Thirty years. Thirty-one years. Seems like a long time ago… until a Cleveland fan gets an assignment to write something about the Indians that can tie into the current baseball landscape.
In 1985, the Indians were 37 years removed from their last World Series. Hell, the Indians 1948 World Series Championship happened before the Mets or Royals even existed. It would be easy to pen another tale of woe, from another sad, jilted Indians fan. It would take almost no imagination for me to tell you my age1I’m 34. I remember when Pauly Shore was funny. and add up all those Cleveland championships that don’t exist, as if the city’s bare trophy case is justification for a lifetime of whining about sports. If I wanted to spend the next 500 words typing different combinations of “Only in Cleveland2OIC also stands for Opiod Induced Constipation, which probably also explains a lot about Cleveland fanhood.,” I could finish this column in my sleep.
Nope. I’m here to give Indians fans hope. Or, at least take away the hopelessness.
Only half of the teams in baseball have been around for as long as the Indians, which was chartered as the Cleveland Blues in 19013The Yankees are the youngest old team in baseball, with a start date of 1903.4I Hate the Yankees. That leaves a robust 15 teams that didn’t even exist before 1962. I’ll spare you the list that compares World Series Championships against league tenure. Instead, let me say that the Indians are a few unlucky bounces away from the same historical success that the Royals and Mets are experiencing this season.
Kansas City had a good ten year run, then disappeared for three generations before their recent turnaround. While the Mets haven’t even mustered a string of consistent success, instead scattering eight playoff appearances – and two championships – over 54 years. That’s what baseball is like if you’re not the Yankees527 championships gets tossed around a lot, but the Evil Empire has an astounding 40 WS appearances., Cardinals, Giants, or Dodgers.
It’s been a tough road lately for Tribe fans, but Jose Mesa’s blown save is certainly no worse than Bill Buckner’s error. Those Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner contracts don’t really stack up to the horror that Bartman inflicted upon the Chicago Cubs. It took 86 years for the Red Sox to lift the Curse of the Bambino, which is 85 years and 10 months longer than it took Francisco Lindor to the majors in 2015.
Being a sports fan in Cleveland is hard, it’s the fanhood equivalent of living paycheck to paycheck. Every season we sit on the couch and daydream about all those things we’ll do with the next season. It’s a stressful way to pay the bills and to root for teams. But next payday… let’s just say there’s hope for that vacation we’ve all been dreaming for.
Don’t let my excitement over what’s happening in baseball be interpreted as a slight on the NFL or my obligation to follow it. However, it’s the Royals run for a ring, their first expedition of the sort in 29 years, that has me feeling nostalgic. That autumn of 1985 brings back so many memories, seeing George Brett lead his club to a 1-0 victory at Cleveland Stadium in the first game I remember I attending, watching a baseball game from too late the night before on our brand new VCR, and of course the Royals beating the St. Louis baseball Cardinals in seven games, thanks in large part to Bret Saberhagen.
Though baseball may have been at the forefront in the beginning, seasons passed, and with it, a new passion was born. It was that year, the first of Bernie Kosar’s career, that the Cleveland Browns became a part of my life. Something those young people with memories that begin with Tim Couch and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad rebooted Browns have a hard time understanding is how spoiled I was with the Browns once upon a time. Sure, their mere 8-8 record gave them a weak AFC Central Division and they were handed a devastating first-round playoff exit, but it was only the beginning.
There would be AFC Championships and the requisite heartbreak that came with each of them, but there would also be a developing interest in the National Football League on the whole. We had the Bears incredible regular season that featured William “The Refrigerator” Perry, a playoff run that the Super Fans could have accurately predicted, and a Super Bowl that somehow didn’t feature Walter Payton, but we did witness a quarterback removed from the game for his own safety, like in terms of life and death for Tony Eason. The Patriots won three road games to earn the privilege of being beaten by the Bears like crippled salmon, something that no team had ever done before them. What followed has been almost 30 years of heartbreak, but I’d go back and do it over again in the first place. The game is so different now, but also very much the same. Today, we’ll do the Marty McFly thing and get all obsessive over 1985.
What I wouldn’t give to reboot my sports-loving life back to the late 80s, and just for the avenue to think about it, I’m grateful for these Royals as they take on San Francisco in the 2014 World Series. Royals in six, by the way; not that anyone asked me.
What I Anticipated Most
Looks like we’re back under the lights to satiate my anticipation of Sunday football. It’s not the way I planned it, but it’s the way it’s been, so kudos to NBC for picking the right games to air. Once upon a time, a few years after that magical 1985 season, John Elway led his “Orange Crush” Broncos to a Super Bowl against a 49ers team that his Denver team simply could not compete with. The tables may have turned a quarter-century later, with Elway in the Broncos’ front office, and he may have built a better team around Peyton Manning than the suits ever gave him a player.
It was a question of what 49ers team might show up, as they live life as the second-most popular team in their own city (no, not Santa Clara) in the moment. The fact is, some may be thinking the organization lost a little bit of its fire, on the heels of three straight Conference Championship appearance, starting with head coach Jim Harbaugh, who may already have his heart set on turning things around in Ann Arbor, but let’s wait and see on that. Andy Reid’s Eagles teams were also accused of complacency, having been so near the mountain top so many times. And, while the regular season can be taken lightly by a shoe-in like the Broncos, the Niners learned a year ago that the current landscape in the NFC and specifically in their juggernaut division means scratching and clawing until the clock hits 0 in Week 17.
Thank God this was a historic night in Denver, because there wasn’t much of a football after all of the anticipation. Blaine Gabbert and Brock Osweiler were the quarterbacks to finish the game, because it was over after 3 quarters with Denver up 42-10. We were all waiting to see if the Niners would surrender 3 passing touchdowns, and they did before the half. Manning’s 509th career touchdown pass went for three yards to Demaryius Thomas, who has been on the receiving end of 29 of Manning’s 510 scoring strikes.
I’ve been trying to put this in perspective, comparing it to baseball, because that’s what I’ve been talking about. Ten years ago, I might have said this is Henry Aaron’s career home run record, just to go tit-for-tat with the scoring aspect. Wouldn’t touchdowns be home runs while something like hits is more comparable with yards, since you’re talking about the means versus the end? I think I’d want to violate that logic, and put Manning passing Brett Favre up there with Pete Rose collecting more base knocks than Ty Cobb, only because I believe Manning will play long enough that no mortal will come close to catching him, even if they also pass Favre.
To give you an idea, Tom Brady has 372 and even if he’s not actually on the decline, anyone who says he has 138 touchdown passes left in him should be challenged. By the way, Broncos win this one by a count of 42-17
Thursday Is My Garbage Day
For a while there, it felt like the NFL was trying to make Patriots-Jets into a Red Sox-Yankees type of rivalry. I’m glad they don’t do that any more, because if a Boston-New York rivalry to exist, though nobody actually plays in the cities proper, it would be more appropriate to make the Giants the adversary of Brady and company. Sure, the league’s alignment makes that more Red Sox-Mets than Red Sox-Yankees, but it’s dumb to force that in the first place.
As for the game itself, despite the close final score and last minute drama, it was back to the typical garbage football that Thursday Night Football viewers have become accustomed to. In the end, it was the Patriots D-Lineman Chris Jones watching the universe balance itself out to give the home team a 2-point win on their home field. A year ago, Jones made a special teams gaffe in New Jersey that gave Nick Folk a reprieve in overtime after missing a 56-yard attempt on a little-known penalty. Folk nailed his mulligan and the Jets won 30-27. This time, Folk would be given no such opportunity with Jets victory on the line, Jones represented the jaws of defeat in blocking the 58 yard attempt.
As the final score might have indicated, the Patriots did just enough to hold off the Jets, but they spent plenty of time on Thursday night teasing them with hope. The Jets held leads of 9-7 and 19-17 during the game and had a chance to tie outside of the two-minute warning, after Geno Smith hit Jeff Cumberland for the final points of the night, but those points were not to be for the visiting Jets. However, the Patriots were only able to kill about a minute and a half after a failed onside kick attempt, and no one gave Smith much of a chance to get New York in field goal range with 66 seconds and no timeouts from his own 12. Of course it was not to be, and Rex Ryan’s team would fall to 1-6 on the year, but their young quarterback was 5-of-7 for 43 yards and gave his team a chance.
Maybe you like that if you’re trying to put a silver lining on this Jets season. By the way, these two franchises met in the AFC Wildcard Game in 1985 with the Patriots winning 26-14 at The Meadowlands, their first of three consecutive road playoff victories en route to being humiliated in the Super Bowl.
House of California Dreams
Sunday’s action in the NFL took place exactly 29 years after Game 1 of the 1985 “Show Me Series”, and Missouri’s chapters in the NFL stayed out of the way. Of course, the St. Louis team would only co-occupy Busch Stadium another three seasons before continuing their ineptitude in Phoenix, as the “Phoenix” Cardinals anyway, and those Cardinals fell to 3-4 in Pittsburgh while their baseball counterpart was in Kansas City scored four runs in the top of the ninth to hand the Royals a 4-2 defeat to take a 2 games to none lead in the 1985 World Series. Coincidentally, the Rams and Chiefs hooked up across the parking lot from Kauffman Stadium, but the Rams would still call Los Angeles home for another decade.
Funny how everything comes full circle, isn’t it? I know we’ve heard how owners benefit more from the NFL void in the City of Angels, given the leverage it gives them against their existing fan base, but the smart money says at least one team will bring the NFL back to La La Land very soon. If I’m a gambling man, I’m throwing money at it being the Rams, and if the town is big enough, possibly the Raiders too. Whether or not any of that happens, the Rams still have to deal with the beasts of the NFC West while calling the Gateway City home. That means a visit from the defending World Champs, but a dire need to improve on their 1-4 start.
It was going to take something special, some special teams play perhaps, for the Rams to knock off the visiting Sea Chickens, who figured to be fired up in the wake of a rare home loss a week ago. Sure, it’s special to see Austin Davis’s near-perfect stat line early in Sunday’s action, though it wasn’t for a lot of yards, and you can only laugh at how much a quarterback might pad his stats on jet sweep-like shovel passes, but he was getting it done for the last place Rams.
It wasn’t the Rams quarterback play that justified the price of admission in St. Louis on Sunday as much as it was the Steadman Bailey 90-yard punt return, made possible by his longtime-teammate Tavon Austin creating a diversion on the other side of the field, creating an open field for Bailey to put St. Louis up 21-3 in the first half. Austin may have signaled for a fair catch away from the ball, but Pete Carroll couldn’t make that case compelling enough to the game’s officials to achieve any kind of result. Seattle, being the winners that they are, found themselves back in the game and actually in a position to win it with a defensive stop late, holding St. Louis to 4th and 3 deep in their own territory, forcing a punt…allegedly.
The Rams punter, former high school quarterback Johnny Hekker, used his arm instead of his leg, connecting with Benny Cunningham for 18 yards to his own 36 yard-line to put this 28-26 win on ice.
Fins Drop Bears, Just Like ’85
The Rams of Los Angeles in 1985 would reach the doorstep, but they ran into a buzzsaw in Mike Ditka and Buddy Ryan’s Bears in the NFC Championship. As clearly as I remember anything else from that year, I remember how dominating the Bears were that year, and how those Bears were the benchmark for what I expected the Monsters of the Midway to be, even after Walter Payton had given way to Neal Anderson in the backfield. In their two playoff games, they outscored the Giants and Rams by a combined score of 45-0, and then they beat the Patriots 46-10 in the Super Bowl. They were 15-1 in the regular season, starting 12-0 before a fateful Monday night in Miami.
Now, those Dolphins were the best team in the AFC, and they were the defending conference champs to boot, but their 38-24 beatdown of the Bears sent a message. Of course, after a monumental comeback over the Browns in the divisional round of the playoffs, the Dolphins lost to New England at home in the AFC Championship, so they never got a second crack at Chicago, which could have been a very interesting Super Bowl. Fast forward to 2014, and neither of these teams can possibly be thinking Super Bowl, but hovering around .500 this early still means you’re in the hunt.
While we don’t need to discuss Jim McMahon or Dan Marino, this one came down to the present-day quarterbacks. The Bears entered play 3-0 when Jay Cutler doesn’t throw any picks, and conversely 0-3 when he does. He also lost a fumble on a Cameron Wake strip-sack, but it probably didn’t matter with the way his Miami counterpart played on Sunday. Ryan Tannehill was true on his first 14 passes, with 176 yards and 2 touchdowns in the first half alone, he finished his team’s 27-14 victory 25-of-32 passing for 277 yards, a nice bounce-back from his 2 interception outing in Miami’s loss to Green Bay last weekend.
These Chiefs Could Be Royal
When you’re in a division that forces you to look up at Peyton Manning and Denver in the standings, you need to win every game you can, but specifically those in your own division. The Chiefs had already suffered a division loss to the aforementioned Broncos, so a good showing against the surprisingly 5-1 Chargers at Qualcomm was imperative, and also necessary. While no one, probably no one, expects Andy Reid to take these Chiefs to the Super Bowl, the expectation has to be a playoff win. The next one will be the franchise’s first since 1993, which is nothing compared to the Royals 29-year drought, but you know you’re going to start hearing the noise if Reid’s team regresses, and missing the post-season this year will equal regression in the eyes of many.
The Chargers, winners of five straight since dropping their Monday Night opener to the Cardinals, may have been looking ahead to their Thursday Night tilt with Denver, but we find it hard to believe any AFC West opponent could be taken lightly. The game was tightly contested all afternoon, but for the second time in as many years, the fate of Kansas City’s trip to San Diego rested on the foot of a Kansas City kicker. Ten months ago, in a Week 17 game that meant everything to the Chargers and absolutely nothing to the Chiefs, Ryan Succop missed the potential game-winner and the Chargers went to the playoffs. This time, it was Cairo Santos, the rookie from Tulane, and he was true from 48 yards, giving the Chiefs a 23-20 win, boosting them to 3-3 on the season.
Separating the Cowboys from the G-Men
If you’ve watched the NFC East at any point in your life, you’ll find one thing to be true. No one knows anything when it comes to the NFC East. The Giants have been an up and down team all year, hitting their low point in a 27-0 nationally televised loss to Philadelphia last Sunday. The Cowboys peaked, and some concern has been raised on the airwaves that they peaked too soon, last week with a big 30-23 win in the Pacific Northwest. History tells us not to consider any of that.
While everyone anticipated a record-breaking night in Denver, DeMarco Murray’s run at history for the Cowboys was a little less celebrated, but still involves the name Jim Brown, so pay attention. With his seventh consecutive game with a rushing touchdown and at least 100 yards on the ground, the 4th-year back from Oklahoma surpassed the Hall-of-Famer’s 56-year mark of doing it in six straight games. While Tony Romo and Eli Manning matched each other on the stat sheet with 3 scoring strike apiece, it was Murray on the 1-yard score with 9 minutes left in the game that put Dallas up 28-14.
It was a short scoring drive for the Cowboys, who only needed four plays to punch it in from the Giants’ 27 after a Justin Durant fumble recovery. Two of Romo’s touchdowns were to Gavin Escobar, the 2nd-year tight end from San Diego State. Escobar now has 3 touchdowns in his last two games, with just 7 total catches for 85 yards on the season.
Who Wants the Dynamic Duck?
We entered play in Week 7 with two winless teams and a handful of 1-win teams. Jacksonville joined the ranks of 1-15 being the worst case scenario, while Oakland had some chances against the Cardinals, despite falling to 0-6 with a 23-14 home loss. Tampa Bay was off, so they would stay at 1-5 and we know the Jets failed to pick up win #2 on Thursday night. The Rams picked up their second win against Seattle, and the Redskins made their worst case scenario 2-14 with a 1-point home win over 2-win Tennessee. I know it would be easy to send Marcus Mariota to Mark Davis in Oakland, but I still believe the Raiders will play their way out of the top spot in 2015’s draft, maybe even out of the Top 5 if Derek Carr continues to show promise.
Staying with our “like-1985” theme, I’ll point out that the Bucs had the first pick in 1986, and took Bo Jackson, who never played a down for them. Bo knew. He chose another year of baseball at Auburn before signing with the Raiders in 1987. It’s interesting if it isn’t Mariota at the top of everyone’s draft boards, because there’s a two-sport athlete at Florida State that could take a similar route. Anyways, I still believe it’s Lovie Smith that gets the quarterback from Eugene with the #1 team.
They’ll see the Vikings, Browns, and Redskins over the next four weeks and might get a quite apathetic Saints team at home in Week 17. I don’t know how they won in Pittsburgh, but I think those four opponents might yield a single victory, but that’s where hope lies for Tampa Bay to avoid picking first in May.
Actual Worst Game
We gave Cincinnati a long look for a second straight week for this distinction, but even a 27-0 loss on the road ot the Colts in their first game after a dismal 37-37 tie doesn’t trump the egg their upstate neighbors would lie in North Florida on Sunday. You want to say all of the right things here, that Jacksonville had a good defensive gameplan to stop the Browns rushing attack, that rookie quarterback Blake Bortles earned his first NFL win, and good for the Jaguars avoiding the history that a zero in the win column at the end of the year might bring. While I believe Bortles will be good some day, and that the Jaguars front seven played sound fundamental football against the Browns taxi-squad offensive line, Cleveland showed their fans how capable they are of playing Shurmur-ball.
Former Michigan quarterback, now the Jaguars starting running back, Denard Robinson had 127 yards and a touchdown on the ground to lead the way in a 24-6 win over the Browns, who fell into a last place tie with Pittsburgh in the NFC North. Bortles threw two interceptions to Browns safety Tashaun Gipson, which Cleveland only turned into 3 points, failing to get the ball into the endzone for the first time all season. The story of the game can be told by the Browns side of the box score, the league’s #3 running team was held to 69 yards on 30 carries, while the sudden hometown hero Brian Hoyer was just 16-of-41 passing for 215 yards. A week ago, the Browns lost their Pro-Bowl center Alex Mack, and it showed on the stat sheet this week.
Dirty Laundry Award
The Saints were penalized 12 times for 134 yards in their 24-23 loss to Detroit. They were very sloppy in this game, continuing to negate the theory that they’re very good in any dome, when the truth is that they’re very ordinary, indoors or out, away from the Superdome. They were able to rebound from most of Sunday’s dirty laundry, but twice, on pass interference calls against Brian Dixon (31 yards) and Rafael Bush (3 yards), the Lions had their drives extended due to the flags.
For the Degenerates
If you ask their fans who don’t think beyond six Super Bowl rings, a 31-10 loss to Cleveland in Week 6 is rock bottom for the Steelers. Fire everyone, right? At 3-3, even with the losses to Tampa and the Browns, that’s a bit premature. Houston has been adequate, but nothing special on offense so far. Caesar’s has Pittsburgh as a 3-point favorite at home, and that feels so perfect that I’d go with Houston if they were getting an extra half-point and I’d like the home team if they were giving a half-point less. If you can’t bet the push, I’d reluctantly take Pittsburgh. The total point number is 44.5 and I believe there will be enough defense to stay under that mark.
Random, Perhaps Even Unimportant
Baltimore, a city without a football team in 1985, had no problem with Atlanta, a city that doesn’t care any of their present-day local teams, let alone the Falcons, on Sunday. The once-dominant Atlanta offense was held to four first downs in the first half and allowed a second-half safety when Terrell Suggs sacked Matt Ryan in the endzone in the Ravens 29-7 victory. With the Browns and Bengals going down on Sunday, they now sit comfortably atop the AFC North at 5-2.
The Bill signed Kyle Orton off the couch this year, and while they’re all-in play for Sammy Watkins on draft day still might raise an eyebrow or two, Buffalo is 4-3, just a game behind the Patriots in the AFC East. Orton, who (seemingly) played his college ball at Purdue in the early-80s was happy that Watkins was in the fold, or at least his touchdown pass to the rookie from Clemson with 1 second left would suggest they aren’t interested in giving Cleveland a marquee-pick in the first round of next year’s draft. It took a 15-play, 80 yard drive that included a 4th and 20 conversion to give them a 17-16 win over the struggling Vikings.
Since telling the good people of Green Bay to relax, all Aaron Rodgers has done is lead the Packers to 4 straight wins, including Sunday’s 38-17 trouncing of the Carolina Panthers, throwing 13 touchdowns against no picks along the way.
In a game between two awful teams that somehow lost out on being the Actual Worst Game of the week, a Chas Whitehurst v. Kirk Cousins slopfest was spoiled when Jay Gruden called Colt McCoy out of the bullpen for the Redskins in their 19-17 win over the sub-par Titans. McCoy was 11-of-12 for 128 yards in the second half for Washington, but the stat-padding assist of the week goes to Pierre Garcon for his 70 yard catch-and-run to inflate the dink and dunk numbers.
If Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor can provide a 1-2 punch in the running game that fans in the desert haven’t seen since the Cardinals moved to Arizona, it’s going to take a lot of the burden off of Carson Palmer and open up the offense for Bruce Arians. Against the Raiders, Ellington had 160 yards from scrimmage and Taylor, the second-year back from Stanford added 59 in the Birds 24-13 win in the Black Hole.
Next week, our Garbage Day game features the Chargers and Broncos, which may or may not give Denver some separation from the pack in the AFC West, a “rematch” of Super Bowl XX when the Bears visit New England, Ravens-Bengals Part II, and a desert showdown between this year’s last two unbeaten teams. Arizona and Philadelphia each only have that one blemish on their record, but the ’72 Dolphins got to uncork the champagne in early October this year.
Also, if he’s that obsessed with being the only perfect team, former Dolphin Mercury Morris needs to get a life.
Lastly, am I the only one that watches this Peyton Manning Nationwide spot, and think of other things Manning would say to the tune of the catchy jingle, like “I’m so much better than Eli” or “You should eat at Papa Johns”? Just me? That’s cool, I embrace being strange.
Archives of sports websites no longer available on the Internet