On Sunday night, something entirely predictable happened — hope gave way to crushing disappointment for a team from Cleveland. This time it was the Indians, who squandered a 3-1 ALCS lead with their two best pitchers coming up in the rotation and got clubbed by the Red Sox in three straight games. (And to think, everyone was expecting Joe Borowski to be the reason the Indians would fold this time around).
As has been well established, this isn’t the first time such a thing has happened to Cleveland. Don’t worry, I’ll spare all of you who might have grown up along the flaming shores of the Cuyahoga River all the sordid details of a past that includes no championships since The Beatles released their first album in the U.S.
And while Cleveland has suffered through a number of painful sports memories — think along the lines of that kid who gets his heart ripped out of his chest in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and then watches it light on fire — there is still some debate as to which U.S. city’s fans have suffered most.
Though Cleveland may seem like the hands-down winner, I feel it gets a run for its money from another member of the Rust Belt: Buffalo. Though Buffalo has fewer pro teams and a smaller population than Cleveland, one could argue that per capita there is no more painful place to call home.
So let’s break it down and take a look at which city has the right to call itself America’s Biggest Loser. (Don’t worry, that’s not a put-down. The first round is on us).
MOST RECENT MOMENT OF AGONY
Cleveland: Blowing a 3-1 series lead to the Red Sox despite playing a potential series-clinching game at home with Cy Young candidate C.C. Sabathia on the mound. And in case you’d like some salt with those wounds, finding out that Paul Byrd, he of the 88 MPH heater and generally considered one of the most likable guys in baseball, is being labeled as the sport’s latest cheat. We’re still not sure if it was better or worse that all three of the losses to end the season were blowouts.
Buffalo: Hey, we got our first Monday Night Football game in 13 years! And the Bills are depantsing Tony Romo and shocking the world! Uh-oh, here we go again… but no, T.O. couldn’t catch the two-point conversion. Phew, this one’s in the bag. Wait, they got the onside kick? The defense will hold. Romo’s got 39 turnovers tonight. A 55-yard field goal? Please. Ha! Dick Jauron called timeout. Let’s see you make that again. Oh. He just did. Is that Wade Phillips celebrating with the Cowboys? Didn’t he suck when he was here? Shit.
Cleveland: Red Right 88. The Drive. The Fumble. The Shot. Art Modell. Albert Belle. Jose Mesa. The damn Marlins. Those horrid uniforms with waves on them that the Cavs wore in the late 90s. The Drew Carey Show getting canceled.
Buffalo: Scott Norwood. Four straight Super Bowls… four straight disappointments. Thurman Thomas forgetting his helmet. Brett Hull skating through the crease. The Music City Miracle. Clint Malarchuk’s blood on the ice. Giving birth to the franchise that would become the Clippers.
Cleveland: At least you people know what it’s like to get to four Super Bowls. Not even the glorious sidewinding arm of Bernie Kosar could get us that far. And you know what’s the worst? Watching Bill Belichick being hailed as the coaching genius of his generation. All he ever did in Cleveland was run Bernie out of town. Where the hell were the spy cameras then?
Buffalo: It must be rough when faced with the prospect of watching the best player in the NBA for the next several years. We wish the Sabres could afford to keep their talent. Instead, guys like Chris Drury and Daniel Briere will seemingly always leave for greener pastures rather than bring the Cup to Buffalo. And now the very future of the Bills in our city is up in the air, since Ralph Wilson has stated that he won’t keep the team in his family after he passes on. Even worse times may lie ahead.
Cleveland: Excuse me, did you say something about possibly losing your football team? Let’s not go there. Call me back after they move, and then win a Super Bowl in their new city.
Buffalo: We share some common pain with Cleveland. Our baseball team is the Triple-A affiliate of — who else? — the Indians. But the way we see it, watching the Indians lose in the ALCS saved you from the more agonizing pain of losing on the biggest stage of all. You didn’t really think you would beat a team from Denver in the postseason, did you?
And at least your beloved Buckeyes are the top team in college football. Have you ever tried watching the Buffalo Bulls?
Oh yeah, one last thing. The greatest athlete our city ever saw is O.J. Simpson.
Cleveland: Wow. It really does suck to be you guys.
Our first trial resulted in a hung jury. As a result, Ron Jeremy was removed from the jury. Upon appeal, the case made it to the Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled in favor of Buffalo as America’s most tortured sports city. In the majority, Chief Justice Roberts noted that “Scott Norwood’s miss often makes me think of the ‘Butterfly Effect.’ For instance, it is feasible that if he makes that kick, he is the one sitting behind the bench making this decision, and Buffalo would be the toast of the American sporting world while Jim Kelly ran for presidential re-election, largely a result of Darryl Talley and Cornelius Bennett personally hunting down Osama bin Laden.”
In his dissent, Justice Scalia called Roberts’ logic “a stretch.” He also asked “Am I the only one who finds it ironic that Cleveland lost a nonsense competition to determine which city is the bigger loser?”
The runners-up: Of course, we are not implying that Buffalo and Cleveland are the only two American cities to suffer an inordinate amount of sporting pain. Here are some honorable mentions.
Philadelphia: People in Philly often wonder why none of their teams has won a title since 1983. Maybe it’s because they’re assholes. Like my second cousin Earl Hickey says, it’s about karma.
Seattle: The only team that has won a championship is the SuperSonics, who are about to leave town. And take Kevin Durant with them. Also, try not to mention Super Bowl XL to a Seahawk fan. Or referees.
Houston: Perhaps it is a product of playing in the same division as the Cubs, but people tend to ignore the agonizing nature of most of the Astros’ playoff exits over the years. And losing the Oilers, and as a result the second-coolest NFL fight song behind “Bear Down, Chicago Bears” has not exactly been patched up by the presence of the Texans.
Chicago: The Windy City holds the two teams with the longest championship droughts in their respective sports: the Cubs and Blackhawks. (Funny how I ended up a fan of those teams.) And the mid-90s Bears were a frustrating mess punctuated by Dave Wannstedt stroking his mustache after each loss. But the presence of a certain No. 23, combined with the White Sox providing the South Side with its biggest celebration since the repeal of Prohibition, keeps Chicago from going higher on the list.
San Diego: At a time when half the surrounding area is on fire and my guy Phillips is worrying about his boyhood home being safe, it seems kind of inane to point out the Chargers and Padres haven’t won the big one. Here’s hoping they finally stop this thing so San Diegans can start focusing on sports again.