Cleveland, the capital of the rust belt. It is the essence of a blue collar, hard working city, where in the words of LeBron James, “nothing is given, everything is earned.”
Cleveland also over the years has been called literally every word and phrase imaginable. From the, “Mistake on the Lake”, to a place so bad to live that the river caught on fire.
But over the past ten years, the downtown and surrounding area of the city has been completely redone. Forbes Magazine even went as far to say that in 2016 Cleveland was, “America’s Hottest City Right Now.” Not only has the architecture in the landscape changed, but the sports teams have played a huge part in Cleveland’s recovery.
I have lived in Cleveland almost by entire life, and I had to wait 19 years to see a Cleveland sports team that was capable of winning a professional sports title (I am excluding the 1990s Indians as I was three years old when they blew the title in the bottom of the ninth in Game 7 of the World Series against the Marlins.)
When LeBron James came back home, the rush of excitement that flowed through me in that moment to this day is still indescribable. The man who is the epitome of what Cleveland is, and will always be, came home to us and promised to bring us a title, something my Father who at the time was fifty one years old, had never seen.
Two years later, on June 19, 2016, LeBron came up with maybe the single greatest defensive play in Game 7 of the NBA finals, and maybe in sports history to save the title from going to Golden State, and Kyrie killed off the 73-9 Warriors and capped off the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history. The craziest celebration I have ever seen in my life ensued, with quite a few tears (and one “borrowed” bottle of Jack Daniel’s, from my cousin’s bar, albeit.)
Four months later, we were down 6-4 in the bottom of the eighth inning of Game 7 of the World Series right here in Cleveland. Everyone thought it was over when Rajai Davis stepped up. Rajai Davis, 1 hit in the playoffs up until that at bat Rajai Davis, Rajai fucking Davis.
Against Aroldis Chapman, a nearly unhittable pitcher, Rajai produced one of the great sporting moments of this millenium against all the odds, hitting a changeup out of the park for a two run homer to tie the game up at 6 heading into the top of the ninth.
Fast forward two more years, and you arrive at the Cleveland Browns. The Cleveland Browns, who’s record the previous two seasons had a 1-31 record, drafted a 6 foot tall quarterback by the name of Baker Mayfield. The immediate reaction was, “he is going to be Manziel 2.0” and, “he isn’t tall enough to play up North.”
But today, those Browns are 5-7-1, having fired Hue Jackson middle of the season, and with three games to go in the season, they are still genuine playoff contenders. Something I know firsthand, I have never been able to say in my entire life.
Baker, Rajai, and LeBron all have one thing in common with each other: they were all underdogs in different situations. LeBron had a terrible living situation growing up in Akron, everybody constantly made fun of Rajai’s hitting “ability”, and Baker was declared to be a bust before he had even taken a snap in Cleveland. They are the underdogs, in a city of underdogs. It is what Cleveland was built upon, the “never say die” attitude in the face of adversity.
So with three games to go in the NFL season, why not root for the Browns? It would be another great underdog story, in a city riddled with underdogs and their stories. From 0-16, to 8-7-1 and a playoff berth for the first time since 2002, it would be unequivocally one of the greatest underdog stories the NFL has seen in some time.
And just like the Indians and Cavs before them, when you are put in a position where an underdog needs to step up, you never know what may happen.