Top 13 “Happenings” in Cleveland Sports in 2013

So 2013 wasn’t the year. We could sit here and bemoan the fact that we’re flipping the calendar again without a Cleveland sports championship, but what fun is that? Instead, we thought it would be fun to look back at all the good times we had this past year. These aren’t necessarily “moments” per se…more like “happenings” I guess. They stem the tide from individual moments, to developing stories, to things that blew up Twitter. I hope you enjoy it more than this championship-less year. Without any more blabbing on, here are the top 13 “happenings” in Cleveland sports for 2013…

Shout-out to the following events that didn’t make the list:

Jimmy Haslam Pilot-Flying J FBI scandal–Too dark and too fluid a situation to be included in such a happy column. Also I didn’t want to write about it. And it’s my own column…so you can’t make me.
Tribe bench mob–The four principle characters (Ryan Rayburn, Mike Aviles, Jan Gomes, and Jason Giambi) had such a profound impact on the Indians season that it’s tough to exclude them from this list. The Indians wouldn’t have achieved anywhere near the success they did without a huge hand from this group that by season’s end weren’t even really bench guys.

13. Re-Hiring of Mike Brown

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It hasn’t been all champagne and roses in the second stint from Mike Brown as the head coach of the Cavaliers. He’s had to deal with locker room confrontations, constant trade rumors, lazy players, rebellious players, players playing out of position, bad players, good players playing like bad players, and much much more. (We’ll get to some of these more in a minute.)

More than anything it’s just wild that we’re to a place where Brown is back coaching the team. When he was fired three years ago I didn’t think there was any chance we’d ever see him again on the Cavs bench. I mean, that stuff never happens, right? But this is Cleveland, where “that stuff never happens, right?” doesn’t exist. If you’re upset that Mike’s utterly atrocious approach to offense is back in Cleveland then the person you should probably blame most is Byron Scott, who did such a poor job of bringing along a young team and teaching them simple defensive concepts that he just had to get canned. In hindsight it might not have been all Scott’s fault. This collection of players might just be kinda dumb and generally bad at defense as even the guru himself, Coach Brown, hasn’t gotten consistently good work out of the guys on that end.

We still need to see a lot more of this season to know exactly how it’s going to play out and whether bringing back Brown was a good idea. I’m still going to rest and hope on the premise that Brown has never coached a team that by season’s end you could call “bad”. When allowed to finish a full season he has always had a winning record. That trend will be put to the greatest test this season because he doesn’t have LeBron or Kobe on this team.

12. Cavaliers Locker Room “Confrontation”

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Rumors about what happened in the Cavaliers players-only meeting spread like wildfire that weekend in mid-November. It all started when ESPN’s Brian Windhorst wrote that things got “contentious” during a Cavs players-only meeting following a blow-out in Minnesota. News started spiraling on the Twitterverse that had Dion Waiters punching Kyrie Irving in the face breaking his nose which was why Kyrie was wearing a mask the next game. People were saying that Dion wanted out of the team and had gone AWOL all weekend. This then led to loads of trade scenarios and people speculating that Dion may never suite up for the Cavs again and that the better question would be if the Cavs would be able to deal him or if they would end up cutting him.

After seemingly like the whole season was going down in a flaming ball of fire that weekend things settled down pretty quickly after that. Dion came back to the team and denied that there was an altercation and said that he was just really, really sick. The Cavs as a team started playing better eventually and both Kyrie and Dion are keys to the team’s success this season. We may never know exactly what happened in that meeting but it certainly caused quite a stir there for a few days.

11. Andrew Bynum Sweepstakes

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I’m not sure if you can really call it a “sweepstakes” because the Cavs may have been the only team seriously interested, but the signing of Andrew Bynum was an interesting and fun story to follow this summer. The rumbles about signing the banged-up big man began early on in the summer and were fairly dormant for a while. There were obviously pretty huge concerns about the former All-Star center after he missed the entire 2012-13 season with various knee issues. It didn’t help that there had been reports out of Philadelphia that Bynum didn’t work hard on his rehab and that he wasn’t interested in being part of the team. Safe to say that the Philly media painted such a bad picture of Bynum that he’s universally hated in City of Brotherly Love maybe more than any other athlete.

This happening though for me was more about almost like the crescendo that happened on Twitter when it was reported that he was signing. We all remember #BynumWatch! There had been talks, then murmurs, then reports about being near a deal, then it was really happening, then it officially happened. It was thrilling and exciting and probably way more so than it should have been considering that we weren’t exactly sure whether or not he would ever be able to play again. What was best about the deal though is the way that Chris Grant constructed it in such a way that the team held all the cards. Bynum would be getting paid as long as he performed, thus minimizing the potential risk involved for the club.

Writer’s note: I wrote the following paragraph prior to this past weekend’s events:

The jury’s still out about whether or not this was actually a meaningful move. Bynum has looked great at times and certainly has made his presence felt defending the rim. But I’m still not sure if running the offense through the post is necessarily a good thing for this team, especially in Bynum’s current state. Sometimes it feels like they’re forcing things by trying to get Bynum the ball and that he clogs things up a little on offense. I always enjoy watching the offense better when Anderson Varejao is in at center in place of Bynum. We’ll see as the season goes how this shakes out and what the Cavs decide about what kind of team they want to be.

The fact that this all changed so quickly is just so Cleveland. I’m sorry, I have to say it but it’s true. The great thing about it though is at least from the opinions I’ve seen, no one really seems too shaken up about losing Bynum. Maybe it’s because we weren’t sure coming in exactly what we would get out of him or maybe it’s because, like me, most people didn’t love watching the offense go through him in the post. Even if he never plays another minute for the Cavs and they have to cut him I still maintain that it was a worthy risk for the Cavs. There wasn’t a whole lot else they were going to do with that cap space anyways. The potential upside of adding even the shell of Bynum’s former All-Star self at a manageable cost for the team was a healthy risk. And who knows, maybe they’ll be able to work a deal for him like the one that Brian Windhorst reported this morning about a potential swap for Pau Gasol. Regardless of what 2014 holds for Bynum and the Cavs, it was still a fun ride even if it was short lived.

10. Chris Perez Weed Arrest

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This was so great. Beyond the fact that if you had to pick out a guy on the Indians team to get arrested for possession of marijuana you’d need only one guess to get the right answer, the details of the incident are downright hilarious. First of all, Chris Perez allegedly had a package of weed mailed to his house. Now I didn’t grow up on the streets and I’ve never smoked weed and I didn’t have many friends who did either. So I’m not super versed on how you go about getting weed and such. But even I thought it would probably not be a good idea to get illegal substances—especially ones with a distinct aroma—mailed to my own home. But the best part of the story BY FAR is that the package was addressed to one Brody Braum. Who is Brody Braum, you ask? It’s no one. Brody is the name of the family dog and Braum is Perez’s wife’s maiden name.

Simply brilliant.

9. Terry Francona Wins Manager of the Year

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With the way coaching has gone recently in this town it’s almost unconscionable that a guy as professional and skilled at this job of leading of a team is actually employed in this town. I can’t say enough, and will probably in the end say too little, about what a great job Terry Francona has done of managing the Cleveland Indians. I will probably always have issues with some of his in-game decisions and the way that he uses his bullpen sometimes, but that doesn’t detract from the real greatness that Francona brings to a ball club.

It’s great that the name of his position is “Manager” because that’s exactly what describes Tito best. He did a masterful job of managing the Indians in 2013. Maybe he looked even better because his predecessor was so terrible at it, but in a season where many teams would have and could have simply folded midway when times got tough, Tito got this team to ride out the tough times and come out on the other end even stronger. It is so impressive that he maximized the talent on this team and got them into the playoffs, especially when you consider how many “better on paper” teams missed out. Sure, it would have been nice if the season had lasted a little loner than the one-game playoff. But I didn’t even know if we’d make it that far honestly. And the credit for that goes in large part to Francona, whose Manager of the Year award was well-deserved. And at a time when everything on the other side of town with the Browns seems like such a mess, it’s a welcomed breath of fresh air to know that spring is around the corner and a competently led team is on its way again.

8. The Brian Hoyer Hype Job

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Ah yes, Mr. Adequately Mediocre himself.

If you’ve read me throughout the season you’ll know already that I’m not junior high girlishly in love with Brian Hoyer as many Browns fans are. I wasn’t blown away with his play in the two games. I thought he was fine. Good, not great. “Adequately mediocre” is the term I came up with to describe his play.

Look, everyone went nuts because he led a game-winning drive to get the victory in the Minnesota game. That’s wonderful, except that it got forgotten that it was Hoyer who turned the ball over three times which put the Browns in the situation where they needed a game-winning drive. Then in the Cincinnati win he didn’t really do much of anything because he didn’t have to as the defense dominated the game. Hoyer managed the game well and didn’t turn the ball over. Considering that the Bengals only put up six points he didn’t have to do much at all.

And then that was it for the local kid because he forgot how to slide and ended his season. And never mind that he did absolutely nothing in the Bills game but people are still crediting him with that win…championing him as going 3-0 as a starter. It’s possible that Hoyer, if given the chance, could wind up being something in the league. But there’s a reason he’s a career journeyman who was on four different teams in like a 13 month span. There’s also a reason he was No. 3 on the depth chart coming out of preseason, behind Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell. If he was so good then why didn’t he look like it in camp and preseason? No one was clamoring for him to be the starter. But then after he came in and won a couple games that all of a sudden meant that the Browns coaches were idiots for having started Weeden over Hoyer in the first place. I kind of just got sick of the whole love-fest because I didn’t see a difference-maker. I saw just a guy who can win you a couple games if his defense plays dominant football—which they did in those two games by the way.

You can call me a hater, that’s fine. I don’t care. If he comes back next season and wins the starting job over whoever the team drafts and takes the Browns to the playoffs then I’ll gladly eat my bowl of crow. But that’s not going to happen. Hoyer was nothing more than a comet. He comes in for a little bit and it’s neat and cool to look at. Then he’s gone and you’re left wondering what all the fuss was about in the first place.

7. Cavaliers Win the Draft Lottery

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I almost hesitate to include this because the thought of going back to the lottery makes me sick to my stomach. But winning it for the second time in three years was undeniably fun in the moment (even if the prize wasn’t much in reality). The fact that the Cavs with Dan Gilbert rolled into that stuffy room of no-clapping and no-emotion allowed with an entourage of fans, local media personalities, and rap stars was just awesome. And having David Stern there with his snide disproving face on the whole time made it even more wonderful.

The moment of winning was one of unbridled brilliance that you couldn’t manufacture if you even tried as the card was flipped and Tony Rizzo went absolutely nuts shouting praise for Dan’s son as if he had actually done something to win the top pick. Again, what made it so great was that the whole reaction flew in the face of the the charade that the NBA wants that event to be. And while, yes, being at the lottery isn’t necessarily something that you should celebrate because it means you’re a loser, you might as well own it and have some fun while you’re there. I mean, what isn’t fun about winning the lottery after all?

6. The Shock of Drafting Anthony Bennett

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Any time a selection can elicit this kind of a reaction, you know it was a shocking move…

Simmons reaction

This site was launched just before the Cavs won the lottery, so draft coverage dominated the early content of The GOAT. I spent a ton of time breaking down all the top prospects and weighing their respective places on the Cavs should they be the selection. I broke down the great debate between Nerlens Noel and Alex Len. We had seemingly covered every angle.

And then Chris Grant laughed as he pooped on all of our draft predictions. To say that almost no one had Anthony Bennett getting selected No. 1 overall would be an understatement. I was blown away and it cast me into such a fog for the whole night that I can hardly remember anything else that happened in that draft. I had broken down every one of the top players in depth except for Anthony Bennett. I just didn’t see how he fit on the Cavs.

Looks like I might have been right.

I understand why Grant decided on Bennett. If the criteria was “we’re going to take the most talented player and worry about fit later” then I understand how in a draft devoid of top-level talent that Bennett would qualify as “most talented”. Maybe the fit is just terrible and that’s why he’s looked so bad. Maybe he’s just out of shape. Or maybe he really is a tweener without a real position in the NBA. Whatever the reason it’s been about as rough a start for a No. 1 pick as there’s probably ever been for a top pick in any league ever. Bennett has shown some flashes of late that he might be starting to figure some things out so at least there’s hope. And if all else fails, and you really need some cheering up about the Cavs top pick, just go to YouTube and watch some his college highlights…

He really is a pretty talented player. Hopefully all he needs is for the calender to flip.

Speaking of flipping…

5.  The Weeden Flip

Weeden flip

It’s a moment that is forever etched in time, a statue that will commemorate everything that needs to be known about the Brandon Weeden era in Cleveland. There are quite a few things to like about Brandon Weeden as a quarterback. He led one of the most prolific offenses in all of college football before he made the jump to the NFL. He already knew about being a professional athlete having failed at played professional baseball before going to Oklahoma State to take up football. He’s always looking to make a big play and not settle for the check-down like previous disappointments Brady Quinn and Colt McCoy. But Weeden’s greatest attribute is undoubtedly that he has an absolute cannon for an arm.

When he chooses to use it that is. You see, Weeden’s greatest weakness is that he seemingly doesn’t know how to read a defense which causes him to hold onto the ball too long, which forces him to scramble, which isn’t something he’s capable of doing, which leads to him doing things like under-hand flipping the ball ten yards forward and about 15 yards laterally in an effort to, as he calls it, “make a play”.

The Weeden Flip has been deemed the dumbest play in the history of football by some. I don’t know if I’d go that far necessarily but it’s certainly in the running for Top 10. I still maintain that even good QBs make really dumb throws from time to time (like this one from the great Andrew Luck).

But the best thing might be that Weeden went on to make underhand flips throws like two or three more times during the season. It was almost as if he was just trolling Cleveland fans at that point. I really wanted to make this the top moment of the year, but I chickened out and went with some more “happy” things instead.

4. The Rise of Kyrie Irving and Taking over All-Star Weekend

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So this one probably actually started before the calendar flipped to 2013 but I don’t care, I’m running it anyways. Kyrie Irving’s stardom really took off last season as the nation began to finally to take notice of what a great player he truly is. The late game heroics, the dazzling dribbling, the clutch shots…people who follow the NBA began to really take notice of the unique skills that this kid possesses. Among the contingent of those who own NBA League Pass subscriptions the Cavaliers, despite their lousy record, became appointment viewing during the fourth quarter because it seemed like every night Kyrie was doing something that was so awesome that you just had to witness it live. As a means of reminiscing, allow yourself to enjoy some GIF’s of the dazzling Kyrie Irving…

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An integral element in the rise of young Kyrie was his presence at All-Star Weekend. With all the great players gathered together and so many things to talk about, only one player had everyone buzzing…Kyrie.

He started off in the Rising Stars Challenge putting on a display that was capstoned by this ankle-breaking move on Brandon Knight…

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Irving crossover 102

Irving crossover

He followed that up on Saturday night by “getting buckets” and winning the 3-Point competition.

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And then came the grand finale: The All-Star Game. Despite only being in his second season and not even voted in as a starter, it was undeniable that Kyrie belonged on that court with all those great players. He wasn’t the best player in the game or even the best point guard. But he found ways to shine nevertheless.

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By the end of the weekend there was no denying who had “won the weekend”…it was only Kyrie Irving. The nation as a whole was getting their first long extended look at the young star and they liked what they saw.

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He still has some growing to do as a player and especially as a leader. But just about every night when the Cavs take the floor, with very few exceptions, the team from Cleveland has the best player in the house.

And everyone knows it now.

3. Jason Giambi Walk-Off Homer to Save the Season

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This moment to me meant so much more than actually going to the playoffs, because it was the moment when that dream actually started to turn into a reality.

It was everything that lead up to the moment that made it as great as it was. It was September 24 and the Indians were clinging to a one-game lead in the Wild Card race over the Rangers who were playing the hapless Astros at the time. So the Indians needed to win to keep their hold on the race.  With a 3-2 lead in the ninth over the White Sox, Chris Perez in all his all fat, sloppy, unkempt glory came out and promptly gave up two home runs and the lead. This had been just the latest in a string of terrible appearances for the troubled closer and his untimely collapse led to fans going absolutely nuts on Twitter. It was so depressing. It felt like the season was slipping through our hands like they’d been greased by Perez’s hair.

Then Jason Giambi happened.

There was just something special about the oldest man of the team, someone who by all normal statistical evaluations was having a terrible year, coming through in the biggest moment. Giambi was mostly bad this past season with the amazing exception that he did have two walk-off homers. This one late in the season meant more than anything else and gave him a place on this team and in the hearts of Tribe fans that won’t soon be forgotten.

It was the home run that brought so much hope to a city that had endured nothing but sports misery for several years now. It meant that the dream of the playoffs would likely become a reality. If there’s ever been a  “Believeland moment”, this was certainly one of the best.

2a. Rob Chudzinski’s Firing after only One Season

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I had to add this one in here at the last moment. I don’t want to spend too much time on it because it’s still so fresh and I just ranted about it wrote about it yesterday.

My buddy Slim, a Raiders fan, asked me on Sunday afternoon what was up with the Chud rumors and noted that canning him after only one season was “Raider like behavior”…ouch. As crazy, terrible, and dysfunctional as the Browns have been since 1999, firing the coach after only one season was a new one.

Whether you fall on the side of being in favor of the move or not, what is undeniable is that the brunt of the blame for this latest failure of a season has to fall on the front office and Joe Banner in particular. You can’t come in claiming to be smarter than everyone that’s come before you, promise that things will be different and better, promise that “the same old Browns” are gone, hire a new head coach that no one else interviewed, fire him after just one season, and not expect to get lambasted for it. The fact is that if not for No. 2b on this list the 2013 Browns season was a complete waste of everyone’s time, money and energy. They came in without a real answer at the most important position in sports, had a lack of depth because they were saving cap space, and traded assets that would have improved the team now for future help. Every move they made pointed to gearing up for 2014. So how can you possibly be shocked that the players tailed off late in the season? And how do you expect to attract a good coach when you’ve established that you’ll get canned if you end the season a bad stretch?

Look, I realize that the firing is completely warranted given that the team lost ten of its last 11 games. You don’t get a pass even if you’re a first-year coach. But once it became clear that the team had no intention of developing Weeden the season was a wash for me. After that I was completely focused on the 2014 Draft and the hopes of getting a franchise quarterback. So the collapse of the season didn’t bother me one bit. Evidently Banner and Haslam have higher standards.

I didn’t love Chud but I didn’t really have any issues with him either. I didn’t see incompetence like I saw under Pat Shurmur. I’ll I saw was a guy coaching a team that didn’t have a real quarterback and after Weed 2 made a move that clearly said “we’re focused on next year already”. I don’t blame the guy for only winning four games is all I’m saying.

With the number of other, probably more appealing, head coach openings around the NFL, I sure hope that Joe Banner and Jimmy Haslam know what they’re doing. I’m just going to leave the following tweet here without any further comment…

The reason I decided to keep the Chud firing out of the top spot is because we see coach firings in Cleveland all the time. These final two happenings, however, were/are especially unique.

2b. Josh Gordon Blowing Up the NFL

Josh Gordon, Aqib Talib

 

The fact that the closest thing that the Cleveland Browns have had to “star” player since their rebirth in ’99 is a left tackle and a kick returner really encapsulates the depths that this franchise has sunk to.

But not any more!!!

The Browns finally have a player that fantasy owners can get excited about. And even more importantly they finally someone that Browns fans can get excited about…as long as he stays off the drugs of course. It’s insane in retrospect that some people were willing to trade Josh Gordon for like a third round draft pick as if he was just some dude. Granted, not even his biggest supporters could have seen a record-breaking stretch that would catapult Gordon to become the NFL’s leading receiver (despite missing two games no less).

I could go on and on about how amazing it is to watch Flash Gordon play football. But let’s be honest, it’s New Year’s Eve and you’d rather watch GIF’s of amazing plays than read my prose. So here you have it…

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1. The Release of the Draft Day Trailer

Just kidding…

1. The Trent Richardson Trade

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I don’t even know where to start, so let’s just look at some of the Twitter reaction after the trade was made…

Colts owner Jim Irsay was a little excited about it…

Matt Miller of Bleacher Report was especially feisty about the trade…

And my favorite…

Going into the final week of the season Richardson is averaging 2.4 yards per carry in Indy compared to 3.4 YPC that he had the first two games before the trade, which brings him to a cool 3.0 for the season. How about those “wide open running lanes”, Matt?

The best part was that even when it was clear that Richardson is shaping out to be a bust, there were still people defending him…like Peter King…

I haven’t heard anyone defend Richardson in a while, so it seems like everyone has finally come to their senses.

I’m wrong about a lot of things…like Brandon Weeden for instance. But I feel so thoroughly vindicated by the poor play of Richardson. I wasn’t a fan of him when the Browns drafted him. I was consistently critical of his poor running when he was in Cleveland. And I loved the trade. And I was RIGHT!!! So that’s why the Trent Richardson trade is the No. 1 happening in Cleveland sports for 2013!!!

Ok, that’s not really why I picked it. But there wasn’t a more polarizing moment for the sports fans in this city than that trade. And the best part is that no matter what side of the debate you fell on when it happened, we can all celebrate it now. And that’s what we should be doing going into the New Year: focusing on the positives…like how we made out like bandits in that Richardson deal!!!

So thank you, Trent, for giving us something to be excited about.

Only 128 days till the NFL Draft!!! Get excited, Cleveland!!!

2014 is going to be our year.

Believeland.

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