A fresh year brings ample opportunity for all of Cleveland’s beloved teams. The Cavaliers are defending their first championship. The Indians are signing stars with dreams of October glory. The Browns are officially on the clock with the No. 1 pick. Before we look ahead, however, it’s important to look back and remember the years, games, and players that brought us joy.
Here are some anniversaries the city will observe in 2017.
Five Years Ago – 2012: Ohio State’s Perfect Season
Urban Meyer’s arrival in 2012 shook up the college football landscape and let Buckeye fans everywhere dream of a return to national prominence. Fresh off a 6-7 campaign and playing under a postseason ban no one quite knew how quickly Meyer could turn the program around. As it turns out, pretty much immediately.
The Buckeyes won all eight conference games as part of a spotless 12-0 record as they won the Leaders Division. Ohio State knocked off Wisconsin in overtime, Purdue in overtime, and even vanquished Michigan in Columbus. While the team could not play in a conference title or bowl game, their undefeated run was the first since the 2002 National Champions, and even featured a temporary renaming of Lane Avenue in the team’s honor. Meyer’s masterpiece came in 2014, but his first season in Scarlet and Gray was a wonderful opening act.
Ten Years Ago – 2007: Cavaliers Win Eastern Conference
Since LeBron James joined the Cleveland Cavaliers, all the Cavs playoff runs have received a unique rallying cry or coda. In 2007 the slogan was “Rise Up.” The club qualified for the playoffs for the second straight year; as the number two seed the idea was they could make a run for the Finals. In the first round, Cleveland dispatched the Washington Wizards in a four game sweep.
The second round brought the six-seed New Jersey Nets to town. Cleveland handled them in six. In only the team’s second conference finals appearance it would once again be the Detroit Pistons standing in the way. The Pistons won the first two games in the Palace of Auburn Hills. The Cavs took Game 3 and, in defiance of Rasheed Wallace, Game 4 at home. In Game 5 LeBron turned in his first signature playoff moment: a Herculean 48-point experiment that proved hero ball can in fact win a playoff game. It was beautiful. Back in The Q for Game 6 Boobie Gibson made it rain, dropping 31 points to send Detroit back north empty handed.
While the Cavs posed as much threat to the San Antonio Spurs as life sized cardboard cutouts, there was something magic about that conference finals and winning is always more fun when it comes against Detroit.
Fifteen Years Ago – 2002: Browns Reach Playoffs
In their fourth season back from the abyss, the Browns’ expectations had quietly risen from “yay football is back!” to “don’t get hurt” to “maybe win some games?” to “let’s make the playoffs!”
In Week 1 Dwayne Rudd removed his lid just a liiiiitle too early to give Kansas City an extra play and game winning field goal. Despite that gut punching loss, Cleveland managed to win nine games and slip into a wild card spot after Week 17. Their reward was a bus to Pittsburgh where the Steelers would be waiting. The Browns could not hold a 24-7 lead and would eventually succumb 36-33. While the end was brutal, the Browns did offer the region some exciting Sundays by the lakefront, an experience current fans dearly long for.
Twenty Years Ago – 1997: Indians Win American League Pennant
The 1990s Indians will always hold a special place in Cleveland’s collective heart. While the 1995 club had a higher Q rating, the 1997 team was arguably more successful. Though the Tribe only won 86 games in a weak Central Division, the club caught fire in October. Cleveland knocked out the Yankees in a five game ALDS battle. The ALCS against Baltimore brought such highlight reel moments as Omar’s missed suicide squeeze in Game 3 and Tony Fernandez’s eleventh inning dinger in Game 6.
With the pennant in hand, the Indians met the Marlins in the World Series. Cleveland won Games 2, 4, and 6, but could not handle a one-run ninth inning lead in Game 7. Despite the sour finish the ’97 Tribe still managed to give Northeast Ohio a summer to remember.
Twenty-five Years Ago – 1992: Cavaliers Reach Eastern Conference Finals
Before LeBron, before the Big 3, there were the 1992 Cavaliers. No one would consider any of the team’s players a true star in the league but the combined talents of Mark Price, Brad Daugherty, Larry Nance, and Hot Rod Williams among others made the Cavs one of the finest teams in the Eastern Conference. In 1992 the Cavs won 57 games and finished third in the East.
The Blue and Orange dispatched New Jersey in four games in the first round then met up with Larry Bird and the Celtics in the Conference Semi-Finals. After three games Boston led the series 2-1. Cleveland stole Game 4 in overtime then won Games 5 and 7 at home to polish off the Celts. Game 7 marked Larry Bird’s final pro game; he went out on a loss. The Cavaliers dreamed of their first Finals appearance, but Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls would thwart them once again.
With the series tied 2-2, the Bulls won Game 5 in Illinois and Game 6 in Richfield to move on to the championship round again. Injuries and departures cut Cleveland’s long-term prospects, but the ’92 team showed what team basketball looks like.
Thirty Years Ago – 1987: Browns Win AFC Central Division
Bernie Kosar. Webster Slaughter. Earnest Byner. One of the Browns’ finest teams of the 80s went 10-5 (one game canceled) en route to a division title. Hosting the Colts in the Divisional Round, the Browns pulled away late for a 38-21 victory. The Conference Championship once again pitted the Browns against the Denver Broncos, this time in Colorado. We will spare you the specifics here; you know what happened.
We didn’t know it at the time, but that Browns club may have represented the team’s last truly remarkable season of the decade.
Thirty-five Years Ago – 1982: Ohio State Defeats BYU in Holiday Bowl
OK let’s put our cards on the table: 1982 was not a great year for Cleveland sports. The Indians were forgettable, the Browns got crushed in the playoffs, and the Cavs won only 15 games. While the Buckeyes were not world beaters in ’82, they still turned in a decent season. After a rough 2-3 start the Scarlet and Gray ripped off seven straight wins including victories at No. 15 Illinois and versus No. 13 Michigan. Ohio State met BYU in the Holiday Bowl and had little trouble with the Cougars winning 47-17.
Forty Years Ago – 1977: Dennis Eckersley’s No-Hitter
On May 30, 1977 Eckersley was a 22-year-old right handed summoned to start a game against the California Angels. Indians right fielder Jim Norris’ sac bunt in the first spotted Eck the only run he would need all day. Dennis was electric, striking out twelve and walking one in a crisp 122 minute game. Lost in the historic contest was Angels hurler Frank Tanaka. Tanaka threw a solid eight innings, but could not compare to the electric Eck.
The Tribe won 1-0 and the big righty got the biggest win of his young career.
Bonus! Fifty-five Years Ago – 1962: Cleveland Pipers win ABL Championship
Sports’ links to the past are a major part of the fun. As fans we have the luxury of reflecting on past glories and connecting them to the present. With hopes high in northeast Ohio there is plenty of optimism that the teams will give us reason to look back someday on 2017 and smile.