James Leroy Wilson's blog

Sunday, May 15, 2016

There are going to be outliers.

I knew Cleveland has a 50+ year championship drought for its three major league sports teams. What 30 For 30's Believeland made me realize is how rarely they even came close.

I won't detail these heartbreaks, but here's the rundown... 

1980 (NFL season): Red Right 88. The Browns lost a divisional play-off game. If they had won it, they would have had to beat the Chargers in the AFC championship game and then the Eagles in the Super Bowl. There isn't a compelling reason to believe they could have done both.

1986: The Drive. Had the Browns won this AFC title match, they would have had to face the Giants in the Super Bowl, and would have been underdogs.

1987: The Fumble: Had the Browns won this AFC title game, they would have played the Redskins in the Super Bowl and would have had an even chance of winning. This is the most significant football heartbreak.

1989: The Shot. Michael Jordan's Bulls eliminated the third-seeded Cavs in the first round of the NBA play-offs. As opposed to inevitably loosing in a later round to eventual champion Pistons.

1995 & 1997 World Series.  The Indians lost both, could have won both. One would have been great. This is how close Cleveland came.

1995: The Move: If anything, this was a "win" for Cleveland, because unlike other cities that lost a franchise, they got a team in a few years, and it was the Browns.

2010: The Decision: The Cavs couldn't attract free agents to make them better. That's why LeBron left. There aren't any "what ifs."

Of course, there were other disappointing seasons and playoff losses, but these were the gut-wrenching ones.

And the thing is, the Packers have just as many in the past 20 years alone. Five overtime playoff losses. Two others ending on the last play. And the 1997 Super Bowl loss. Without two Super Bowl wins in that span, Packer fans would feel cursed.

And that's because the Packers have had a solid organization (not to mention two long-tenured great quarterbacks) since 1992. No Cleveland franchise has had anything close to that level of stability for more than a few years at a time.

If they had, there would have been a heck of a lot more gut-wrenching disappointments. Plus a championship or three.

But I don't think this general organizational malaise is a reflection on Cleveland itself. I wouldn't find it an any more  or less attractive place to live than any number of cities. It just so happens that its three teams are running a little behind the averages.

Take the Chicago Cubs. It hasn't won a world series since 1907. Mathematically there almost has to be an outlier like that. One team (the Yankees) wins a bunch. Several others win more than the mean, some win an average number, some less than average, and some much less than average.

With the major leagues having 30-32 teams, an average franchise would win their conference about once every 15 years and the championship once every 30 years. It so happens that each Cleveland team is behind on championships in the last few decades. But in terms of its overall history, the Browns have won their "share" of NFL titles. Just not recently.

And any of it can change quickly. The Seattle Seahawks, which began play in 1976, didn't win their conference until 2005. Now, it has three titles conference titles and a Super Bowl win in its 40 seasons. It went from outlier to average in ten seasons.

Just as it's not surprising for a team to go over 100 years without a winning a World Series, so it's not surprising for a city to have three teams not win a title since 1964. It's random . It's like saying the Islanders, Mets, and Nets haven't won a title since 1986. That doesn't mean New York is cursed.

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