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Tuesday, July 13, 2004
Cleveland's torture will continue

By Graham Hays
Page 2

EDITOR'S NOTE: Page 2, along with ESPN2's "Cold Pizza," counted down the 15 Most Tortured Sports Cities in America. This week, we crown Cleveland as the most tortured of the tortured. Congrats, Cleveland -- read what Graham Hays predicts for the next 100 years, along with our list of the Top 10 most painful moments in Cleveland's sports history.

We're not sure how to break the news to Drew Carey, but things don't look good for folks in Cleveland.

Then again, have things ever looked good in Cleveland?

The town's sporting misery can be traced back as far as baseball's woeful Spiders, who managed to post a 20-134 record in 1899 -- even without Cory Snyder or the Sports Illustrated cover jinx. With that kind of history, is it any surprise the town's athletic suffering is destined to extend into a third century?

THE 15 MOST TORTURED SPORTS CITIES
15. Tampa Bay
14. Kansas City
13. Cincinnati
12. Phoenix
11. Washington, D.C.
10. Houston
9. San Diego
8. Atlanta
7. Seattle
6. Minneapolis
5. Boston
4. Chicago
3. Buffalo
2. Philadelphia
1. Cleveland
You've read about the 10 most painful sporting moments in the city's history, but only Page 2's crystal ball knows what kind of heartache looms for residents of northern Ohio in the next 100 years. Our advice? Move to Dayton.

April 4, 2022: Woodstock with Kenyans
In an effort to boost Cleveland's profile for the 2028 Summer Olympics, city officials decide to stage a marathon on a par with the more famous events in New York City and Boston. Unfortunately, they schedule the race on the same weekend as induction ceremonies for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And even more unfortunately, it is the weekend Phish receive their lifetime achievement award. Out of the 10,000 runners who start the race, only 34 finished. The image of revelers slowly ambling on the course make for a lasting impression of peace and goodwill, but isn't what the Olympic Committee had in mind for the "Faster, Higher" portion of their motto.

Sept. 30, 2047: No Hollywood Ending for Tribe
After falling on hard times following the Hart family's sale of the team, the Indians have their Hollywood ending spoiled by ... Hollywood. Mired in a stretch of 15 consecutive losing seasons and playing to a half-empty stadium, the team is the subject of rampant relocation speculation. But under the leadership of their crusty new manager, a minor league lifer, the 2047 Indians stun the baseball world by overcoming a 10-25 start to make a run at a playoff berth with a collection of over-the-hill veterans and unwanted prospects.

Rallying behind the team, Cleveland fans fill Mrs. Fields Field for the first two games of a three-game September showdown with the Yankees. Sadly, just minutes before the first pitch of the third game, in which the Indians could lock up the wild card, the team is served with a cease-and-desist order from a Hollywood studio claiming copyright infringement.

Tim Couch
Tim Couch could come back to haunt Cleveland as a member of the Green Bay Packers.
Jan. 29, 2007: Couch Comes Home
Kellen Winslow Jr. guarantees victory. Instead, Cleveland fans get the second coming of The Drive. Having marched to 13 wins in the regular season on the legs of workhorse running back Maurice Clarett, the Browns are heavy favorites to knock off the Packers in Super Bowl XLI. But leading by four points with less than two minutes to play, Cleveland is forced to punt when Winslow draws a personal foul penalty on third down for what he later describes as a wardrobe malfunction. Given the ball with 80 yards to travel, Couch somehow manages to lead the Packers to the winning touchdown despite throwing incompletions on 11-of-14 passes.

Sept. 30, 2014: Albert Belle Returns
In hindsight, Albert Belle Night probably could have waited. Locked in a battle with the White Sox for the AL Central title on the final day of the regular season, the Indians are prepared to send 22-game winner Cliff Lee to the mound for a winner-take-all showdown with the Sox. But after a midseason thaw in relations, the club also wants to extend an olive branch to Belle with a pregame ceremony. As Lee waits to take the field, Belle basks in a warm reception from Indians fans and prepares to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

All is well, until Belle mistakenly assumes Lee is taunting him when he overhears Lee calling out to outfielder Joey Gathright. Wheeling away from home plate, Belle fires a strike at Lee, knocking the pitcher out cold. Forced to turn to a depleted bullpen, the Indians go down meekly, 12-4, to the White Sox.

June 18, 2010: LeBron's Contractual Obligations
Everything seems to come together for the Cavaliers in 2010. After nearly losing LeBron James to the NBA's new LeBron exception -- in which teams in larger television markets than Cleveland are allowed to exceed the salary cap to sign any player named LeBron -- the franchise overcomes years of frustration by finally beating four-time NBA MVP Darko Milicic and the Pistons in the Eastern Conference finals. But disaster strikes when a broken water main at Gund Arena forces the postponement of Game 7 of the NBA Finals. With James unable to participate due to a previously-scheduled endorsement appearance at a shoe store in Little Rock, the Cavaliers gamely try to take down the Jazz without their star player. But even with Carlos Boozer exercising an out in his contract and re-signing with the Cavaliers at halftime, the franchise's first NBA title slips away in an 89-74 loss.

July 30, 2021: Shattered Dreams
It starts with nothing more than an inside fastball. Battling the Royals in an otherwise meaningless July game, Indians slugger Ricky Pelson shatters his bat swinging through an inside fastball from aging Kansas City ace Zach Greinke. One season removed from becoming the first player since Carl Yastrzemski to win the Triple Crown, Pelson is the heart and soul of Cleveland's league-leading offense. Suspicions arise when third-base coach Omar Vizquel tackles Greinke before the pitcher can retrieve the shattered barrel. Standard tests reveal nothing unusual about the bat, but further investigation uncovers a link between Pelson, Victor Conte and a small area of a forest in North Carolina. The resulting scandal introduces fans to the specter of genetically-engineered trees, but it also deprives the Indians of their suspended star and ultimately leads to their tumble out of the playoff race.

Jan. 14, 2020: Modell Strikes Again
Had the Cuyahoga River been on fire on the night of Jan. 14, 2020, Browns fans might welcome the chance to both drown and immolate themselves. Awarded Super Bowl LIV after installing the world's first retractable tropical rain forest around Cleveland Browns Stadium, the city watches coach Dwayne Rudd lead the Browns to an undefeated regular season and an opportunity to play every postseason game at home. But the dream season comes crashing down when the upstart Baltimore Ravens rally from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to stun the Browns in the AFC Championship game. When the Ravens win the Super Bowl, an aging Art Modell becomes the first owner to accept the Vince Lombardi Trophy under the cover of a National Guard unit.

LeBron James
LeBron James might win an NBA title -- but maybe not in Cleveland.
Dec. 23, 2063: Dawg Pound Put Down
Seemingly the reincarnation of Otto Graham (or at least Brian Sipe), C.J. Williams is the quarterback Browns fans have waited for like the Second Coming. Already a three-time NFL MVP, Williams finally has a championship-caliber supporting cast around him in 2063, and the Browns enter the final week of the regular season at 13-2.

But opting to play his regulars in the first half, coach Bob Young watches in horror as Williams scrambles for a 15-yard touchdown and leaps into the front row of the Dawg Pound, and is electrocuted by the invisible fence the team has installed to keep fans from wandering into their neighbors' section. Williams never plays another game and the Browns lose at home in the divisional round.

March 24, 2030: Rookie Jitters
Winning Cleveland's first sports title in nearly a century just isn't in the cards for Todd Hennesey. Literally. The first pick of the 2029 National Organization of Poker Experts entry draft, Hennesey follows up an illustrious career at the University of Maryland by leading the Cleveland Flushes to the finals of the 2030 World Series of Poker. But as an estimated 30 million viewers tune in to Final Table XXII, Hennesey commits the biggest of blunders on the largest of stages. Opting to go all in sitting on Queen-10 with his lone opponent showing a pair of 10s, Hennesey finds himself out of the competition in the blink of an eye.

Cleveland fans question into perpetuity why skipper Ben Affleck doesn't send in a pinch bettor for the rookie.

June 14, 2015: LeBron Wins a Ring
Cleveland fans always dream they'll see LeBron James win an NBA title on the floor of Gund Arena, but they should be careful what they wish for. Three years after losing James to free agency following the failure of a ballot initiative to generate municipal funds to help the Cavaliers match Los Angeles' offer sheet, the Cavaliers face off against the Lakers in the NBA Finals. Luring 80-year-old Bill Fitch out of retirement, the Cavaliers stun observers by making the playoffs with a lineup consisting entirely of players who spent four years in college. Leading 95-94 with 3.2 seconds left in Game 7, Fitch puts scrappy rookie guard Austin Ehlo on James for an inbounds play. Driving to his right, James buries an 18-foot jumper at the buzzer to hand Los Angeles the title.

Graham Hays writes "Out of the Box" five days a week in between moonlighting for Page 2. He can be reached at graham.hays@espn3.com.