Brotherly Sports Love: Kinship Forged by Failure

by Phil Kehres*
Special to iVoryTowerz

On December 27th, 1964, the Cleveland Browns upset the Baltimore Colts 27-0 in what would be the last hurrah for the pre-Super Bowl era Browns football dynasty. It was exactly three months earlier, in a 14-8 loss to Milwaukee, that baseball's Philadelphia Phillies fell out of first place on their way to one of the worst collapses in sports history. It was the seventh out of an eventual ten losses in a row that led the Phightins (a term Phillies fans use for their team) to squander a 7.5 game lead and finish one game out of first. For Cleveland, it was the last title they’d see for (at least) the next 45 years. For Philly, it was one of many heartbreaks that would come to haunt the dreams of Philadelphians.

Now, the Phillies stand to abolish all of that, four wins away from just their second World Series victory in over 120 years of existence. As a die-hard Cleveland fan, it is my patriotic duty to cheer on our Philadelphia brethren that dare to end the years of futility our cities have shared.

Since 1983, Philly has gone without a championship. It is the third-longest drought for a city with at least three major sports teams, behind only Seattle and Cleveland (The Seattle SuperSonics won a championship in 1979, but that team no longer plays in Seattle. However, the Seattle Storm of the Women's National Basketball Association took home a title in 2003.) The sports failures of both Philadelphia and Cleveland are too numerous and painful to bother recounting at this juncture. Philly and Cleveland fans, as a result, bear the weight of redwood-like chips on their shoulders, and more rightfully so than fans of any other city’s sports.

Cubs fans complain incessantly about their hundred-year drought. Cry me a river — you had Jordan’s Bulls, Ditka’s Bears and a White Sox championship in ’05. Pre-2004 Red Sox fans? Boohoo. You had Bird and Brady to keep your spirits high. Pirates fans lament their record 16-year streak of losing seasons, but Pittsburgh is also home to two of the most obnoxious, bandwagon-fan producing teams in all of pro sports. Seattle? Eh. Your teams have barely been in existence for forty years. Buffalo? We feel ya. Four straight Super Bowl losses is brutal, but at least you’ve only had to endure the failure of two major sports teams.

I’ve only been to Philly once, but I’ve always felt a kinship with the city's fans. I can’t speak for them, but I know what it’s been like for me growing with Cleveland sports. I didn’t have to live through the Mistake-by-the-Lake Indians teams of yore, never paid much attention to the awe-inspiring mediocrity of the Cavaliers, and was too young to be cognizant of the Browns epic failures in the ‘80’s. I’m blessed to have grown up watching the powerhouse Indians teams of the ‘90’s, but even they couldn’t bring home the hardware. The Cavs, with messiah LeBron James, are Cleveland’s latest bridesmaid act, and even the Browns have gone back to school for a refresher course in choke artistry. Maybe the old-timers didn’t have it so bad — sometimes I feel like it’s worse watching so many of my teams get so close only to fail at the last second than it would be if they were completely irrelevant. I’ve become hopelessly jaded and developed a Zen-like sense of cruel fatalism. That gut negativism reacts strangely with my inbred feeling of irrational wait-till-next-year optimism. Turns out both characteristics are genetic phenotypes of native Clevelanders. Philadelphia sports fans of my generation have coped with similar heartbreak and failure — though I get the sense that Philly harbors an angrier, more insidious breed of jilted fan than can be found in Cleveland. I mean come on, Philadelphia booed and assaulted Santa Claus.

But regardless of the way their sports-fueled anguish manifests itself, Cleveland and Philly fans can commiserate like no other two fan bases. Cleveland’s most recent hopes were crushed in last year’s American League Championship Series. This year, the Phillies have the best shot at a title: better than either city has had since the ‘97 World Series. Lately, I've watched the young Tampa Bay Rays brutalize the Red Sox, only to have the Sox come back miraculously as they so often have done (shudder). That is until the Rays snuffed out those miraculous hopes (unlike what happened last year between the Red Sox and Indians, but it is best not to revisit that). It’s clear the Phils will have their work cut out for them, but with a solid core of studly young players there’s reason for optimism.

Like many Clevelanders, I will be watching the Phightins closely, cheering them on to victory. Because then, and only then, can we as Clevelanders bask in the glory of our first championship since 1964 — the undisputed championship of sports misery.

*Phil Kehres is one of the authors of Excuse Me, Is That Your Blog?

(For other pieces about the Phillies, please see: "Baseball: The Phillies & Knocking Wood;" "Baseball: The Phillies Corner the Brewers & Sabathia," and "Baseball: The Phillies Head to the NLCS.")


Suzie said...

It's great to have scommiseration / support for the Phillies!

I still feel like I should explain the Santa Claus incident... the guy who was supposed to play Santa that day was sick, so they had a fan dress up instead. The fan had been tailgating since the early hours of the morning, and was wasted. He's quoted in the book "If Football's a Religion why don't we have a Prayer?" as saying that since he was drunk and did a horrible job as Santa, he actually deserved to be booed. And thought it was really funny.

Bradford said...

I'd like to toss a D battery of love and shared misery right back at all you long-suffering Cleveland fans. I'll even aim for a non-vital organ.


Turk said...

Appreciate the sentiment, Bradford. Hope you cans can pull this out as you head back to CBB.

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