While 2016 is now upon us, many of you are still mistakenly writing “2015” on your checks. I can’t speak to why you’re still using checks in 2016, but I feel the new year is a ripe opportunity to reflect on the important Cleveland sports anniversaries and milestones that 2016 will bring. Let us walk down memory lane and stare in disbelief at the calendar unsure how 20 (or more) years have passed already.
2011 (5 years): March 29 – Cavaliers defeat LeBron’s Miami Heat. Knowing what we know now, it’s easy to have mixed feelings about this game. In the moment, however, beating the Heat and traitorous LeBron James felt like something Cleveland deserved. The Cavs had already endured a 26-game losing streak that season and it was clear that recovering from James’ departure would take a while. Cleveland led the late March contest wire-to-wire as Cavaliers dropped power dunks and rained threes. Play-by-play man Fred McLeod absolutely nailed the final statement as the clock expired. “There is no heat in Cleveland in the month of March; we like it that way!”
2006 (10 years): May 5 – Damon Jones’ Game 6. In their first playoff appearance in eight years, the Cavaliers drew their longtime rival Washington Wizards in the first round. Up three games to two, Cleveland had a chance to take the series in a road Game 6. Late in overtime, head coach Mike Brown inserted an ice cold Damon Jones into the game for the Cavs’ final possession. Improbably, the ball found its way to Jones in the corner. The self-proclaimed greatest shooter in the world calmly knocked down the three to give Cleveland a 114-113 victory. Giddy off Jones’ bucket, it’s easy to forget that Caron Butler managed to position himself for a makeable three-point attempt at the win. Happily it bounced off, and the Wine and Gold earned their first playoff series win in 13 years.
2001 (15 years): August 5 – The Impossible Return. Let’s call this like it is; the Indians had no business winning this game. The Seattle Mariners led 14-2 at the seventh inning stretch and in that moment had a 100-percent win expectancy, per Baseball Reference. The comeback started so slowly it was hard to recognize it as a comeback. Three runs in the seventh seemed nice, four more in the eighth was a slight saving of face, but down five in the bottom of the ninth is hardly the stuff dreams are made of. Remember when Russell Branyan whiffed for the second out? All Cleveland had going for it was Eddie Taubensee on first from a leadoff single. When Omar Vizquel cleared the bases with his two-out triple a few batters later, I could hardly believe the fight the team was showing. ESPN no doubt counted their lucky stars that the Sunday Night Game of the Week flipped from snoozer to can’t miss. Lastly, props eternal to Jolbert Cabrera for being the answer to the trivia question “Who knocked the game-winning hit in the 11th inning?”
1996 (20 years): October 4, Indians win ALDS Game 3. A year after winning the American League pennant, most baseball insiders expected Cleveland to not only return to the Fall Classic but also claim the Commissioner’s Trophy. The Tribe won 99 games and the AL Central, but fell to the Baltimore Orioles in four games in the ALDS. Cleveland’s lone playoff win of the season featured a powerful seventh inning grand slam from Albert Belle. Cleveland did not know it at the time, but that would be the last hit Belle would record playing for the Indians.
1991 (25 years): October 4. A scrawny 21-year-old left-handed hitter gets a hold of one in Yankee Stadium. He trots the same bases that Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle wore down while enjoying his first round tripper of his major league career. While the young man would only connect on one tater that season, he would add another 611 dingers before hanging it up. But on that night, Jim Thome was just a young third baseman trying to make it in the bigs. The Indians won the game, 3-2.
1986 (30 years): Cleveland State Vikings reach Sweet 16. In their 55th year of basketball, the Cleveland State Vikings qualified for their first NCAA tournament by merit of their AMCU-8 Tournament Championship. The Vikings received a No. 14 seed and shocked the basketball world by upsetting the No. 3 seed, Bob Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers. CSU kept on rolling through St. Joseph’s to reach the Sweet 16. Cleveland State gave Navy all they could handle, but eventually fell to David Robinson’s team, 71-70. Regardless of the finish, the Vikings energized the area, and made them notice CSU basketball.
1981 (35 years): January 4 – Red Right 88. You guys want to talk about this one? Me neither. Next!
1981 (35 years): August 9 – Cleveland hosts the MLB All-Star Game. Delayed by the 1981 players’ strike, the Midsummer Classic kicked off the second half of the baseball season. Fifteen future Hall of Famers suited up during the contest, which the National League won, 5-4. Tribe catcher Bo Diaz struck out in his only plate appearance; pitcher Len Barker, he of the perfect game in the same year, pitched two perfect innings.
1976 (40 years): April 29 – The Miracle of Richfield. The Cavaliers qualify for their first postseason appearance in 1976 and draw the Washington Bullets. A tight, back-and-forth series comes down to Game 7 at The Coliseum in Richfield.
So much awesome in a single clip. Dick Snyder’s running layup, Washington somehow managing to get off a decent tying look in the dying seconds, fans rushing the floor as if it were a college game. While a series winning shot is great, the “Miracle” label seems a bit odd when you consider it was an Eastern Conference Semifinal. Still, the Cavs made playoff noise for the first time, and put Cleveland basketball on the map.
1976 (40 years): Professional hockey arrives in the Forest City. While Cleveland enjoyed a number of minor league hockey teams throughout the years, in 1976 the National Hockey League bestowed a team upon Cleveland – The Barons. Honoring the original Barons, the NHL iteration played at Richfield Coliseum and failed to develop a large following in Ohio, leaving after only two seasons. While the Barons failed to catch on long term, they remain the only NHL team to have called northeast Ohio home.
1971 (45 years): The Cavaliers wrap up their first season in the NBA with a dismal 15-67 record. More importantly, Dick Fraser and Larry Morrow write one of the sexiest songs in the history of professional sports. “Come on Cavs” should play before, during, and after every Cavaliers home game until the sun envelops the earth. Somewhere between the vintage seventies rattle and the female vocalists responding to the verses lies an exquisite musical experience. The best part may be the promise of how “The Cavs will make it happen and rally two by two.” The songwriters could sense the Cavs would trail on the scoreboard, and more importantly offer an important snapshot from a time when the three-point shot did not yet exist.
1966 (50 years): August 14, The Beatles play Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Over 20,000 fans turned out to watch the Fab Four play on the lakefront. The Indians, on the other hand, would draw a similar or larger size crowd only 10 times all season. We also remember that year as the summer Sam McDowell learned to spontaneously immolate fastballs.
1964: Bonus! 52 year anniversary of Cleveland’s last professional sports championship.
As the poet said, “Life moves pretty fast sometimes. If you don’t stop and take a look around, you might miss it.” Over time, seasons merge together and memories of drizzly April baseball or awful December football fade away. As for the good memories? Those remain evergreen — if we let them. Sometimes it helps to take stock of the passing years, not only as a testament to the globe spinning, but also in the context of how we have changed. Reflection is a cornerstone of growth. So as you go through 2016 remember the good times from years past and look forward to the promise of good times to come.