Pity for two cities

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! SportsOctober 1, 2007

The baseball playoffs are upon us and the Chicago Cubs are in, meaning you can expect so many references to their downtrodden fans and the "Curse of the Billy Goat" that somehow Fox will manage to be even more annoying.

Here's the thing: In terms of misery, Cubs fans have little on two other playoff fan bases – the Philadelphia Phillies and the Cleveland Indians. True, the Cubs haven't won a World Series in 99 years. But no major professional team in either Cleveland or Philadelphia has won any title since 1964 and 1983 respectively.

Cubs fans may have it tough, but at other points of the year they double as Bulls fans, Bears fans and, for the many bandwagon jumpers, White Sox fans. Chicago has had its share of celebrations.

For Philly and Cleveland fans, the Chicago sporting life would be a dreamland. Cleveland, for instance, is so ignored that their curse ("Rocky Colavito") doesn't get much pub.

"In Cleveland we haven't had anything in my lifetime," 42-year-old fan Keven Blake said in June before his Cleveland Cavaliers were summarily swept in the NBA finals by the San Antonio Spurs.

Things are so bleak in northeast Ohio that Blake tried (unsuccessfully) to steer his 12-year-old son, Jake, to become, of all things, a Cubs fan.

"We're so overdue to the point it's painful. I wanted my kids to root for anything other than Cleveland teams," he said. "Even the Cubs."

That's how bad it is.

So fall brings a spring of hope for two championship-starved cities. It is possible that their clubs could meet in the World Series, the occurrence of which might be a sign of the apocalypse.

It's not just that Cleveland and Philadelphia teams haven't won, it's the manner in which they've lost. They may lack the poets of Chicago or Boston to tell the tales, but the hurt is just as great.

Which one has it worse? Let's compare the doom and gloom, focusing mostly on the worst moments since the city's last championship ('83 for Philly, '64 for Cleveland).

BASEBALL

Philadelphia – Mitch Williams. The Phillies lost the 1993 World Series in six games to the Toronto Blue Jays, but the series is most painfully remembered for the meltdown of their colorful reliever, "Wild Thing" (ironically nicknamed after a character in the Indians movie "Major League").

In Game 4, the Phillies led 14-9 in the eighth inning and were about to square the series. But relievers Larry Andersen and Williams allowed six runs and the Phillies lost 15-14. Wild Thing started getting death threats. Then, in Game 6, Williams entered in the bottom of the ninth to protect a 6-5 lead. He promptly put two men on and threw a gopher ball to Joe Carter, who hit just the second-ever World Series walk-off homer.

Cleveland – 1997 World Series. In some ways, nothing sums up the Indians more than 1987, when Sports Illustrated put them on the cover and called them the best team in the American League. The Indians responded by losing 101 games.

But in 1997, Cleveland actually made the Fall Classic only to lose four games to three in true gut-punch fashion to the newcomer Florida Marlins. In Game 7, Cleveland led 2-1 with one out in the ninth when closer Jose Mesa gave up two singles and a game-tying sacrifice fly. In the 11th, the Marlins scored the series-winner when a single skipped off pitcher Charles Nagy's glove and into center field.

(Dis)Advantage: Cleveland. Two outs away.

FOOTBALL

Philadelphia – The McNabb Era (for lack of a better term). A terrific Eagles team blew three consecutive NFC Championship games in puzzling and pathetic fashion (overconfidence, bad receivers, weak play) all but driving their fan base to jump from the Walt Whitman bridge.

They finally reached the Super Bowl in 2005, only to face a dynasty in the making in the New England Patriots. While trying to make a late-game comeback, Eagles coach Andy Reid foolishly chewed up too much clock and the Eagles fell short. As one fan claimed, "That's obviously not a play list he's holding on the sideline, but a menu." Some, particularly Terrell Owens, blamed McNabb for being too "tired."

All in all, it was a thoroughly unsatisfying Super Bowl.

Cleveland – Where to start?

There is "Red Right 88" of the 1981 playoffs. The Browns trailed the Oakland Raiders 14-12 with less than a minute remaining but had the ball in field-goal range. Rather than kick a game-winner, though, they called the pass play "Red Right 88," had the ball intercepted and lost.

There is "The Drive," when Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway crushed them with a 98-yard game-tying touchdown drive in the 1986 AFC Championship game (the Broncos won in overtime). One year later, in the same game against the same team, came "The Fumble." Earnest Byner had a clear game-tying touchdown with 1:12 left only to turn the ball over.

There is "The Move," when owner Art Modell relocated the storied franchise to Baltimore after the 1995 season. To make matters worse, that team, now the Ravens, won the Super Bowl just five years later. Since the Browns were reformed in 2000, they've averaged a miserable five wins per season.

And, of course, there is "The Belichick." Cleveland gave Bill Belichick his first head coaching job in the '90s. He produced just one winning season and was an all-around disappointment. He later went to the Patriots, won three Super Bowls and became regarded as the best coach in the game.

(Dis)Advantage: Cleveland. At least Philly made it to a Super Bowl and never had their team shipped to Maryland.

BASKETBALL

Philadelphia – The 2001 Finals. The Sixers shocked the favored Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1, only to lose four in a row. The era is perhaps best known for the on-again, off-again relationship between coach Larry Brown and star Allen Iverson. ("Practice? We're talking about practice?") Brown finally left in 2003 and immediately led the Detroit Pistons to the title while bumbling general manager Billy King has destroyed all immediate hope.

Cleveland – "The Shot." They like to name things in Cleveland, and Michael Jordan's jumper over Craig Ehlo in the 1989 playoffs is the indelible image of the franchise. The Cavs were swept last June by the San Antonio Spurs.

(Dis)Advantage: Philly. Basketball is bigger there, and the presence of local hero LeBron James in Cleveland tempers all past horrors. If anyone is going to end the title drought, it's LeBron.

COLLEGE

Philadelphia – The Elite Eight. Since 1988, Temple, Villanova and Saint Joseph's (Philly schools featuring Philly-guy coaches and Philly-bred players) have reached the cusp of the Final Four seven times only to lose in every imaginable fashion. The bright side? 'Nova won the NCAA title in 1985.

Cleveland – The Crack House. College sports don't resonate in Cleveland, and claims on Ohio State, a two-hour drive south, are a bit of a reach. The most famous memory was probably a Cleveland State upset of Indiana in the 1986 NCAA tournament. The good feelings ended a couple years later, however, when the team's coach was arrested coming out of a crack house with a prostitute on his arm. (What, you can get fired for that?)

(Dis)Advantage: Philly. John Chaney deserved better.

HOLLYWOOD SUCKER PUNCH

Philadelphia – "Rocky." He lost at the end of the original.

Cleveland – "Major League." With a spirited comeback, Ricky Vaughn, Jake Taylor and Pedro Cerrano forced and then won a one-game playoff against the New York Yankees to capture the American League East. Then the movie ended. Was this 1994, no World Series? (Aside: I refuse to acknowledge "Major League II").

(Dis)Advantage: Philly. Rocky Balboa finally won, but Philadelphians have been subjected to brutal imitations of him ("Yo, Adrian!") for 31 years and counting.

BEST LINE IN EACH MOVIE

Philadelphia – "He doesn't know it's a damn show! He thinks it's a damn fight!" – Apollo Creed's trainer.

Cleveland – "You trying to say Jesus Christ can't hit a curve ball?" – Eddie Harris.

(Dis)Advantage: Even. Scholars could debate this for centuries.

INFAMOUS MOMENT

Philadelphia – The Booing of Santa Claus. In 1968, at the end of another horrible Eagles' season, Santa Claus took the field for a halftime show. The fans, who were angry at the state of the team, greeted him with snowballs and boos. (Hey, maybe he deserved it? When was the last time he brought you anything?)

Cleveland – The Burning of the River. In 1969, the polluted Cuyahoga River caught fire. Time magazine cited the story as an example of urban pollution and claimed that the river "oozes rather than flows." Locals were unimpressed – this was not the river's first big burn. "It was strictly a run-of-the-mill fire," the city's fire chief said.

(Dis)Advantage: Philly. The Cuyahoga got cleaned up. Philly fans, while loyal as golden retrievers, can still be as mean as pit bulls.

EVEN WORSE

Philadelphia – The Michael Irvin game. In 1999, the Dallas Cowboys' star receiver landed on his head and lay motionless on field for 20 minutes. In response, some Philly fans actually cheered. "Unspeakable, even for us," declared the headline in the Philadelphia Daily News.

Cleveland – The Browns' bottle-throwing game. Be more specific, right? OK, how about in 2001, when a loss to Jacksonville was delayed 30 minutes when bitter fans, enraged over a call, rained bottles of beer onto the field. "We feared for our lives," wide receiver Jimmy Smith said. "It was like dodging bullets."

(Dis)Advantage: Philly. Is there any question why the Eagles were the first franchise to run a municipal court out of its stadium?

HOCKEY

Philadelphia – The Stanley Cup. The Flyers have lost their last five finals appearances.

Cleveland – Cleveland Barons. The team lasted just two inglorious years, 1976-78, and folded. (Dis)Advantage: Philly. Considering the state of the NHL, Cleveland should be applauded for being ahead of the curve.

MISCELLANEOUS DISASTER

Philadelphia – Smarty Jones. The undersized horse captured the city's imagination in 2004 when he won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Set to become the first Triple Crown winner in 26 years, he led the Belmont Stakes late before fading down the stretch.

Cleveland – Jim Brown. Arguably the greatest football player of all time decided, in his prime, to retire from the Browns to make movies, many of them terrible.

(Dis)Advantage: Philadelphia. Not only did the citizens lose money on the race, they forever have to justify rooting for something named "Smarty." At least Jim Brown is still cool.

(Dis)Advantage Tally: Does it matter? Both places are desperate.

Chicago fans have it easy. Besides, you can always get a cold Old Style and a Cheezborger at the Billy Goat. What does Rocky Colavito give you?