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Misc General General Archive Preparing To Get Punched In The Stomach
Written by Jeff Rich

Jeff Rich

Big BoyEventually, there is a point where we are all just numb.  We don’t bother getting upset about the disappointments at First Energy Stadium, the post-All-Star-break collapses, or the ridicule from ESPN.  That’s easy; keep the bar low, really make an effort to learn from history, and either have thick skin or avoid the 4-letter network.  However, every now and then, we allow hope to enter the equation and forget all of the other stuff.  That’s when hope crushes our dream because we had a little faith.  Why do we do it to ourselves?  Shouldn’t we expect it, to be alert to the looming devastation at all times?

It was a long time ago, but I remember being on this boat.  We were too old to be considered kids, but certainly lacked the experience and maturity to be sharing nautical adventures with this crowd.  It was my best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s friend’s boat, but it didn’t take too much beer and other stuff to make us all into old pals; at some point we were told where to find the most morally compromised women, on the west side, after the bars close.

In a completely coincidental chain of events, I find myself employed at this random 24-hour eatery, which we will call the “Big Boy at 130th and Brookpark”, just to give it a name.  This place featured people from all walks of life, especially on the late night shift; you had felons, gays, thieves, male entertainers, and Grateful Dead roadies, and that was just the staff.  When you brought the customers into the conversation, you were talking about the ladies that took their clothes off inside some of those infamous Brookpark Road establishments, and many who wore little outside of those buildings, on the street.  Trust me when I say that I’m using the term “ladies” very loosely.

It was relatively short-lived, a couple of months, probably less, but the experience did a lot more in the way of teaching me life lessons than it did for my tax-bracket status, given that it was a $2.13 an hour (plus tips) type of occupation.  However, it prepared me to be prepared for anything; that’s a fairly simple task after smiling and staring at a “lady’s” Adam’s apple as if I were looking her/it in the eye while asking if she wanted her special sauce on the side.  Now, I’ve seen plenty since, but the different people have never seemed all that different to me after that job.

PolkWe need not travel through the standard annals of heart-break, as it pertains to Cleveland sports in just my 34+ years, but we know it all happened, the moments that have created legend at our expense.  Those moments are low-hanging fruit for TV producers to run montages that offer a chuckle outside of our fine region; it’s the type of chuckle that’s unlike our laughs at the Mike Polk Tourism videos and just mean-spirited.  I know; we’re supposed to be a resilient area, and the feelings of outsiders are supposed to be of little concern to all of us.

The writing was on the wall, since seeing the Cavaliers exposed as a 1-trick pony in a series with Orlando the year before, that Dan Gilbert, Danny Ferry, and the city of Cleveland had to be all-in with the 2010 playoff run.  Regardless of the result, the lingering thought was, “this is it.”  How awful was it that there was something wrong with the superstar’s elbow, because that was, you know, legitimate?  

Yeah, that’s the ticket, a real live injury that forced said superstar to shoot a critical free throw with his left-hand.  Yeah, we should have all bought into that.

 There was just so much going on; what, with another player rumored to be in a strange relationship with the (possibly) departing superstar’s kin.  It was all just too much; heads were cooking up ideas of the superstar quitting, while I’m comparing that great regular season team to the 1919 Chicago White Sox.  If you’re unfamiliar, those White Sox are best known for being caught taking a dive in the World Series; it was a smear I did not like to think about, but had to consider that it was somewhere in the vicinity of reality.  It was the best era of NBA basketball in Cleveland, ever, and it was ending badly.

Donald is safeMaybe that was a good thing, for the sake of the future.  Things felt unfinished, and we (read: I) talked ourselves into the unfinished business angle keeping the superstar around.  It was all such a blur, this putting a silver lining on things, were we just doing this for the Cavs, who were close, or did this dementia extend to other areas of Cleveland sports?  We weren’t looking at Eric Mangini as a coach coming off a 5-11 season, but as one in the midst of the longest Cleveland Browns winning streak in a long time.  On June 2, 2010, we weren’t looking at the Cleveland Indians as a team that failed to manage a base-runner in Detroit, but as one who stayed out of the history books with that historic Jason Donald infield hit.

Armando Gallaraga’s near-perfect game occurred about a month before that unforgettable Thursday night in July, and became a feel-good story about a pitcher and an umpire.  The Browns were still a question mark at that point, but that Colt McCoy kid sure did look promising; maybe he could develop into a guy that could end the reign of everyone we dislike in the AFC North.  It was all a blur, but we were all pretty optimistic, even when things got crazy with the NBA rumors.  When we woke up on July 8th, that optimism had subsided, and I had a pretty good idea that the Adam’s apple was no false-positive on this girl, and The Decision was probably going to be the Miami Heat.

TitanicIt was like watching Titanic, hoping for the boat to successfully steer itself to port.  I think we were prepared for that, while waiting in line for popcorn in 1997.  It was as inevitable as getting stiffed when that jerk came from Firestone with 31 children and 31 coupons for free Big Boy Platters, yet I tuned to ESPN for about 20 minutes that night, which was about how long I spent in the atrium searching for a non-existent gratuity 15 years ago.  My wife treated me to dinner at one of my favorite Italian delis, and then to a baseball game the next night.

I was trying to win the break-up, and yes, that’s silly, but I wasn’t going to let it be the end of the world that everyone insisted it would be, and had been insisting it would be, for over two years.  My wife’s boss asked if I was on suicide watch, but it wasn’t like that.  I think I was probably just as angry at ESPN, undoubtedly over-joyed to be part of this grand story, as I was disappointed in Mr. James for his tact, and of course, his choice for the future.  ‘No big deal,’ I grived, ‘we knew this was coming.’

I think my friend Mike in Nevada said it best, that he was sad that his favorite team wouldn’t be competing for a Championship, but it wasn’t going to ruin his life, or something along those lines.  We had a taste of rooting for a relevant team in May and June, but it didn’t make or lives better or worse, save maybe a night or two.  It wasn’t worse than losing the Browns.  Heck, we didn’t get anything remotely as entertaining as The Letter when that ship sailed towards Maryland.

HeatThis was just another chapter in the ongoing saga of rooting for Cleveland, legitimate hype, false hope, and genuine disappointment.  We’re numb to most of it; the Tribe has sprinted out of the gate, then dragged themselves to the proximity of the finish line, twice since James said, “…talents to South Beach.”  Hell, Mangini had everyone thinking about the post-season with wins over New Orleans and New England, but a Chansi Stuckey fumble and cold dose of reality spoiled those thoughts, over the course of about three weeks.  We are supposed to be used to this, when will we learn?

There was this bus-boy, really a bus-man, if such a thing exists.  He hung around the recruiting office and liked to box in the basement gym.  Being bound for Parris Island in a few weeks, I had a soft spot for this guy who played the role of the heavy bag whenever I wanted to throw the gloves on and go a few rounds.  With the girls, mostly college students and run-away minors, he had developed a reputation as a tip-thief, but I wasn’t buying it.  December 2nd, the Heat’s first trip to Cleveland as a newly-formed super-team, I was only buying into what I wanted to hear.

Colin Cowherd said Cleveland, plus whatever, was the lock of they year.  Miami was on the back-end of a back-to-back, and Brian Windhorst plugged the games entertainment value by admitting the team from South Florida had no answer for Anderson Varejao.  Yes, yes, Anderson Varejao will make the man from Akron rue the day he crossed Dan Gilbert.  The thing is, my eyes will only allow me to believe what I actually see, not what I want to see.

signsBut, I saw it; sure enough, I watched my sparring partner bus a table and slip the $7 that was left on it into his pocket.  It was the same way I pretended to watch the Arizona State-Arizona football game that we had on a side TV, the same way I pretended the Cavs would use their emotions to will themselves to victory, as they had against the Boston Celtics to open their season a month earlier.  The Cavs were dominated in every way, the hero-turned-villain had 38 points when his new boss called off the dogs after 3 quarters.  The home team was bad; the visitors were good and there was no denying either fact.  That night might have prepared us for the direction of both teams over the next two and a half seasons, but nothing truly prepares us for the next devastating thing in Cleveland.

Maybe it is that we set the bar too high and maybe we just need to come to terms with the fact that the law of averages doesn’t play to the advantage of Cleveland sports the way it does with the rest of the universe.  If we set our sites on Jon Gruden, you know it’s Pat Shurmur walking through that door.  When we fall in love with Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Bradley Beal, those are the players that are off the board and we’re stuck with a kid who didn’t start a game in college.  When the bars started to close on Cleveland’s west side, I knew I could expect the usual drunks that tipped up to 7%, but usually not at all, depending on how much they spent at the bar that night.

After a few disappointing seasons, even with the rock bottom expectations, the novice NBA fan that I am went into the 2012-2013 season expecting to see improvement, a season where ping-pong balls are a secondary thought.  I didn’t have my eye on the 8th seed like some over-optimistic fans had, no denying this is a lottery team, but I didn’t think that Luke Walton would be getting big minutes in one of the few games that should mean something to the Cavaliers.  I felt bad about it, but I ended up not going to the Cavaliers only trip to Phoenix this season.

GeeIt was a Friday night and I’d just had a long week; all I wanted to do was stay home.  The Cavs looked like they were going to take the Suns to the woodshed and worked up a 26-point lead at some point, and I remember commenting how I’m glad I didn’t waste the energy on this blowout.  Then, it became an interesting game.  Then, the Suns made franchise history, by winning the game after being down a larger margin than they’d ever overcome.  It was embarrassing; to the point where I was glad I didn’t have to walk out of that downtown Phoenix arena wearing my wine & gold with such shame.  The good news: it was a Friday night game out west; it didn’t get much attention.

It was about letting history teach us not to repeat our mistakes.  I made my fair share of mistakes in my first and only job as a waiter, but I tried not to make too many of them twice.  I apply that principal to most things in life, but the sports fan in me will never learn.  The scenario is the same, whether it’s the lowly Suns of Phoenix or the all-world Heat from South Beach; the Cavs get a seemingly insurmountable lead, and it’s not enough.  It’s happened to the Cavs against the Heat already this season, and it happened this week with the Boston Celtics, trying to slay the dragon.



27 points in 8 minutes and 30 seconds; that’s all it took.  How do you let something like that slip away in your own house?  How does everything look like it’s going so right, even though it isn’t supposed to, only to be so wrong in the end?  I guess this is a good spot to insert the “Only in Cleveland” cliché.  The regular variety of stomach-punch losses have become so commonplace that the universe has figured out new ways to hand it to Cleveland.  That 118-90 shellacking back in 2010 felt horrible at the time, but somehow a 2-point loss in a game far-removed from the post-Decision emotion feels so much worse, considering the giant care-package of hope that we were handed for about 27 minutes in 2013.

How do we escape from the onslaught?  I literally joined the United States Marine Corps to get away from a life of pouring coffee and emptying ash-trays for drunks, strippers, and she-males of the night.  That was my escape, but where does Cleveland offer an escape for the sickos like me, the ones that hang on and hold out hope?

sadIf there were ever a set of experiences that could prepare you for just about anything the sports gods could hand out, the Cleveland sports fan has lived it.  Sure, it varies, depending on how old you are, but how old or young do you have to be to have the experience or the blissful ignorance to survive every blow dealt?

I am grateful about that Big Boy preparing for life’s awkward situations and I even got some good lessons from 31-Coupon Guy and the 7% Tippers on how life was unfair, but it’s obvious to me that no amount of Stomach-Punch Losses or Greasy Spoons are going to prepare for whatever “Only In Cleveland” thing happens next.  It’s going to be like this until this city gets something more than an Indoor Soccer Championship, and it could be a while before that happens.

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