Yes, I am fine. (thanks for the “TD, step away from the ledge” email I got from you Denny, 2 minutes after the game. Nice touch). If you read my NCAA Tournament piece from Thursday, you know what I am talking about. See, I am a Kansas grad. Yeah, go ahead, pick me apart. Lets just get it out of the way.
My team was #1 in the country the majority of the year and failed to make it out of the opening weekend. It’s the first time that a #1 seed has had that happen to them since 2004. Many are calling Northern Iowa’s 69-67 win over my beloved Jayhawks the biggest upset in tournament history. Everyone’s national champ pick couldn’t even make it to the Sweet Sixteen. Let me have it. I can take it.
The worst part of it is that everyone who knows me knows how passionate I am about KU basketball and for the most part, I’m the only KU fan that many of my friends know, especially in Cleveland. So now I get to walk around town and everywhere I see people they can give me the obligatory “your team killed my bracket” routine. That should be fun. However, I will be fine. I’ll deal with it. It’s not like I didn’t grow up in Cleveland with losses so brutal they live on by specific names.I’m 34 years old. I am old enough to remember Red, Right, 88 (well, not well, but I remember my father coming home from the game ready to kill someone). I was at the old stadium for “The Drive.” As long as I live I will never forget Brian Brennan’s 4th quarter TD to give the Browns a 20-13 lead and jumping up and down with my brother screaming “we’re going to the Super Bowl! We’re going to the Super Bowl.” Then probably an hour later being stuck in a miserable parking lot in dead silence in our car after John Elway ripped our hearts out. My father didn’t put on the radio. He didn’t speak. Nobody said a word the entire time.
I remember exactly where I was a year later, in Ellicottville, New York, watching when Earnest Byner was stripped of the football just a yard shy of the endzone by Jeramiah Castile. Again, we sat in stunned silence. Was this really happening to us again?
Little did I know there would be more.
Again, I was lucky enough to be in attendance for another classic Cleveland disaster moment – The Shot. Yes, I was there when Michael Jordan hit the famous jumper over Craig Ehlo that ruined what was thought to be at the time, the greatest Cavs team in their history. Because the Coliseum essentially had one exit, our strategy was always the same – the second the game ended, sprint to the car. This one was especially fun, seeing as though my heart had just been ripped out of my chest (again) by another all time great in his sport, Michael Jordan.
Fast forward to March of 1997, when Kansas was the #1 team in the country from the beginning of the season. They entered the tournament 32-1, with their only loss in double overtime at rival Missouri. This team included future NBA players, Paul Pierce, Raef Lafrentz, Jacque Vaughn, and Scot Pollard. They rolled seemingly everyone in their path, until the Sweet Sixteen matchup with Arizona, who finished fifth in the Pac-10 but got it all together at the right time. They stunned the Jayhawks and the nation 85-82 on their way to winning a National Title, knocking off three #1 seeds in the process.
I took this one extremely hard, because I thought this was it. I was finally going to get my first ring. My college buddies all blamed me and my Cleveland ties.
I had to wait just seven more months for another seminal moment in my sports loving lifetime. This time, it involved my top sports passion, the Indians. The ’97 Tribe was well on its way to being the Team of Destiny. Everything during that playoff run pointed to Wahoos having the magic on their side. Sandy Alomar’s homer off of Mariano Rivera while facing elimination. The wild finishes in the Baltimore series (including Omar Vizquel’s botched squeeze play). Chad Ogea’s two hits and masterful pitching in the game six win in Florida to force game seven.
In my apartment in Lawrence, Kansas, I sat to await what I thought would be the greatest moment of my life at the time. The Indians were finally going to win a World Series and end this city’s misery. Well you all know what happened after Jose Mesa got the first out in the ninth.
What you don’t know, and can be corroborated by my wife (who was my girlfriend at the time) and my friends who were watching with me, was that when the game went to extra innings, I became violently ill. After the ball went passed Charlie Nagy’s glove, I shut down. I went into my bedroom and layed there. Next thing I know, the room began to spin. I ran into the bathroom and began to throw up. Not proud to say it, but this story is all true. (I promised my wife I’d leave out the part where I took a shower and began to sob uncontrollably).
What a year 97 was for me, huh?
In 2004, reality set in. My father passed away just one month after being diagnosed with throat cancer. It really put sports losses into perspective for me. They are no longer life and death for me. Do they still hurt? Of course they do. But you will never see a “TD Tribe 97″ reaction out of me ever again. That is why the Cavs loss to Orlando in the Eastern Conference Finals didn’t affect me nearly as much as it would have 10 years ago.
The truth is, when you have been a Cleveland sports fan as long as I have, you live with these losses. They are in our DNA. We have been through so many for so long without our team winning the big one, that its ingrained in us. This is what makes us tough in this town. We ban together as one with our impending doom.
Obviously I am stunned by the loss. This is yet another in the pantheon of horrific losses for my teams. But I am fine this morning. More importantly, my daughter will be born sometime in the next seven days and Ali Farokmanesh’s three should be out of my head completely by then.