THE LAST TIME the city of Cleveland won a pro sports championship—back in 1964, when the Browns stunned the Colts 27--0 at Municipal Stadium to win the NFL title—the clincher was not shown on local TV. The league's policy in those days was to black out every game in its home market whether or not it was sold out. Which explains why, when I asked my dad last week what he remembered about the celebration in Cleveland, he texted back, "Was in a motel room halfway between Sandusky and Toledo. Long story."
Actually, it wasn't very long at all. My uncle Bob had persuaded him that instead of season tickets, it would be wiser to buy seats to the good games and skip the rest. They saved a few bucks but missed out on guaranteed postseason tickets. Hence the trip to the middle of northwest Ohio, the closest place they could get the game on television.
Fast-forward 18,802 days, to Sunday night. Once again fans were getting together to watch a Cleveland team try to bring home a championship. Instead of doing so in seedy hotels halfway to Indiana, there were 20,000 people gathered inside Quicken Loans Arena and another 15,000 or so outside. Tickets for the watch parties sold out in a matter of minutes, with fans paying—if the scalpers on Prospect Avenue were to be believed (and if you can't trust a scalper on Prospect Avenue, who can you trust?)—upward of $600 to watch the game on the video screens above a floor that was being set up for next month's Republican National Convention, the one event that would feature more bombast than the arena's "MAKE SOME NOISE!" emcee provided.
Sunday also happened to be Father's Day, which explains the half-dozen or so babies at the Q. Pediatricians don't recommend exposing newborns to exploding scoreboards, but the dads—in every case it was the dad carrying the kid—had the same excuse: I don't care how young this kid is, he/she has to be here for this. This was a chance for bonding, and fathers and kids have bonded over games since James Naismith was in short pants. That's basically why sports were invented—to make dinner-table conversation possible.
Growing up a Cleveland fan didn't make that bonding experience easy, what with there being no promise of any payoff. So instead of, "Hey, remember that time we went to that victory parade downtown?" you settle for memories like, "Hey, remember that time I nearly choked to death on a hot dog at that Broncos game in 1980, and you cleared my airway by jamming your finger down my throat?" (Good thing we Bechtels have Trump-like fingers. Still—thanks, Dad. A bruised uvula is better than blacking out.) Or counting the remaining crowd during the nightcap of a September doubleheader against the Blue Jays. Or carting the footrest of a lucky chair to a friend's house to watch the Browns lose the 1986 AFC championship game. Still, they're memories.
At Progressive Field a few hours before tip-off on Sunday, the Indians beat the White Sox in a game in which both teams honored the dads in the crowd. Tom Hamilton told radio listeners how players had brought their fathers to the park to play catch, and in the stands countless families posed for countless pictures. Among them were the Shannons: Denny, a lifer—"I'm an Indians fan because my dad was an Indians fan," he says—and two sons. Devin, a 21-year-old in a Cavs jersey, was excited at the prospect of a championship, but more for his father's sake than his own. "He's been around to see the heartbreak," Devin said.
The hope among Cleveland fans was that a Cavs win would wipe away that collective heartbreak, that half-century of misery. Now that the title has been won, will it? Will the Shimmy, or whatever we decide to call Kyrie Irving's game-winning jumper, eradicate that other Shot, the Drive, the Fumble, the Move and all the rest? Probably not. That's some therapy-level bad juju right there. But it's not to say that Cleveland fans don't feel a little different today.
"Well?" I texted my dad late in Game 7.
The simple reply came after the horn: "Like it."
Growing up a fan of Cleveland sports you settle for memories like, "Hey, remember that time I nearly choked to death on a hot dog at that Broncos game in 1980?"
Does this title make up for all of Cleveland's sports woes?
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