals in the playoffs

In 2002, the Browns somehow rose above their normal level of mediocrity enough to make the playoffs as a wild-card team. They face their long time arch-rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers, in Pittsburgh in the first round of the playoffs. To the surprise of many, Cleveland jumped all over the favored Steelers, taking a 24-7 lead in the third quarter behind the play of their backup quarterback, Kelly Holcomb. Although the Steelers got within a touchdown, Holcomb led the Browns on another touchdown drive, and the Browns had a 33-21 lead with 10 minutes to go in the 4th quarter. But the Steelers, led by XFL MVP Tommy Maddox at quarterback, scored two touchdowns in the final quarter and won the game 36-33. The Browns haven't returned to the playoffs since.

8. 2009: Favored Cavaliers lose in 6 games to Orlando Magic in Eastern Conference Finals

Just last year, the Cavaliers had won a league-high 66 games and were led by MVP LeBron James. Many people expected the Cavaliers to make the Finals, especially Nike, who developed a series of ads featuring LeBron and Lakers' star Kobe Bryant in anticipation of the two meeting in the Finals. While the Lakers would reach the Finals, the Orlando Magic had other ideas. Starting with a game 1 loss in Cleveland, where the Cavs had only lost 2 games at the whole season, the Cavaliers needed a miracle shot from James to steal game 2. But the underdog Magic, led by center Dwight Howard and forward Hedo Turkoglu, won the next two games in Orlando and eventually finished off the Cavaliers, thought the be the NBA's best team, in six games. While the loss was devastating, at least the Cavaliers could take comfort in the fact that the next year's team would be just as good.

7. 1954: Heavily Favored Indians get swept by the New York Giants in World Series

The 1954 Indians were one heck of a ballclub. They had power in Hall of Fame CF Larry Doby (32 HR, 126 RBI, 129 OPS+) and 3B Al Rosen (24 HR, 102 RBI, 147 OPS+). They had the batting champion in 2B Bobby Avila (.341 BA) and solid defense. The Indians also possessed one of the best and deepest pitching staffs of all-time, led by future Hall of Famers Early Wynn (23-11, 2.73 ERA) and Bob Lemon (23-7, 2.72), as well as All-Stars Mike Garcia (19-8, 2.64 ERA) and Art Houtteman (15-7, 3.35 ERA). With all of this in place, the Indians compiled an impressive record of 111-43 and seemed like a sure bet to win the World Series against the New York Giants. But the Giants, led by Willie Mays saving multiple runs with the most famous catch in baseball history, and a walk-off, pinch hit three run home run by Dusty Rhodes, won game 1 and never looked back, sweeping the Indians and allowing only six earned runs over four games. The Indians would eventually fall apart due to age and bad management, and it took the franchise 41 years before reaching the World Series again in 1995.

6. 1980: Red Right 88 proves to be the wrong call as Browns lose to the Raiders

In 1980, the Browns became known as the "Kardiac Kids", due to their penchant of winning close game in the final moments. Their quarterback, Brian Sipe, won the NFL MVP Award for the season, and the team had as good a shot as anybody else of winning the Super Bowl. In the playoffs, the Browns hosted the Oakland Raiders on a bitterly cold day in Cleveland. The Raiders took a 14-12 lead, but Sipe was able to drive his team all the way down to the Oakland 13 yard line. A field goal would give the Browns the lead, but their kicker, Don Cockroft, had struggled with the cold all day, and so coach Sam Rutigliano decided to call the now infamous play "Red Right 88". Sipe found tight end Ozzie Newsome in single coverage, but the wind took hold of the ball just long enough for Oakland's Mike Davis to step in front of Newsome and intercept the ball, giving the Raiders the victory. The Raiders would advance and win the Super Bowl that year, leaving Browns fans to wonder what could of been.

5. 2010: Heavily Favored Cavaliers Fall to the Celtics

It is impossible to say the damage that this loss will cause in the future, but as of now, it seems as if nothing will ever be the same for the Cavaliers, one way or the other.  If this proves to be LeBron James' last game in a Cleveland uniform, and right now there seems to be a 50-50 chance of that happening, this loss may come to be seen in the future as the last real shot that the Cavaliers had at winning the title in a long time, and some feel that losing James would kill basketball in Cleveland. That may be a bit strong, but the Cavs may be in for another long dry spell. The worse thing about this loss was not that the Cavs fell to the Celtics, but the way they did it, as the team often played without a sense of urgency and seemed to have their will crushed by the Celtics sometime during game 5. The ramifications of the Cavaliers fall in this series may be felt for a long, long, time, or maybe they come back in win the title next year, who knows? But right now, this goes down as another dark moment in Cleveland sports history.

4. 1987: The Fumble costs Browns trip to Super Bowl

In 1987, the Browns found themselves in the AFC Championship Game for the second straight year, once again against the Denver Broncos. The game was played in Denver, and the Broncos would jump out to a 28-10 lead in the third quarter, seemingly putting the game out of reach. But the Browns, led by quarterback Bernie Kosar and running back Earnest Byner, tied the game at 31 in the fourth quarter. After Denver's John Elway threw a touchdown pass, Kosar and the Browns got the ball back with four minutes remaining, and drove all the way to the eight yard line. On the next play, Kosar handed the ball off to Byner, who looked to be heading into the end zone, but a little known backup cornerback named Jeremiah Castille stripped Byner of the ball, and recovered it at the three-yard line, leaving Browns fans in disbelief after coming so close only for the game to end in the worst possible manner. Byner would be the starting running back of the Washington Redskins four years later when they won Super Bowl XXVI, getting the ring that Cleveland fans hope the Browns get one day.

3. 1989: 'The Shot' sinks the Cavaliers

Up until last year, the 1988-89 Cleveland Cavaliers were the all-time franchise leader in single season wins, going 57-25 that year. The Cavs were led by All-Stars C Brad Daugherty, PG Mark Price, and PF Larry Nance, not to mention SG Ron Harper and PF/C John 'Hot Rod' Williams. Yes the Lenny Wilkens coached Cavaliers were loaded, but they drew a tough first round matchup in Michael Jordan in the Bulls. The series would go to a deciding fifth game in Cleveland. Despite having both Price and SG/SF Craig Ehlo playing hurt, the Cavs took a 101-100 lead after a lay up by Ehlo with three seconds to go. The Bulls would have one more shot to win the game. With everybody expecting Jordan to get the ball, MJ shook off a double-team, drove to the foul line, and hit a jump shot in the last second over a leaping Ehlo to win the game for the Bulls. The image of Jordan celebrating after making the shot is one of the most replayed visuals in NBA history, and the shot only went to solidify Jordan's legend. For the Cavaliers, it was back to the drawing board. They would have a few more good years right after this, but every time they had some success, it seemed as if Jordan and the Bulls were lying in wait to defeat them once again.

2. 1997: Indians come within two outs of winning the World Series

The 1997 World Series was an interesting an somewhat bizarre affair between the Indians and the Florida Marlins. The teams played what is probably the least remembered seven game World Series in the television era. The 1997 Indians were actually worse, record wise, than other Indians teams of that era, finishing the regular season with a rather pedestrian 86-75 record, but they managed to make the World Series behind a powerful lineup and a solid rotation led by rookie phenom Jaret Wright. The Series went to game seven, and the Indians scored two runs while Wright shut out the Marlins until the seventh when Bobby Bonilla homered, giving the Indians a 2-1 lead heading into the ninth. The Indians called on Jose Mesa to get the final three outs of the World Series. Mesa was not the ideal choice for that situation, but to be fair, he had had a good season and he was the best the Indinas had. After allowing two singles which left runners on first and third, Mesa faced Craig Counsell. Counsell flied out deep to right, allowing Alou to tag up and tie the game. The game went into the 11th inning, where Bonilla led off with a single off of Charles Nagy. After getting an out, Nagy forced Counsell to hit a ground ball to second, but the ball bounced off the bottom of 2B Tony Fernandez's glove, going into right field and putting Bonilla at third. After an intentional walk and a force play, up came Edgar Renteria with two outs and the bases loaded. Renteria wasted no time, hitting the first pitch just inches above Nagy's outstretched glove and into center field for the Series winning RBI. For the 294 Marlins fans, this was a great moment, but for Indians fans, it was another painful loss in a long history of losing, which leads us to the number one loss in Cleveland history.

1. 1986: "The Drive" breaks Browns' fans hearts

The 1986 Browns looked to be the class of the AFC. They went 12-4 that year, led by quarterback Bernie Kosar, a decent running game, and a strong defense which benefited from having two All-Pro cornerbacks in Frank Minnifeld and Hanford Dixon, making it tough for opponents to pass on the Browns. The Browns hosted the upstart Denver Broncos in the 1986 AFC Championship Game. After Kosar threw a 48 yard touchdown pass, the Browns held a 20-13 lead with 5:48 remaining in the game. The Broncos mishandled the ensuing kickoff and got the ball back all the way back at their own two yard line. The Browns had the Broncos exactly where they wanted them, and looked to be headed to their first Super Bowl. But Denver's QB John Elway had other ideas, as he led a masterful drive, eating up both yardage and the clock and even converting a 3rd and 18 with less than two minutes to go. Needing a touchdown and extra point to tie, Denver faced a third and 1 at the five with 39 seconds remaining. Elway dropped back and fired a pass into the end zone to Mark Jackson for a touchdown. Rich Karlis converted the extra point, and the shellshocked Browns went into overtime. The Browns won the coin toss, did nothing with the ball, and gave it back to the Broncos, who drove 60 yards down the field and won the game on a Karlis field goal. The game would make Elway a legend and leave Cleveland Browns fans and players devistated. The Browns, of course, would recover and meet the Broncos again in the AFC Championship Game, but as you've read, that's when loss no. 4 happened.

Well, thanks for reading about the sad, bitter history of Cleveland losses over the years. Hopefully, things will turn around for at least one of the sports franchises in Cleveland, but at least they have The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and at least they are not Buffalo. So that's something. Until next time, remember, if you have an idea for a future review, than send them to me either by leaving me a comment or by contacting me via e-mail at Here are some videos of famous Cleveland losses, and if you're a fan of Cleveland sports, I would implore you not to watch.

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