Monday, November 23, 2009

Cleveland: The Best in the Business

...of creating heroes.

Perhaps no city's sports teams have done a better job of creating heroes and legends than Cleveland's have. Unfortunately, rather than striding joyously into the history books adorned with a laurel wreath, Cleveland's always the raison d'etre for the newly annointed. It's always some other guy, some other team, some other victory parade, and some other bit of history that will be remembered from generation to generation. Cleveland always plays a small but significant role in the emerging legend---the vanquished, the plucky opponent, the valiant opposition. The loser.

Long-time Clevelanders tend to have a "woe is me" attitude about sports that is fueled by a sense of entitlement resulting from decades and lifetimes of suffering. They view losses in big situations as something that was done to them, to the team, to the city, to the state, and to us. In fact, I suspect that the Cleveland sports teams of the past 50 years have created far more atheists than any church scandals.

We tend to sit around wringing our hands and looking for someone or something to blame , but we forget that the winner goes away to a new life as a champion. The Catch cemented Willie Mays' reputation as a stellar fielder and gave him a World Series Ring. Red Right 88 propelled the Raiders to become the first wildcard team to win the Super Bowl. The Shot was Jordan's announcement to the world that he had entered the big stage. The Drive, for the first time in his life, made Horseface a big game winner. The Fumble cemented that reputation. Last year's Eastern Conference Finals, at Cleveland's expense, introduced Dwight Howard to everyone outside of Florida.

But not all heroes are christened on a big stage. Yesterday, #1 pick, Matt Stafford and the lowly Lions hosted the Browns in what could have been dubbed The Pathetic Loser Bowl (If only Matt Millen were still with Detroit). Both teams entered 1-8, and to say each team's QB was "embattled" would have been an understatement. Stafford and Brady Quinn have been booed and jeered, and at least in the blue collar towns that follow each franchise, their manhood has been ridiculed. In the end, Stafford walked away a winner following a come- from- behind, game- winning touchdown pass with no time left on the clock. That's a nice win for a rookie QB, but because Cleveland was the opponent, it was even bigger and better.

On the last play during regulation, Stafford chucked a pass for the end zone that was intercepted, sealing an apparent Browns' victory. Meanwhile, Stafford was stretched out on the turf with what looked like a serious arm injury. However, as the great Howard Cosell might have said, "But wait. Cleveland had failed to reckon with the steely-eyed determination of one Matthew Stafford." You know how it goes. Pass interference in the end zone puts the ball on the one with no time on the clock for one last play. But, Stafford is so shaken up, he's taken out of the game. Duante Culpepper is brought in for the final play. And then, Mangini calls time out. When play resumes, Stafford runs on the field clutching his left shoulder, calls a play, and throws a touchdown pass. It was that easy. Lions win. Browns lose, and the scribes are left to write about Stafford's gritty performance.

Perhaps some day when he's elected to the Hall of Fame or holding a Super Bowl trophy, Stafford will reflect upon how his greatness began and think of the Cleveland Browns fondly.

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