CLEVELAND -- As with San Francisco, the purpose of the Leitch Across America tour is to understand cities and specific areas in ways that are as close to how the locals see them as possible. These trips are learning experiences. It was legitimately refreshing to just sit and talk to Cleveland sports fans all week. These are passionate people, as eager to tell their stories as I am to hear them. I came into Cleveland knowing little more about the city -- which I'd never visited -- than the "Cleveland Rocks!" song and some "30 Rock" jokes. Now I find myself cheering for their teams when they play. I'm can't wait to get back here again.
(A special shout-out here must be given to the terrific crew at Waiting For Next Year, a site devoted to covering Cleveland sports from a fan's perspective. It's a deep-dive blog in the best old school sense, and I couldn't have had better guides all week. I thank Rick and Scott and highly encourage you to bookmark the site, whether you're a Cleveland sports fan or not.)
But now that our week here is behind us, we must get down to the sad nitty-gritty. We must take the lessons we've learned here -- subtle, complex matters of intricate detail -- and assign them an arbitrary number, for the purposes of ranking them against other cities. We have to classify these things somehow. It's sports. There has to be a competition.
As mentioned in our San Francisco installment, the ranking will come from six categories, each on a scale from 1 to 10. Three categories, because I think they're twice as important, will be worth double. The categories are:
Facilities (counts double). How great are the arenas/stadiums? Are they centrally located? Are they crazy expensive? How's the beer selection?
History. How many great moments has the city/area provided the sports world? What would we be missing if the city had never existed? How many championships has it won?
Icons. What retired players still have their jerseys worn by everyone? Who are the heroes everyone adores? Are they global icons?
Loyalty (counts double). When the teams are bad, do the fans still come out? Are there sellouts even when the Marlins are in town?
Passion (counts double). How loony are the fans? How devoted are they? If you took sports away from the city, how much would it suffer?
Recent Success. How relevant are the teams right now?
Completely Objective, Catch-All, Make Sure The Final Tally Is Precisely The Number I Want It To Be. I'm basically just doing this one to skew the numbers a bit, if I need to, though I'll give you some BS "intangibles" argument to justify it.
As with San Francisco, we kick it off with an Arguable Assessment of ranking the importance of the local teams to the area. Here's Cleveland's ranking:
- Cleveland Browns
- Cleveland Indians
- Cleveland Cavaliers
- Ohio State Buckeyes
- Cleveland State Vikings
- Michigan Wolverines
- Lake Erie Monsters
- Akron Zips
- Kent State Golden Flashes
- Cleveland Gladiators
Let's dig in:
Facilities (counts double). I didn't make it to Quicken Loans Arena - or "The Q," a name I sense ownership wants to catch on more than fans do -- but it's generally considered on the bottom half of NBA arenas. Progressive Field is lovely but has been surpassed in recent years by newer parks, particularly Pittsburgh's PNC Park. (That it's so empty lately doesn't help, either.) And FirstEnergy Field is somehow more generic than its team's helmets. Nothing here is particularly striking. Score: 8 (out of 20).
History. The Shot. The Drive. The Ernest Byner Fumble. The walk-off in the 1997 World Series. The worst betrayal of a fanbase in professional sports history. Geez, aren't any of these positive? Let's see: The Miracle of Richfield. Tony Pena's hit in the 1995 ALDS. LeBron James scoring the last 25 points of Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals. The 1964 NFL Championship. Score: 7.
Icons. Jim Brown. Bernie Kosar. Bob Feller. LeBron James (sorry). Marion Motley. Otto Graham. Albert Belle. Jim Thome. Omar Vizquel (I guess). Jesse Owens. Lou Boudreau. Carl Monday. Score: 7.
Loyalty (counts double). The Indians' attendance woes have been well documented, but I still think that's nothing a couple of years of winning won't cure. (Clearly, they've proven they can come out for games.) The Cavs have receded in the public consciousness since LeBron left, but they haven't disappeared (and might be good in a few years). None of that really matters, though. The Cleveland Browns could punch every individual fan of the team in the face the minute they walked in the gate, and not a single fan would ever leave them. They'd probably ask for another. Score: 18 (out of 20).
Passion (counts double). It's not always so easy to be passionate about Cleveland sports; the emotion elicited by someone running over you with a car -- the physical equivalent of being a Cleveland sports fan -- probably isn't best classified as "passion." To scream, you must be given something to scream about. Score: 12 (out of 20).
Recent Success. The Indians are in the middle of that lunatic wild-card scrum right now. The Cavs are 64-166 since LeBron left. And the Browns … well, the Browns. Score: 3.
Completely Objective, Catch-All, Make Sure The Final Tally Is Precisely The Number I Want It To Be Score. Again, it's not always easy to cheer for these teams. In fact, it never is. It's downright miserable. But dammit, this is their misery, and hell, they're proud of it. I was impressive by the fortitude and good cheer of every single person I met in Cleveland. If any of their teams ever break through, particularly if it's the Browns, they will deserve it as much as any fan base in the country, if not more. That's gotta count for something. Score: 9.
FINAL SCORE: 64 (out of 100)
That puts our scores so far at:
Those are both excellent scores; I'm a tough grader. In all honesty, I was blown away by the people I met in Cleveland. This is a proud city, full of fantastic people. I loved every minute I was here.
If I missed anything or got anything terribly wrong, please do email me or holler @williamfleitch on Twitter. These can only improve through you. Here's a look at all the stories and podcasts filed from Cleveland this week:
- Welcome to Cleveland.
- The Browns don't deserve their fans, but they'll have them forever, regardless.
- Dan Gilbert is doing what he can for Cleveland. Is it enough?
- Why can't the Indians draw fans?
This concludes the second leg of Leitch Across America. We haven't selected our next destination yet, but it will probably involve a city that (a) has a baseball team in the playoffs, and (b) has an NFL team. I'll let you know. Until then: Let's go to the map!