Commentary

Readers respond: We're still in pain

Originally Published: February 3, 2010
By Bill Simmons | ESPN.com

Friday's column about Level 1 losses and tortured fan bases generated a ton of feedback. In this installment, readers weighed in with additional thoughts about their cities and teams that were chosen for the "15 Most Tortured" list. For e-mails about team omitted from the top 15, click here.

MORE ON THE JETS

Simmons, are you kidding me? The last devastating Jet loss was in 1986? I was 4 years old that year, and there have been AT LEAST three games since then to consider.

How can you possibly forget the 2004 AFC divisional playoff game between Steelers/Jets, aka "The Doug Brien Disaster"? Scoring 17 unanswered points to take a fourth-quarter lead on the road against the heavily favored 15-1 Steelers (on a punt return and INT return for TDs, no less) only to have your kicker improbably blow the game TWICE in spectacular fashion? Did you not remember an inconsolable Curtis Martin -- who, to my knowledge, has never said anything worthy of a sound byte, ever -- in a wavering voice, interrupting an NBC announcer's postgame question with the words "We left blood on that field today," walking away as tears began to stream down his face? Have you ever had to call your mom from your college dorm and tell her that the only person to ever break your heart was a guy named Doug?

And I won't even bring up the catastrophic effect that the Dan Marino's fake spike had on the psychological development of every Jets fan in the N.Y. metro area. We lost every game the rest of the season and ushered in the Rich Kotite era. I can't even write that without wanting to set myself on fire.

Oh, and by the way, thanks for bringing all of this up again. Jerk.
--A.K., New York, N.Y.

Thanks for the column and the recognition. You left out one factor. We Mets-Jets-Isles fans have had to endure about a zillion (OK, eight) championships from our CROSSTOWN rivals since our last title in 1986. At least in Boston, you were more or less surrounded by fellow sufferers, and Cubs fans only had to deal with one White Sox title. We're constantly surrounded by our victorious enemy. You have no idea how soul-crushing that is. Yeah, the four Islander titles were great (better than great), but, ye gods, how long do we have to pay for that???
--Nestornajwa, Levittown, N.Y.

MORE ON THE KNICKS

Thank you so much for allowing me to relive the Charles Smith blocked shot. After that game (I was 15) I tore up my Air Jordan/Hare Jordan shirt, urinated on it, dried it out and set it on fire. I thought I had that game buried in my subconscious. I'm going to run in traffic now.
--Nick Greeson, Raritan, N.J.

MORE ON THE CUBS

Full disclosure: I'm a White Sox fan. I've lived around Cubs fans my whole life, and lemme tell ya something -- Cubs fans are NOT tortured. First off, they aren't even baseball fans. They care more about being at Wrigley and remembering where they parked their BMWs. Seriously, call out a Cubs fan on not knowing anything about the Cubs. Ask them who their second baseman, right fielder or No. 1 starter is. I'd be willing to bet money that they would answer like this -- Ryne Sandberg, Sammy Sosa and Rick Sutcliffe. So why are they so clueless about everything that is baseball? Because they don't need to care. Wrigleyville is an amazing neighborhood with numerous bars, there are endless amounts of attractive women, and your team is the "Lovable Losers." Please Simmons, do me this one favor and forget about the Cubs being the most tortured franchise.
--JB, Munster, Ind.

Being a White Sox fan pre-2005 was nothing but misery. In a two-team town where both franchises sucked for decades, only one got all the publicity and hype from its newspaper owners. Only one team had a "curse" everyone knew about and tons of yuppie fans signing up to hop on the failure bandwagon. The White Sox had the Black Sox curse, a World Series where one of our outfielders got a face full of beer (Al Smith, 1959), and our best shot ever at a title thrown away by a strike engineered by our own owner (1994). Also, our historic baseball palace was torn down and replaced by the last soulless ball yard before Camden Yards changed how parks were built. We only got that after our owner threatened to move to Florida for years! All of this was going on while the Cubs fans looked down on us for being mulleted South Side trash.

The reason Cubs fans were tortured and we weren't is all due to the Tribune Company's marketing in print and on TV. It's romantic to go to the North Side and drink beer with rich white people and watch crappy baseball. There is so much "history and ambiance." It's a great way to feel like the common man, even though you paid $80 for a bleacher ticket. Over years this builds up and is the explanation for the intense bitterness that still resides on the South Side. I'm sure I'm not the only White Sox fan who will write in with this sentiment. What do you think hurts more, suffering along with a cast of thousands in book and song, or getting spit on while you lose? The sick thing is that I'm still scarred, and we got our title.
--Brent L, Chicago

Cubs? No way. Not when those same fans got to watch Michael Jordan at his peak. Not to mention the best single-season football team ever. It's like you said about the Bruins; no one feels sorry for them when the other teams have won six titles in a decade. Plus they wear their failure like a badge of courage, as if choosing this lifestyle makes them noble. It's an insult to the people of Cleveland and Buffalo.
--Mike K., N.Y.

MORE ON THE S.F. GIANTS

My dad (54 years old -- no titles his whole life) took me to my first game when I was 6 months old in 1980 so that I could "see" Willie McCovey, his favorite player, before he retired. I've been a Giants fan my whole life, Will Clark is still my hero, which is why I have a 22 in my e-mail address. The earthquake in '89 and getting swept by a roided-up cross-bay rival was pretty tough, but 2002 was just insane. I was in college and on the phone with my dad from the sixth inning on of Game 6. We freakin' had it in the bag. Dusty came out to pull Ortiz, then he gave Russ the game ball. Bad karma. You know the rest. ThunderSticks and rally monkeys still make me want to vomit.

So now we have Lincecum, a once-in-a-generation young talent, and our GM thinks it's a good idea to support him with an offense that includes a $12 million/year leadoff hitter (Aaron Rowand) who doesn't get on-base, Freddy Sanchez (who's had two surgeries in the six months since we traded our No. 2 pitching prospect for him), Aubrey Freakin' Huff in the 4-hole, Mark DeRosa in LF and Edgar Renteria's corpse at short. Guess how this is going to end? With Lincecum in pinstripes in 2014 and a 70-year drought and counting. Good times!
--Brian Aveson, San Francisco

Arguably a Level 1 loss?

No monicker?

Game 6 is all any Giants fan needs to hear to be reminded of the single worst championship loss in baseball history. No team had ever lost a five-run lead with nine outs to go in a World Series game of any kind, let alone a World Series-clinching game, and the Giants did it in the span of 18 pitches!

Another key component to Level 1: you remember where you were when you saw the game. With 160-plus games in baseball, we'll all suffer our share of heartbreakers that don't matter. But the Giants losing Game 6 of the '02 Series? That's my "when JFK was shot" moment. I know exactly where I was, who I was with, and could recreate everything that was said and done from the sixth inning forward. The worst part wasn't the ThunderSticks. The worst part was [the] next year when they started selling rally monkeys at AT&T Park because the wine-and-cheese crowd thought they were cute, and had no idea they were reminders of the Angels. I still can't cheer 100 percent for Bengie Molina.
--Bryan, San Francisco

Giants fans will always consider Game 6 of the 2002 World Series very simply as "The Game Ball." Dusty Baker messed with the Level of Losing Gods when he took Russ Ortiz out of the game in the bottom of the seventh with two runners on and one out (when Ortiz hadn't given up a run with a 5-0 lead!!!) and as Russ walked away from the mound, Dusty called him back and gave him the game ball. My jaw dropped & here I was enjoying what was going to be the greatest night of my life as a sports fan and Dusty Freaking Baker has to pull some crap like that?!?!? Dusty snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by declaring a game over well before it was. He might as well have pulled out a 2002 Giants World Series champion shirt and slapped it on Ortiz as he walked off. It pretty much would have been the same thing.
--Brad F., Oakdale, Calif.

Back during that 2002 World Series a Giants die-hard friend of mine was [at] the hospital because his friend had just had a minor stroke. He was listening to the World Series on the radio via headset in a waiting area, and when he heard it happening he started bawling. The doctors and nurses started coming up to him trying to comfort him to reassure him on his friend's health. Little did they know.
--Jake, Santa Cruz, Calif.

MORE ON THE MAPLE LEAFS

Let's go SAT style on this: the Leafs are to Toronto as the Sox are to Boston, Yanks to NYC, Canadiens to Montreal, Bills to Buffalo, and Packers to Wisconsin. I'm probably leaving someone out, but I can't think of another North American sports franchise that is as important and tied into the very essence of living in a particular place as these teams. The Leafs are discussed by, and in the psyche of, EVERYBODY in Toronto and the surrounding area. This represents somewhere around 25-30 percent of Canada's population. You cannot escape this no matter where you work; if you are a man or woman; young or old; at home, at school, at a dive bar or at Tiffany's. For a long time they were the only show in town where gloomy frigid winters dominate and that, until about 20 years ago, had Prohibition-style bans on serving booze after certain hours, Sunday shopping, etc. So, like Sox fans until 2004, we too have multigenerational neurotic issues with the Leafs. Oh yeah, for our last Cup we had to overcome a curse involving a plane crash and a missing body. This became a great song by the Tragically Hip.

It has now been 43 years and this entire town has been crying in their drinks the whole time. The Leafs need to be top five.
--Mike C., Toronto

MORE ON THE VIKINGS

Minnesota is going to have the lowest Super Bowl ratings ever this year. Everyone I know -- friends, family, people at work, the cashier at the grocery store -- has not let this game go. People used to complain about the cold, now everyone complains about the game, bringing in Larry Platt (aka "Ball-on-the-ground guy," 12 men in the huddle, the coin toss (TAILS NEVER FAILS), the Thomas fumble on fourth down, the phantom pass interference on Leber, the Meachem "catch." The terrible pain and regret of Vikings fans this year surpasses '98.

All of this got me thinking -- you missed two key points of a Level 1 loss: (1) the losing team was clearly better, which can only occur with the one-game playoff format of the NFL; (2) the losing team has a fast-closing window such that they likely threw away their only chance for glory. At least with the '98 Vikings everyone expected them to dominate again in '99. It helped take the edge off a little. Favre will come back next year, but the Vikings will be hard-pressed to get another bye and avoid a cold-weather playoff game. That's if the 41-year-old even makes it to January.
--Dan, Newport, Minn.

You missed so many other wonderful Viking moments: losing to a San Francisco team playing its first playoff game in 1970 because your Hall of Fame coach wouldn't allow heaters on the sideline in a below-zero game; the fact that we SHOULD have lost four Super Bowls in a row (except for the Pearson game); blocking Ray Guy's punt for the first time in his life to open the '77 Super Bowl -- and then fumbling on second-and-goal; with home-field advantage in hand in 1988, losing to 3-11 Green Bay on the next-to-last weekend; the five-in-a-row slide at the end of 1997; losing to FOUR 4-12 teams in 2003. Granted, you are empathetic, but you REALLY don't understand what this particular torture is like. Like the Red Sox were for a long time, they're never awful, they just never win. The Cubs have nothing on us; the Cubs suck more often than not. We are good enough every year that it is within the realm of possibility that THIS is going to be the year. Can you say that about any other franchise?
--Steve, Binghamton

Don't forget that the Vikings made the Herschel Walker trade that directly led to the Cowboys 1990s dynasty!
--Al, Los Angeles

If any Bills or Browns fan gives you crap about putting them below the Vikes, don't forget you didn't even mention the Cardinals and Nate Poole (who has gone the way of David Tyree) knocking us out of the playoffs and sending our hated rivals, the Packers, INTO the playoffs in 2003 on a TD when he only got one foot in bounds but took advantage of the "pushing out of bounds" rule that doesn't even exist anymore & all inspiring this awesome Tecmo Bowl remake of the play.
--Paul, Chicago

I will give you one compelling reason why the Vikings should be No. 1 on your list (ahead of the Cubs): It's still cool to be a Cubs fan. Anyone who has lived in Chicago will attest that Wrigley Field and the "Lovable Losers" are desirable affiliations for any fan. Try rooting for a team that the rest of the country mocks, wears garish purple uniforms, plays in the Metrodome and breaks your heart consistently. At least Cubs fans aren't embarrassed to tell their out-of-state friends who their favorite team is. In short, not only are the Vikings choke artists of the highest caliber, they are also crimping my style.
--David, Minneapolis

Just saw this Facebook quote about the Saints-Vikings game:

"I put my son to bed after the game and he said, "Dad, my tummy hurts and I have headache." I told him, "Don't worry, it's just your body adjusting to becoming a lifelong Vikes fan."
--John, Seattle

It is very probable that you do not know the fatal issue of Viking (Norse) mythology. According to Norse mythology, Vikings treasured being selected upon death to be brought to Valhalla. The problem is that according to that Norse mythology, all the Vikings will perish and Valhalla is destroyed in the great and final battle. Very pessimistic viewpoint that evil overcomes good  and that the Vikings will never win the great and final battle. I know that this is all just mythology and a bad luck, but it is interesting and frustrating.
--Michael J., Reading

Typical. Even in a competition to see which franchise is the most tortured, the Vikings finished & second. We can't even take the prize here.
--Tom, Minneapolis

MORE ON BUFFALO

Did you realize that many sports fans from Buffalo root for three of the teams in your top 10? Buffalo is about three hours from Cleveland and many fans come from more southern counties (like Chautauqua) so Buffalo is one hour away and Cleveland is about two. Because of this (along with the fact that Buffalo's Triple-A team was in Cleveland's system) most fans in the area root for these teams: Bills, Sabres, Indians and Cavs. We've lost the Braves (Clippers), our farm affiliation with the Indians, and at least one Bills game a year to Toronto. With that we have to constantly hear how unappealing we are and that the NFL can't make it here despite the fact we sell out the Ralph for god-awful teams.

Tell me there isn't a more depressing sports area to live in.
--Nick Holt, Westfield, N.Y.

Look at when the two specific events you described occurred: No Goal in the 1999 Cup finals and the forward lateral in the 1999 playoffs. These events happened IN THE SAME SPORTS YEAR!!!!! Worse, going into both games, we had a sense that victory in either game was absolutely going to lead to sports joy. As Game 6 wore on, I knew the older Stars team would NOT be able to recover in time for a Game 7. Going into the wild-card game, I knew that the winner of that game was going to the Super Bowl; the Bills and Titans just felt like the two best teams in the AFC when the playoffs began. Both games made me feel like the scene in "Goodfellas" when Jimmy and Henry found out that Tommy has been offed instead of made. Tommy, as he opens the door to the empty room and realizes what is about to happen to him, equals the teams themselves as the goal is scored/kick is being run back. Jimmy and Henry are the fans watching it happen and realizing there is nothing & NOTHING & that can be done about it.
--Marc L, Amherst, N.Y.

I just read your new column about the Levels of Losing and the entire time I was reading it I just kept thinking, "Yes, yes, someone understands." I think you should have your own daily talk show where you counsel devastated fans. I volunteer myself for the first episode because, as a lifelong Bills fan, our main shred of light on the horizon is the hope that our owner might soon die.
--Jimmy, Hamilton, Ontario

In your latest article you describe "rock bottom" for the Buffalo Bills occurring after the fourth Super Bowl loss. As a lifelong Bills fan, however, I would disagree. Rock bottom does not occur at the moment of greatest defeat, instead the spiral continues until the moment of redemption arrives. As such, as a Bills fan, TODAY is rock bottom. And tomorrow will be a new low. I think Peter Gibbons said it best.

Food for thought.
--Steve, Queensbury, N.Y.

MORE ON CLEVELAND

I will not quibble with your ranking- -- seems perfectly appropriate. But you didn't note one fact. Three of the teams are from the SAME CITY. As a long suffering Cleveland sports fan, I cannot tell you how perpetually disappointed I am. You never have an offseason from your disappointment. You have to be in shape all year, to assure you are in top mental health for the next crushing sports season. At least in some of the other cities (Seattle excluded), there has been some brief moment in time that ONE team won it all. The only solace that we could take in sports in the last few years has been OSU football. But remember, we have only experienced that joy after suffering through the reign of error of Coach Cooper and losing to Michigan every year. I will put Cleveland's long-term drought up against any city. The "mistake by the lake" is literally hell on earth for its sports fans.
--Charley J, De Pere, Wis.

I was just reading your new column about tortured fan bases, and I checked out the clip of Earnest Byner's fumble in 1987 -- a huge stomach punch for the Browns. Well, I am no Browns fan, but I feel for Byner and the anguish he must have had after the fumble. Then I looked at the replays again, and I realized it wasn't Byner's fault. It is all Webster Slaughter's fault. On the fateful play, Slaughter runs a half-hearted little pattern. He is hardly running. Then he just stops right in front of Jeremiah Castille and doesn't even try to block him. Of course, Castille causes the fumble, and the game is over. Sure, Byner was a little careless with the football, but all Slaughter needed to do was make a block or even hold up Castille a little bit, and Byner walks into the end zone untouched. Slaughter knew that the play was coming his way. There is no excuse for him. It is all Slaughter's fault. And to top it all off, after Byner is back on the sidelines, Slaughter walks over to him and looks like he is saying "I forgive you" when he knows it's his fault. We need to call this game the "Slaughter no-block game" and not the "Earnest Byner game." Let Byner rest more easily.
--Peter, Chicago

Hyperlinks inside your article add so much to the story. It's one thing to reference the heartache of the Byner fumble and for a reader to have a distant memory of it; it's an entirely different and more compelling experience to click the YouTube hyperlink and watch his long, slow walk back to the sideline. The Browns should be higher on your list, based on that clip alone. Name another Level 1 where the heartache is so compelling that fans from other cities feel like they got punched in the stomach. It can't be done.
--Andrew, Cleveland

Your pick of the Cubs is absolutely indefensible. Yes, when rooting for the Cubs fans may be the most tortured, but just when they start to get really depressed, you know what they think of? That's right, Michael Jordan.

Now picture this: You're in Cleveland, you're watching the best player of his generation -- and a guy who has the potential to be the best EVER -- play. You love him. He's a hometown kid. He's the only positive reason we make the news. And you know what we hear? "LeBron's probably gonna leave for MSG & or Wade & or Bosh in Chicago & or THE CLIPPERS" (yes, that's you). And what do we think back to? Jose Mesa, The Drive, The Shot, The Fumble, Art Modell & and we think "No, LeBron will stay & he's from here. He'll win us the title."

If LeBron leaves, I demand you move one of our teams to No. 1.
--Drew K, Cleveland

Cleveland has three sports franchises, and all made the top 10. Does that qualify Cleveland as the "tortured city"? I actually cringed as I read each blurb. The first time I read them, I just skimmed them because I still get physically ill thinking about the Denver Broncos and Jose Mesa. But I re-read the column again the next day, just like a gothic novel where the horror has a seductive allure that just draws you in. I feel my gut churning as I am sending you this message. The amazing thing is that you had an entire smorgasbord full of moments for each team to choose from. I could list them all but it would be too tortured-fan self-indulgent, even for me. We have nowhere to turn in Cleveland except to LeBron; the poor man has to save an entire sports culture, and if he cannot do it, it will never, never happen.

Also, has any other city had as many tragic deaths as Cleveland fans have witnessed (Ray Chapman, Ernie Davis, Steve Olin, Tim Crews, Don Rogers)? Late in this past Browns season my dad called me during one of their more wretched performances and actually apologized to me for raising me to be a Cleveland fan. During that same game my son called me from college to berate me for raising him to be a Cleveland fan (I kid you not, this actually happened). It's like an abusive relationship that just travels from one generation to the next. We all need therapy. "Thanks" for reminding us. I better sign off now before I lay down on my couch in a fetal position.
--Parmie Herman, Wapakoneta, Ohio

1969: Cuyahoga River catches fire.
1974: Ten Cent Beer Night.
1977: Indians sign Wayne Garland to a then-enormous 10-year, $2.3 million contract. He goes 28-48 before his arm falls off.
1980: Red Right 88.
1981: Lowest point of Ted Stepien era.
1982: World B. Free era begins, 23 wins guaranteed. In hindsight, this is akin to building a team around Ricky Davis.
1982: Indians trade John Denny to the Phillies for Wil Culmer, Jerry Reed and Roy Smith.
1983: John Denny wins NL Cy Young Award.
1984: Indians trade Rick Sutcliffe to Cubs. Sutcliffe goes 16-1 and wins NL Cy Young Award.
1986: The Drive.
1987: The Fumble.
1989: The Shot.
1989: "Major League" premieres in theaters. Producers insult Cleveland by filming baseball scenes in Milwaukee as Cleveland's Municipal Stadium is "too drab."
1992: MJ ends Cavs season again. Cavs become possibly the best NBA team to never reach the NBA Finals.
1993: Hurricane Andrew destroys Indians' brand-new $18 million spring training complex in Homestead, Fla.
1993: Steve Olin, Tim Crews die in spring-training boat crash.
1993: Indians are no-hit by one-[handed] pitcher Jim Abbott.
1994: Baseball strike ends Indians' first contending season in three decades.
1995: Art Modell moves Browns to Baltimore.
1995: First World Series appearance in 40 years ends in loss.
1997: Jose Mesa.
1998: Cavs sign "superstar" Shawn Kemp. He fathers a litter of children.
1999: Up 2-0 in ALDS, Pedro kicks the corpse of Cleveland fandom.
1999: USFL returns disguised as Browns expansion team.
2007: Up 3-1 in ALCS, Red Sox spit on grave of Cleveland fandom.
2009: Magic shock Cavs in Eastern Conference finals.
2009: Indians' back-to-back AL Cy Young winners, Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia, face off in Game 1 of World Series, neither pitching for Cleveland.
2010: LeBron leaves Cleveland, goes on to win multiple championships.

My lifetime: Three major sports, zero titles, one river on fire.
--Brad, Cleveland

You should change your scale for losing to the following:

Cleveland losing.
Everybody else.
--Brian S., New Rochelle, N.Y.

Bill Simmons is a columnist for ESPN.com. For every Simmons column, as well as podcasts, videos and more, check out Sports Guy's World. His new book, "The Book of Basketball," is now available.

Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) is the editor-in-chief of Grantland and the author of the New York Times no. 1 best-seller The Book of Basketball. For every Simmons column and podcast, log on to Grantland. To send him an e-mail, click here.