Commentary

As Cleveland fan, I will persevere

Originally Published: July 9, 2010
By Geoff LaTulippe | Special to Page 2

LeBron James signAP Photo/Amy SancettaAn Ohio driver expressing his feelings on the back of his car in downtown Cleveland on Friday.

I know you're hurting right now, Cleveland.

I know this sucks.

I know it seems like we're the Phil Connors of the sporting world, waking up every day knowing we're just going to get our teeth kicked in again … and then watching helplessly as the universe does indeed deliver a steel-toed boot to our mouth.

I know it seems bleak. Maybe it is.

Maybe this is the thing that finally breaks us.

Probably, though, it isn't.

This is who we are. This is our master plan, our foundation, our milieu (look it up). What Picasso did with paint and canvas or Rodin did with bronze and marble, we so do with misery and failed expectations. Our skill with disappointment … we've crafted pain and suffering into an identity like no other. It's nothing short of pure, unadulterated artistry.

Add Thursday night to our legacy. Add it to the long list of heart crushers, fury espousers and tear inducers. Log it. Tally it up. Take a few minutes and let it sink in.

And then do what you always do: Pick yourself up by your bootstraps and shuffle on. Because Cleveland's identity is not merely that of the city that continually gets beaten.

It's of the city that, time and again, stands up from a beating -- knowingly risking further punishment and abuse -- and keeps going anyway. Why? Because, at the end of the day, it's not the number of fists you eat -- it's the resilience it takes to spit in the face of the guy throwing the haymakers. Knowing that you'll still be standing long after he's punched himself out. And you know what? We've been getting pummeled tirelessly since about 1964. The universe is bound to break sooner or later. You really want to give up now?

Nah. You don't. You can't tell me this is more gutting than all the other crap we've been through. Let me put this into perspective for you: Think about how you felt during and after Red Right 88. After the collapse in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series. After the Drive. After the Fumble. For God's sake … after the Move. You're going to tell me losing one guy is worse than losing a season? A decade? An entire franchise?

It's not. The sting might seem impossible to bear at the moment, but that's because it's fresh. It's not going to last. It might leave a mark. It won't leave a scar.

By the way, this is not some fatherly pep talk. This is not a post-loss locker room morale booster. This is an objective look at the way things are, the way things have always been. We've suffered through way worse. We've come back from way, way worse. I wanted a win for the city this time -- very badly. I don't care about basketball, and although I wish the Cavs success in the greater NBA arena … I don't hang on the balance of their fates. But I know some do, just as much or more than they might for the Browns and/or Indians. And, whether you're a basketball fan or not, you feel the Cavs fans' pain as part of a greater whole. Guess what? Surprise -- it sucks. Par for the course, that.

But Friday morning, when the whole debacle started to really careen downhill, I thought of an athlete who really defined the city's spirit: Steve Everitt. Everitt played a thankless, invisible position on a mediocre team. He was an odd cat who never cut his headbanger hair, reportedly skipped showers for days on end and spent his free time hosting a local radio show during which he played only death metal. And for God's sake … he went to Michigan, a fact that's turned lesser individuals into veritable plague bearers in Northeastern Ohio. Many Browns supporters applauded him for what he was: a hell of a hard worker who wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty, literally and figuratively speaking. But with the general Cleveland public, he didn't make much of a splash.

There were no candy bars named after him, no news conferences where he was introduced by the mayor, no building-wide posters erected in his honor. So it's not much surprise that he exited town to little fanfare when Art Modell stole the Browns from Cleveland following the 1995 season and moved them to Baltimore. Everitt quietly went from quasi-invisible Brown to quasi-invisible Raven. But what a lot of people took for granted was that Everitt had fallen in love with the city, with the team, with its fans. He bled Cleveland through and through. And, lest anyone had forgotten that fact, he decided to publicly show everyone just how much.

At halftime of the first regular-season Baltimore Ravens game, many Browns fans watching in tortured agony, Everitt calmly walked over to the sidelines, took off his Ravens helmet and tied a Browns bandana around his head. The gesture cost him $5,000 in the form of a fine from the NFL. It also immediately and irreversibly cemented him as a legendary figure in the annals of Cleveland sports.

In November 2007, reporter Mike Klingaman of the Baltimore Sun caught up with Everitt and asked him about his poignant, if largely silent, shot across the bow. "I had nothing against Baltimore or its fans," Everitt said. "But I'd left so many friends in Cleveland that I thought [the bandana] was the best way to thank them and to get in a dig at the owners. The Modells can burn in hell for all I care."

That's how you leave Cleveland, kids. That's how you brand yourself a hero. Without theatrics. Without buying into your own hype and nickname. Without a one-hour middle finger of a TV exclusive thinly disguised as a charity promotion.

Hey, maybe this sounds like sour grapes. I get it. It'd be easy to cast this off as if it's rolling right off our backs, our arms crossed and our attitude petulant, exclaiming falsely, "Eh, we don't need him anyway." The fact of the matter is that you don't lose one of the best players in the history of a sport and then try to pretend you're somehow better off. Because you're not, really.

Except when you are.

A lot of sports pundits spent Friday not only mewling over the NBA free-agency process, but speculating that this might be the ice pick sunk into skull of the Cavaliers franchise, the wave of the wand that would vanish the NBA from the shores of Lake Erie. And if this were a lesser kind of town, a place that hadn't already been hardened and buffered by defeat and loss, it's possible that might be the case.

Not in Cleveland. You think Cavs fans are going away? Whooooo, brother … you've got another thing coming. The fans who filled up Quicken for the past seven years will fill it up again next season, practically begging for you to take another shot at them, to rip something else away, to do your worst. And go ahead -- do your worst. They can take it.

Because, plain and simple, being a fan of a loser means more than being a fan of a winner. It takes a bigger person. It takes a better sports fan. Even though every loss, every bad break, every pang of heartache feels like a step backward, it's really just another plank in the path toward something no Yankees fan, no Cowboys fan, no Lakers fan will ever feel: a championship that erases eons-long suffering. A championship paid for with blind, oft-thankless loyalty. A championship that its fan base truly earned through unwavering devotion to a seemingly hapless cause. No, it hasn't materialized yet -- but it's coming. Oh, man, is it coming. And it's financed in moments like Thursday night's. Trust me.

And trust me on something else: We lost a battle, but we didn't lose the war. We wanted to keep a leader, an icon, a warrior who would put the city on his back and give his all to win at any cost. Instead, we were rejected by a spoiled kid who was more concerned with goofing off with his buddies and proliferating his image for financial gain.

We deserve a Legend. All we missed out on was a Brand.

And if you want my opinion … you gotta come with some bigger gloves than that to knock out Cleveland.

Geoff LaTulippe is a Libertarian, Phil Collins lover, Libra and writer of the upcoming Drew Barrymore film "Going the Distance." Follow him on Twitter at geofflatulippe.


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