The Draft, Love, Jinxes, and Cleveland’s Curse of Hope

“Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of men.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche

A lot can happen in 50 years. 

I could go on and make a long list of amazing accomplishments or advancements in society like the rotary phone morphing into the iPhone and the price of gas and all of that stuff you see all the time. But there has been one thing that has certainly not happened in the last 50 years…

Cleveland has not won.

I cannot lay claim to having suffered as much as most Cleveland fans. My fandom extends only back as far as 1995 when my family moved from Connecticut to the suburbs on the east side of Cleveland. But my indoctrination into Cleveland’s sports futility did not take long to manifest. Within one month of my family taking up residence in the state of Ohio the Indians lost the World Series and the Browns announced they were moving to Baltimore. It was a weird thing for a ten-year-old kid who loved sports to get dropped into.

I don’t remember a specific instance, but someone back then probably (or at least should have) warned me about getting involved in this whole “being a Cleveland sports fan” thing. Because being a Cleveland fan is not for the weak of heart.

It’s a crazy thing sports. All we have as fans in the end is hope. Only one team can win any given sport championship each year. Odds are that it won’t be our team this year. But we can always hope that maybe “next year” will be the year. But for the Cleveland fan that hope is eternally unfounded. 

Hope must be built and founded upon something of substance. To do otherwise is just plain stupidity. And that’s what is most maddening about being a Cleveland sports fan…we tend to put our hope on something of substance only for it crumble into utter demise.

That feeling of hope is probably never more real and prescient than at the NFL Draft…which just so happens to start today.

Drafts are glorious things. We spend months upon months pouring over mock drafts, scouting reports, YouTube highlights, and every other bit of information we can get our hands on to inform ourselves about who our team should or should not take. And while there are certainly exceptions to the rule and it’s obviously important for every team to do their due dilligence, drafts often wind up being wild crap-shoots. First round picks flop and third-day selections become cogs of Super Bowl winning teams with regularity.

And yet that won’t stop us from plopping down on our couches and losing our minds over this stuff for the next three days. Because that’s what hope does to us when it’s all we have. We cling to it like a drowning man on a life preserver. 

And it certainly never hurts to inject this steaming bowl of hope with some added spices like “the Browns are going to package their two first round picks and trade up for the next savior quarterback.” Nothing gins up more hope than a quarterback, especially since we haven’t had one in decades.

Marcus Mariota might be a great NFL quarterback. He also might not. And while it would certainly be exciting to get a guy of his stature and accomplishments, we’re only a year removed from losing our minds over drafting Johnny Manziel. Which was only a year after everyone went nuts over hometown heart-throb Brian Hoyer. Which was only a year removed from drafting Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden in the first round. Which was only a year after we thought Colt McCoy was the answer after he looked great in preseason. You see how this goes? Do you see what hope does to us? We’re looking at a solid five straight years of believing the “new” guy is going to be “the” guy. But that’s hope for you. It’s delusional.

Granted, the people who are delusional enough to think that trading two first round picks (and maybe more) for a QB who clearly needs time to develop and dropping him onto a team that will probably start him on day one but is starved for talent and could really stand to benefit from using those two first rounders on several other spots of need are no more delusional than I am for thinking that Johnny Football can still be a star in the NFL and lead the Browns to a Super Bowl. But we’ll get back to that in a bit.

Misplaced hope can also be spurred on by other things than media-driven hype. It can also come from a major sports magazine placing outsized expectations of winning the World Series on the local baseball team. Which, now that I think about it, is really just another form of media-driven hype.

We are exactly one month removed from Sports Illustrated declaring that the Indians would win the Fall Classic this season…a declaration that, at least to me, was utterly shocking considering that the team didn’t even make the postseason last year, only made the Wild Card game the year before, and hasn’t really added much besides another year’s experience. And yet, all it took was that cover of a jovial Corey Kluber and Michael Brantley to suck me and get me excited about the Tribe again! It gave me hope.

And as I sit here today the Indians sit in last place in the division with only the second fewest wins in all of baseball. It’s still early, is what everyone likes to say and it’s a long season, yada yada yada. Well even though it’s “still early” it won’t be very long before it’s not early anymore and it certainly doesn’t help things to already be back seven games in division this “early” in the season. It also doesn’t help when you don’t have a single qualified hitter with an average above .300 and only have one guy with an on base percentage above that number. And while the pitching hasn’t been terrible, it hasn’t exactly been lights out either.

The reality is that we never should have gotten our hopes up in the first place. This was a team that hadn’t accomplished anything of real value yet. Maybe we should have waited to see them win a postseason game first before planning a parade. But that’s what hope does to you, especially when you’re starved. It doesn’t matter if it seems too good to be true. I might as well dive in head first because if it is true then it’s gonna be awesome and don’t bother me with the details about what might happen if it’s not.

Of course, when it comes to placing hope in something Sports Illustrated has espoused only to have it bashed you can always blame “the Jinx” (or jixes).

But when it comes to placing your hope in a juggernaut of a basketball team that has been rolling everything in their way since the middle of January only to have one of their stars get his arm ripped off…who do we blame then?

This year’s Cavaliers team is almost certainly the solidest foundation that hope has been built on in this town in a long time. While they didn’t win as many games in the regular season as they did back in 2009 and 2010, this team was certainly built to do bigger and better things in the Playoffs. Cleveland fans had every reason in the world to believe that this team would win a championship. It wasn’t delusional at all.

And then that long haired dope on Boston had to “accidently” get his arm “tangled up” with Kevin Love while going for a lose ball and now the Cavs are without an integral cog of thier offensive attack and maybe more importantly their rotation for the rest of this postseason. And that’s the problem as always I think for Cleveland sports fans. We hope without ever considering that something could go wrong. (It’s not like it’s ever gone wrong before, right?)

The saying is “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.” But we never seem to do that, though, do we?

And that goes back to the Nietzsche quote at the beginning of this piece. Hope, in reality, is just a dream. It isn’t a reality at all. And maybe that does make hope “the greatest evil of all” because it only furthers and deepens our pain when hope proves unfounded. Maybe we should accept that nothing good is ever going to work out for Cleveland sports. Maybe, as Bill Simmons likes to joke, God really does hate Cleveland. Maybe we should give up hope altogether.

This brings me back to Johnny Manziel.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

I don’t think there’s a player in Cleveland sports outside of LeBron James who has stirred more hope in me than Johnny Manziel. I watched almost every game of Manziel’s college career. The kid was electric on the field, and passionate on the sidelines. He played with a flare and enthusiasm that I hadn’t ever seen in a football player, particularly a QB. He was magic. He was the antithesis of everything that I had seen from the Browns since they came back in 1999. I wanted that fire on the Browns more than anything.

And then it happened. It was like a wonderful dream. I’ll never forget the buzz of that night from the disappointment of trading down and then taking a defensive back, only to trading back up to grab the Texas A&M quarterback. It was amazing and exhilerating. And in a world where LeBron was still in Miami and the Cavs were still in the lottery this was better than anything I could imagine.

Then it all cratered. And as seemingly everyone was jumping off the bandwagon in droves I was hanging in there…still hoping…still believing.

I refuse to give up on the belief that the amazing things that Johnny Football did in the vaunted SEC can be done in the NFL. I refuse to accept that a game and a half is enough to know what we have in a player. I refuse to accept that a 22-year-old kid can’t grow up. I refuse to accept that I got my hopes up for nothing.

And you know why? Because I don’t know if I can handle putting my hope in another college phenom quarterback to be the great savior of the Cleveland Browns. I don’t know if I can handle another dream being crushed. I don’t know if I can kling to another visage of hope. Because no matter how much I enoyed watching Marcus Mariota in college and no matter how much intellectually I understant what makes him a viable QB, he’ll never give me the hope that Manziel did.

“Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly.” 
― Langston Hughes

Until the day that Johnny Manziel is either cut from the Browns or he raises the Lombardi Trophy wearing “CLEVELAND” in big, bold, gaudy lettering accross his chest, I will continue to hold onto this dream. I will continue to hope.

I choose to believe that Johnny Football can reclaim that magic in Cleveland.

I choose to believe that despite losing Kevin Love, having LeBron and Kyrie is still good enough to win a title.

I choose to believe that it is still early in the season for the Tribe…for just a little while longer.

I choose to believe that Cleveland will win a championship, and that that day isn’t far away.

You can mock me all you want. Call me delusional. Call me a dreamer.

It’s not gonna bother me at all. Without hopes and dreams we’ll never fly.

We don’t call it Believeland for nothing.

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