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Tuesday, July 8, 2014
In Cleveland, winning comes with a price

By Pat McManamon

Josh Gordon, LeBron James & Johnny Manziel
For Cleveland fans, winning often means putting up with sports figures like Josh Gordon, LeBron James and Johnny Manziel.
Sports fans in Cleveland face a doozy of a dilemma.

While some cities get players such as Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck, the good people of Cleveland are presented with a trio that could shake any fan right down to his or her Converse.

One is troubled and frequently in trouble. Another broke the city's collective heart, only to be wooed yet again. The third proudly advertises his wealthy 21-year-old lifestyle.

Two are among the most talented to put on the uniform for a Cleveland team ever; another is expected to be. But all three bring head-scratching behavior that has to have fans asking if winning is really worth what it means to do so in Cleveland.

Yes, this is what it is like to be a fan in a city that hasn't seen a championship of any kind in 50 years.

Cleveland waits five decades ... for this?

The events of the past weekend illustrate the situation.

First, Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon is arrested and charged with DWI in North Carolina, yet the latest in a series of off-field incidents that has many questioning his NFL future.

Then, Twitter and the city of Cleveland almost bust their collective guts over the fact that LeBron James might leave the Miami Heat and return to Cleveland to play for the Cavaliers.

Finally, Johnny Manziel is nothing if not consistent; this weekend he was photographed partying away in Las Vegas.

These are the guys Cleveland must turn to.

These are the guys on whom fans place their hopes and dreams.

What in the world of Tim Duncan and David Robinson is going on here?

Gordon is the most talented player the Browns have had since the franchise was revived in 1999. Yet his behavior is everything an athlete's is not supposed to be, replete with failed drug tests, DWI arrests, speeding tickets, falling asleep in a Taco Bell drive-thru and going through two colleges before leaving early for the NFL supplemental draft.

It's crushing for fans to be tantalized by his talent and then see him self-destruct.

James no doubt one day will go on the NBA's Mount Rushmore. But he's also the guy who put the knife so deep into Cleveland's collective back four years ago that few could sit comfortably. People were burning his jersey and making YouTube videos to describe their heartbreak. The sadness and depression were palpable for days.

Now Cleveland faces the possibility of welcoming him back -- as if it's easy to welcome back the guy the owner accused of a "cowardly betrayal."

Finally, there's Johnny Vegas ... err ... PartyBoy ... err ... Football ... err ... Manziel, the guy who is tired of the hype about his partying but keeps getting captured in photos on trips to Las Vegas. It has been an every-weekend thing since he joined the Browns.

Manziel is like the guy who says he doesn't like chocolate but then heads to the store for the extra-large semisweet bunny. He is not breaking the law and is not doing anything wrong, but he sure pushes the envelope on what the team and working-class city should expect from him -- especially if the Browns did indeed tell Manziel to tone it down.

Which means Browns fans have their future hopes based on one guy whose future is in doubt and another whose partying -- fair or not -- has overshadowed his practice habits.

In James and Gordon, fans have one well-behaved guy who once crushed a city's spirit and another whose behavior makes it a possibility he'll do the same.

In James and Manziel, they have one guy who had a local weatherman saying "Godspeed and good riddance" the night he walked away (the weatherman!) and another who, when told to tone it down, ramps it up.

Indianapolis gets Manning and Luck and Tony Dungy and Chuck Pagano; Cleveland has two scoops of Gordon and James, with Manziel on top.

Maybe it's not a dilemma for some. Maybe for some it's a welcome problem. Winning might be worth turning away from values, core principles and beliefs. For some it might be worth rooting for guys who send you to the extra-large Tums.

James does nothing wrong off the court, and he remains an Akron kid and the best player in the NBA today. His talent alone should fill the arena.

But at what cost? On Monday morning, folks at the local coffee shop were shaking their heads asking why he would want to come back and who wants him.

Gordon could make the Browns a contender, assuming he finds some miraculous way to be on the field this season. But Cleveland retched when Ray Lewis and Art Modell shared the Vince Lombardi Trophy after the original Browns bolted for Baltimore; how would it feel to have Gordon holding it?

Fans in Cleveland may take a championship any way they can get it.

The sad thing is, they may have no other choice.