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Misc General General Archive The Top 12 All-Time Cleveland vs Detroit Sports Showdowns
Written by Andrew Clayman

Andrew Clayman

detclealltimeIn another life, Cleveland and Detroit could have been the best of friends. They come from similar backgrounds, live a stone’s throw from each other, and get by on the same brand of underdog perseverance. As downtrodden towns with some occasionally downtrodden sports teams, they have taken their turns serving as the punch lines of elitist jokes, always bouncing back from every hit with a blood-soaked smile. Through it all, you’d just assume that the Motor City and the Forest City would understand—maybe even admire—one another. But we know, of course, that this is not quite the case. And sports probably has as much to do with it as anything.

Though the rivalries between Cleveland and Detroit franchises have generally paled in comparison to the one between those Big Ten schools down the road, there have certainly been occasions when the Indians-Tigers, Browns-Lions, and Cavs-Pistons feuds have reached epic proportions. Sometimes, it’s resulted in unforgettable championship game matchups. In other instances, it’s just led to straight up fisticuffs. Historically speaking, the numbers suggest it’s Detroit that usually gets the better of these battles: the Tigers hold a 1086-1042 all-time edge over the Indians; the Pistons have owned the Cavaliers by a 116-78 count; and this weekend's opponent--the notoriously hapless Detroit Lions-- can claim an eye-popping 17-5 mark against the Browns. Still, when it’s come to some of the marquee moments from a century’s worth of pro sports confrontations between these Rust Belt metropolises, it looks like a pretty balanced scorecard. To judge for yourself, here’s one reasonably even-handed Ohioan’s take on 12 of the Greatest Showdowns in Cleveland vs. Detroit Sports History.

detcle1212. September 19, 2008: Fausto Carmona vs. Gary Sheffield

Though neither team had a horse in the pennant race, the Indians’ 6-5 win over Detroit proved doubly satisfying on this night, as Jamey Carroll’s walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth gave Cleveland the last punch in a fight that literally broke out two innings earlier. After allowing two homers to Miguel Cabrera, Tribe starter “Fausto Carmona” nipped the predictably ragey Gary Sheffield with an inside fastball. Sheffield trotted to first, but after a Carmona pickoff attempt led to more barking between the two, an all-out, bench-clearing brawl ensued. "He just walked to first base with that attitude,” Indians catcher Victor Martinez said afterwards. “Who is he? Shut your mouth and keep playing the game." The starting pitcher for Detroit in the game was Armando Galarraga, who’d create his entire legacy two years later in another bizarre showdown with the Indians.

detcle1111. December 29, 1957: Tobin Rote Torches the Browns

The two dominant NFL franchises of the 1950s met for their final championship showdown at Briggs Stadium in Detroit in front of 55,000 onlookers. It was supposed to be a coming out party for rookie Jim Brown, as Cleveland looked to repeat the blowout win they’d dropped on the Lions in the title game three years earlier. Instead, Detroit got their revenge, even with star quarterback Bobby Layne down with an injury. In his place, former Packers QB Tobin Rote threw 4 TD passes and ran in for another, leading the Lions to a 59-14 smackdown of the Browns. It’d be the last title in the team’s history.

detcle1010. February 28, 1989: Rick Mahorn vs Mark Price

The Cavaliers were arguably playing the best basketball in the franchise’s history in the winter of 1989, and a 115-99 drubbing of the Bad Boy Pistons at the Coliseum seemed to confirm this. Paced by Ron Harper’s 26 points, Cleveland moved 5 games up on Detroit in the division, improving to 42-12 on the year. All anybody could talk about after the game, however, was the brutal, blindside elbow that Detroit’s Rick Mahorn had unleashed on the Cavs’ choirboy point guard Mark Price. Mahorn was fined $5,000 and a concussed Price returned to action just a week later. But the incident became a symbol of Cleveland’s physical inferiority to the merciless Pistons, as the Cavs eventually fell in the first round of the playoffs, while Detroit took home the NBA title.

detcle99. October 9, 1910: Ty Cobb vs. Nap Lajoie

Even though nobody alive could possibly remember it, people still talk about the patently ridiculous 1910 batting title race between the Tigers’ villainous legend Ty Cobb and the Cleveland Naps’ superstar/namesake Napoleon Lajoie. As the story goes, Cobb invented a bogus illness to put his seemingly safe batting crown on lockdown on the final day of the season. What he didn’t count on was a minor conspiracy of sorts in Cleveland’s finale, as St. Louis Browns manager (and ex Cleveland Spider) Jack O’Connor instructed his rookie third baseman Redd Corriden to play deep all day against the visiting Naps, enabling Lajoie to reach base SIX times on bunt singles. Confusion and controversy soon followed, as both Cleveland and Detroit fans claimed their man had finished with the superior average (both were right around .385). The Chalmers Automobile Co. elected to give the batting champion’s prize (a free car) to both men in the end, but in the record books, Cobb got the official nod—despite later statistical evidence to the contrary.

detcle88. November 22, 2009: Matthew Stafford vs. … Brady Quinn?

In the first exciting Lions-Browns game in a few decades, Cleveland’s maddeningly dull offense came to life against a terrible Detroit secondary, as “phenom” Brady Quinn tossed three TD passes in the FIRST QUARTER alone (!!!), sending the Browns out to a 24-3 lead at Ford Field.  It looked like the Brownies would finally be ending their four game losing skid. But that’s when Matthew Stafford decided to steal Quinn’s coming out party right from under him, firing three touchdown passes of his own before halftime, cutting the Lions’ deficit to 27-24 at the break. Quinn (21-33, 304 yards, 4 TD) fought back on this, the only truly memorable game of his career, as a TD pass gave the Browns a 37-31 lead with five minutes to go. A Hank Poteat pass interference call at the end of the game gave the Lions’ one final play, however, and Stafford (26-43, 422 yards, 5 TD) used it to hit Brandon Pettigrew for a game-winning touchdown with 0:00 on the clock—essentially beginning the upward trajectory of a long suffering Lion franchise.

detcle77. September 18, 1954: A Pennant Clincher on Enemy Turf

Only 7,000 people were in attendance at Briggs Stadium in Detroit to see this relatively unimportant late season matchup between the lowly Tigers (64-82) and the otherworldly Indians (106-40)-- relatively unimportant for Detroit, anyway. For the Tribe, one more win would clinch them the pennant after a long summer of holding off the relentless New York Yankees. Trailing 1-0 in the seventh inning, the Indians jumped ahead with back-to-back homers from Dale Mitchell and Jim Hegan. That would be all they’d need, as Early Wynn got the W in a 3-2 Cleveland triumph, sending off a celebration that would perhaps leave the Indians feeling a bit too good about themselves heading into the World Series a couple weeks later.

detcle66. May 21, 2006: Game 7 Gets Ugly

In the Cavaliers first ever postseason showdown with their regional rivals from the Motor City, it was a classic story of the unstoppable force versus the immovable object. After dropping the first two games of the Eastern Conference semi-final series, the Cavs won three straight behind the heroics of LeBron James, giving them two shots at winning the series. After failing to do so in a heartbreaking 84-82 loss at home, it was off to Detroit for what looked to be an epic Game 7 battle between the old guard and the new kid on the block. With the Pistons clinging to a 40-38 lead at the half, all of Northeast Ohio prepared for a thrilling second half surge that never came. Instead, the Pistons mirrored the defensive dominance once exhibited by those Bad Boy teams a generation earlier, holding Cleveland to an embarrassing 10 points in the third quarter and 13 in the fourth. LeBron scored 27, but the Cavs proved they weren’t quite ready for primetime, falling 79-61.

detcle55.  April 27, 1984: 19 Rounds with the Motor City Kitties

The Detroit Tigers were off to a 16-2 start and well on their way to a 104-win, World Championship season. The Indians were off to a nice 10-6 start of their own, and well on their way to another completely forgettable, sixth place finish. In this early season meeting between the two clubs at Tiger Stadium, however, it was the Tribe who would survive a war of wills. With the game tied at 3 after two innings, both teams were shut down for the rest of regulation, as the Indians’ Rick Sutcliffe dueled with Detroit’s Juan Berenguer. When the bullpens got involved, little changed, as the game continued on deep into the chilly April night. A Cleveland run in the top of the 10th was matched by a Tiger run in the bottom half. The next EIGHT innings were all goose eggs for both sides, until a pair of errors in the 19th inning led to a Tony Bernazard sac fly and a big three-run double from Mike Hargrove. Luis Aponte held the fort in the bottom of the frame, and the Indians claimed an 8-4 win after 5 hours and 44 minutes of battle with the AL’s best. Oh, and within the next two weeks, Cleveland would play a 12-inning game and TWO 16-inning games. Holy Overworked Bullpen, Batman!

detcle44. December 27, 1953: Perfection Turns to Dejection

Paul Brown’s club looked essentially unbeatable through the majority of the 1953 NFL season, winning its first 11 games before a loss to the Eagles in the regular season capper. Even after that minor setback, the Browns were still big favorites to avenge their 1952 loss to Detroit and take home the ’53 Championship. Instead, Otto Graham struggled through much of the day, as various drives stalled and ended with Lou Groza field goals. Cleveland still led 16-10 with just four minutes to play, but Lion QB Bobby Layne led an Elway-like 80-yard drive culminating in a touchdown pass to Jim Doran and a Doak Walker extra point. The 55,000 fans at Detroit’s Briggs Stadium began to celebrate, but the Browns still had one last possession. In standard heartbreaking fashion, however, Graham’s first pass of the ensuing drive was picked off, sealing a thrilling 17-16 win and a second straight championship for the Lions.

detcle33. September 27, 1940: Bob Feller vs. ...Floyd Giebell?

With three games left in the 1940 campaign, the Tigers needed one more win to clinch the pennant. To do so, however, they’d have to beat the team hot on their heels—the Indians. With 27 game-winner Bob Feller taking the hill at Cleveland Stadium in the opener of the series, Tiger manager Del Baker figured he’d be better off saving his ace Schoolboy Rowe for a more favorable matchup. So he gave the ball to a doe-eyed rookie named Floyd Giebell, fresh off the bus from Buffalo. With the Tigers and the Indians in the midst of an extremely heated rivalry, Tribe fans actually pelted the visiting Tiger players with not-so-fresh produce throughout the game, with one tomato knocking Detroit catcher Birdie Tebbetts to the turf and another splatting on Hank Greenberg as he chased down a fly ball. As the umpires and team officials tried to restore order, the youngster Giebell went about his business unfazed. And while Feller was brilliant (just three hits allowed), a two-run homer by the Tigers' Rudy York wound up standing up, as Giebell shutout the Tribe for a complete game win, sending Detroit to the World Series. The unknown kid had outdueled a living legend to become a hero in his own right. In a Moonlight Graham-ish twist, though, Giebell would never win another Major League game in his career, as a return to the Minors and three years of service in World War II would eventually reduce his legacy purely to cult status.

detcle22. May 31, 2007: The Pistons vs. LeBron

It’s not even accurate to say that LeBron James’ Game 5 performance against Detroit in the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals has “taken on the stuff of legend.” In truth, it was one of those rare moments in sports that had its historical significance thoroughly in tact before the ink had even dried on the game recaps. It was the game where James evolved from a phenom into an iconic figure—a player that was worthy of the Hall of Fame comparisons once recklessly tossed around him. Things took a bit of a detour in the subsequent NBA Finals sweep against San Antonio, and a slightly bigger detour a few years after that. But as the larger picture of James’ career starts to come into focus in the years ahead, it’s likely that his 48-point effort against a helpless Pistons defense in Double-OT will remain near the front portion of his highlight reel. Lest it be forgotten, the despicable one scored Cleveland’s final TWENTY-FIVE points in the game, as his teammates pulled up lawn chairs, twiddled their thumbs, and admired the show. The Cavs won the series two days later, avenging the previous season's Game 7 embarrassment at The Palace. Those who doubted LBJ's abilities in "the clutch" prior to his first championship need only have watched a tape of this contest to get their minds straight.

detcle11. December 26, 1954: Third Time’s the Charm

With the city of Cleveland still needing a pick-me-up from the Indians’ World Series collapse just a couple months earlier, there was some concern that the Browns would only throw more gasoline on the fire. Yes, they’d advanced to a remarkable fifth consecutive NFL Championship Game. But they had lost the previous three, including two straight to the hated Detroit Lions. The Browns also were fresh off a loss to Detroit in the regular season finale just a week earlier. So there was plenty of reason for the soon-to-be-stereotypical Cleveland fan cynicism. On this day, however, the fans' concerns would be cast out abruptly in a supernova of gridiron domination. In front of 44,000 at Municipal Stadium, Otto Graham put on a Boxing Day clinic, throwing two TD passes and running for three more himself, as the Browns pummeled the Lions 56-10 to claim their second NFL Championship. Hi-O-Hi-O for Cleveland! We may not be the model NFL franchise these days but nor the fastest growing city, but in a general sense-- as they say-- at least we're not Detroit!



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