Browns, Cavaliers, Indians, WWW

Cleveland Sports After Catching the Road Runner: While We’re Waiting…

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Happy Thursday, Cleveland sports fans. No championships so far this year or wins for the Cavaliers so far this season after Wednesday night’s 104-116 loss to the Toronto Raptors, but while we’re waiting…

Let’s have a little State of Fandom chat today. Where are we at now as Cleveland sports fans? Watching the Indians wander aimlessly in futility through the series with the Houston Astros affected me in a number of ways. Outside of a few bursts of enthusiasm from Francisco Lindor, it was a totally uninspired effort from the Indians. Jose Ramirez, once a thrilling candidate for MVP of the American League, was as incognito as a green beret disappearing into the jungle. Two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber was shelled by the Astros lineup. Former slider-ing assassin Andre Miller pitched so poorly in his first appearance that he couldn’t be trusted to pitch in a meaningful moment again — just two years removed from being one of the most frightening bullpen weapons ever created by science and gleeful malevolence.

The three-game series had the feeling of euthanasia, the Astros gently and benevolently placing a pillow over the Indians’ face to hasten an end to the torment of a fruitless life chasing a championship. It was a relief. That may be more a reflection of the defending champion Astros than it is the Indians. But nevertheless, it was dispiriting. And if the Astros (down 3-1 after Thursday night’s loss) lose to the Red Sox or the National League champions, the Indians’ futility will seem retroactively more depressing. To be voided like a bad check by an eventual two-straight champion would be noble almost; to be negated by something less than greatness would feel immensely sad.

I didn’t expect the Indians to win the World Series or even beat the superb Astros. But I didn’t dream that they would be so ineffectual, so impotent, so feeble. What happened to the team that in 2016 played with such reckless fun? That played like it had nothing to lose? The 2018 version played like a team that had already lost everything, even though they’re abounding with talent (even if not the most talent of all the postseason teams). I thought playoff baseball was supposed to be fun. Agonizing and cruel and fun — but fun! Not feel so lethargic and full of malaise. It seemed like a chore for the Indians to go out and lose.

The drudgery with which the Indians lost has been underscored by the Browns and Cavaliers. The Browns are certainly improved, but not enough to compete with a talented and competent team like the Chargers. They may be able to beat bad teams (like the Jets) or occasionally dumb teams (like the Ravens), but not talented ones with a well-hatched game plan. The Chargers picked the Browns apart like a sadistic teenage kid dismembering a Barbie doll. The Browns might win five games this year. If the Browns did win five games that would be an astounding improvement. It would also be five games, and three-to-five games short of making the playoffs.

Meanwhile, the Cavaliers started a basketball season for the first time without LeBron James since 2014 on Wednesday night, in a 12-point loss to the Toronto Raptors. The game wasn’t without its bright spots — Cedi Osman could be neat! But their best player (Kevin Love) barely cracks the NBA’s top 30 (top 25, possibly) players in a league driven by top-10 talent. The Cavaliers’ range of potential results spans from one of the worst teams in the league, to maybe the … seventh seed in the Eastern Conference? They have some stalwart, veteran players and some young, potentially frisky pieces. But I think it’s safe to say with bullet-proof certainty that the Cavaliers will not compete for a championship this season.

Which leaves us with: Where are we as Cleveland sports fans? We may be facing our biggest existential crisis as a fan base at this moment. This is the first time we’ve been in this predicament for most of our lives. It’s true that Cleveland’s three major professional teams have collectively had slim chances of winning a championship for much of their cumulative history since the 1960s, but that’s not what I’m arguing is unique.

What I’m saying is that from the 1980s through 2016 (aka the ENTIRETY OF MY EXISTENCE), there was “the curse” for Cleveland sports fans to bear. The championship drought to be delivered from. Cleveland fans suffered before 2016 — but it was meaningful suffering. It was all in service of some grand purpose. Or so we told ourselves, anyway. Yeah, it was a lousy grand purpose: enduring failure to magnify the purpose of further endured failure in the vain hope of one day being absolved of that failure. But it was a grand purpose nonetheless.

Then 2016 came, the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead, and the grand purpose was fulfilled! We completed the mission! We shed tears! We watched parades! We drank Champagne! It tasted good!

Since 2016, we were still able to accompany LeBron James on his ongoing hero’s journey. It was still very quest-like: he was our brave king, I his loyal liege, and we were off to do the impossible: slay the ugly beast Draymond the Dragon and his rapacious, covetous Warriors. It may have been doomed, but it was a call to adventure and grand and filled with purpose and meaning and atonement all that good Joseph Campbell shit.

There had also been an air of inevitability with the Indians as well since 2016 — the Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, and Chicago Cubs all had their moments of deliverance within 15 years of each another. It took divine intervention for the Cubs’ salvation to come at the expense of the Indians. No team had gone farther without winning a championship as the Indians had in 2016.

Surely there would be a karmic debt paid to the Indians’ in due course? But that debt hasn’t been paid. Even the cruel loss to the New York Yankees in 2017 felt like a necessary narrative setback for a team on the cusp of redemption. But then the unceremonious dispatching by the Astros seemed to dispel that inevitability. That debt may never be paid.

Even the Browns “accomplished” their errand to bottom out. A perfect 0-16. Now comes the grueling, often unrewarding process of gradual improvement. LeBron left more than a bad basketball team — he left a vacuum of meaning.

Cleveland winning a championship was like the Wile E. Coyote catching the Road Runner. What does the Coyote (Latin name appetitus giganticus) do after that? Let the Road Runner (Latin name fastius tasty-us) go and resume the chase again? Eat the Road Runner, much to the horror of children anywhere? Quit the chase, having accomplished the ultimate goal in catching the Road Runner? If Coyote ever caught Road Runner (as he sort of did once), he would surely be elated, ecstatic, and feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment. But after that subsided, Coyote would have to decide whether it made sense to keep torturing himself to pursue the Road Runner. He smashed, crushed, and exploded himself for years, and for what? All to catch that damn bird.

Which is where we are now as Cleveland fans. Sure, we keep chasing the championships — but how zealously and at what expense? Like Wile E. Coyote, a new Acme Inc. invention will come along for Cleveland fans that will make it worthwhile to risk blasting ourselves into a rock wall for — but what’s that going to look and feel like? Is Francisco Lindor the pair of rocket skates that’s worth the launching ourselves into a canyon for? Probably. Will Cedi Osman be the dynamite crossbow worth the possibility of a backfired stick of TNT? Maybe. Will the second half of a Browns blowout against the Chargers be worth an afternoon of my time? Probably not. Or at least to me — maybe I’m alone here.

Of course, there was never anything truly grand or meaningful on the quest for the first drought-ending championship in 2016. It was always about having fun — which I certainly appreciate on most days of the week, maybe more than most fans even. But at least the story we told ourselves endowed those days with meaning.

There will always be another vessel to place our sports spirit in — Baker Mayfield flirting with sufferable quarterback play, Kevin Love and Channing Frye playing pranks on one another, Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor playing with infectious enthusiasm (in the regular season, anyway). But how does that feel? Will it ever be the same?

Cleveland and Wile E. Coyote always had a lot in common — the charming witlessness, the outsized ambition, the quiet desperation, the penchant for being exploited by deceitful corporations peddling defective products, the taunting adversaries, the propensity for falling to our deaths (figuratively). But Cleveland caught the elusive Road Runner. But that’s not the end. There will always be a new Acme contraption thrilling and dangerous enough to warrant risking our figurative Coyote asses for. Now that the original goal — or at least the goal for nearly a half-century — is accomplished, the motives are different. But it still has the opportunity to be just as, if not more, fun.

I can’t wait to find that next pair of rocket skates, put on a wholly inadequate helmet, grab a knife and fork, lick my lips comically, strap ‘em on, and light the fuse. But maybe now I have the foresight not to follow the Road Runner into a tunnel that looks suspiciously like it’s been painted on a cliff face. Like the Road Runner, maybe I have the wisdom not to fall for a “Free Birdseed” sign or another Browns rebuild.

Maybe after catching the Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote would have gained the perspective to skip a Cavs game to carve pumpkins with his family or read a book in his study during the tail end of a Browns blowout, or miss game 115 of the Indians for a jam session with an old classmate. Or maybe not. After all, Wile E. Coyote could, according to his own creators, “stop anytime — if he were not a fanatic.” Meep Meep!

The Calvin and Hobbes Strip of the Day. I’ve never laughed out loud for a comic strip like I did the first time I read this strip of the day. When Calvin says, “Quick! Drown it in chocolate milk!” I lose it every time. I also love his smugly satisfied face covered in peanut butter. “Won’t Mom be disappointed to see her little plot failed!” Girls are so weird.

And now for the random 90s song of the day. As often is the case, Thursday’s R90sSotD made its way to me through a YouTube rabbit hole, the universe’s most powerful channel of enlightening coincidences. It started with the ‘Nam-centric music video for Alice in Chains’ “Rooster,” which is jarringly intense. One thing led to another, and I was watching a live 90s performance of Guns N’ Roses’ “Civil War,” allegedly in Paris.

A deviation from Appetite For Destruction’s (1987) cornier hair-metal sex-and-blow vehicles like “Welcome To the Jungle” (“we got fun and games”) and “Paradise City” (“where the grass is green and the girl are pretty”), “Civil War” is GNR at it most literate, sincere, and moving. “Civil War” is the opening track to the second volume of the ambitious and mostly successful Use Your Illusion released in 1991, and … there’s actually a fair amount going on here.

First, this live version is bookended by a “Voodoo Child” tease from Slash as both the intro and outro. Cool. Then comes the album version’s intro guitar riff played over Strother Martin’s famous, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate” monologue from Cool Hand Luke. THE COOLEST. the whistle from “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” a popular song from the American Civil War. (Axl did like whistling prominent parts of GNR songs.) SUPER COOL. Then Axl Rose’s somber lyrical opening, “Look at your young men fighting / Look at your women crying … .” Matt Sorum starts to speed up the drums, and the opening climaxes with — what I’ll argue is one of the best individual moments in any song — Axl shrieking, “MY HANDS ARE TIED!” SO COOL I’M SO PUMPED LET ME GO BENCH PRESS THIS CAR.

It’s Guns N’ Roses, and hard rock, at its best: heavy, bombastic, stylish, long-haired, and combustible. After the elaborate intro, the song is peppered with mentions of Kennedy, sideways allusions to Martin Luther King Jr., and quotes from Peruvian guerillas. Slash is in full Cousin Itt mode, shredding aloofly, presumably before Axl “saw Slash’s soul leave his body in the form of a crow and fly away” after an OD. Axl wails transcendently, and he’s never sounded better. Sometimes it’s easy to forget Axl was one of the best rock-star vocalists we ever had.

Axl’s three outfit changes — a Confederate Stars and Bars coat, an American flag jacket, and a camouflage fatigue jacket — may not exactly send the anti-war message across with the desired clarity. But who cares, because the song is so awesome and who can worry about Axl’s wardrobe when he’s crooning and prancing around the stage in white, John Stockton-style short shorts. It’s a peak-GNR performance. As a side note, I once watched a man use a marionette with a skull for a head to perform along with “Civil War” on the streets of Bogota, Colombia. The guitar solos were surprisingly convincing.

My hands are tied
For, all I’ve seen has changed my mind
But still the wars go on, as the years go by
With no love of God or human rights
And all these dreams are swept aside
By bloody hands of the hypnotized
Who carry the cross of homicide
And history bears the scars of our civil wars