Eisenberg: Baltimore Has A Role In Cleveland's Title Drought


The biggest story in sports right now involves the Cleveland Cavaliers trying to end their city's infamous title drought.

They're deadlocked with the Golden State Warriors after four games of the best-of-seven NBA Finals, leaving their city's fans on edge. Cleveland hasn't celebrated a pro sports title since 1964, more than a half-century ago, during Lyndon Johnson's first full year in the White House.

Since then, football's Browns, baseball's Indians and basketball's Cavaliers have won plenty of games and come close to going all the way several times, but they've always found a way to fall short.

It's quite a saga, and here in Baltimore, we're not just spectators to it. We have a role.

For starters, the last man to bring a title to Cleveland was Art Modell, the Ravens' late owner. He was the Browns' owner in 1964 when Cleveland rolled to a 27-0 win in the NFL title game against, yes, the Baltimore Colts.

As you know, the Colts moved to Indianapolis two decades later, and Modell moved his franchise to Baltimore in 1996, giving rise to the Ravens. The wrenching set of circumstances still stirs raw emotions among some fans and starts arguments about which city got the best deal. Cleveland was able to keep its colors and history (the Browns resumed playing in 1999 after a three-year hiatus) while Baltimore's football colors and history went to Indianapolis.

But in the measurement that matters most – wins and losses – the scorecard is unambiguous.

Cleveland has experienced little football success, just one playoff appearance and no postseason wins, since the Browns resumed playing. Indianapolis has experienced a Super Bowl triumph and watched its Colts make the playoffs in 14 of the past 16 seasons, their peak years coinciding with the presence of quarterback Peyton Manning, the second coming of Baltimore's Johnny Unitas.

Here in Baltimore, with a franchise that belonged to Cleveland through 1995, the Ravens have become consistent winners and accumulated the most hardware, capturing a pair of Super Bowls. You know it's a source of frustration in Cleveland.

Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' GM and principal architect of their rise to prominence, was a Hall of Fame tight end for the franchise … in Cleveland. He retired and began his front office career in the scouting department … in Cleveland.

He wasn't put in charge of the roster until the franchise came to Baltimore, at which point Modell promoted him to GM. Two decades later, he's still beloved in Cleveland, but he's Baltimore's treasure, widely regarded as one of the best GMs in the business, with the track record to prove it: The Ravens have made the playoffs in six of the past seven seasons and 10 of the past 15.

You can definitely make the case that Cleveland's title drought might have ended long before now if Modell had stayed put, with Newsome in charge.

These days, the Ravens are the epitome of soundness and stability, both in the front office and under center, while the Browns churn through regimes and quarterbacks. When the teams play their annual home-and-home series as fellow residents of the AFC North, the games inevitably become a reminder to Cleveland of what could have been. The Ravens have won 13 of the past 14 games in the rivalry.

Covering the Ravens, I've gone into Cleveland every year and seen the fans gin up plenty of enthusiasm until the inevitable moment when a sense of doom scuds in, like a layer of dark clouds, and the Browns succumb. The fans have seen it before, often enough to know it is coming.

With those thoughts and memories in mind, I find myself rooting for LeBron James and the Cavaliers to win the NBA title and end the drought.

For someone who has worked in Baltimore, I've witnessed my share of Cleveland sports heartache. In my newspaper days, I was on hand when the Indians took a one-run lead into the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 1997 World Series, only to watch their closer, Joes Mesa (a former Oriole!), blow the save, setting the stage for the Florida Marlins to win in extra innings. Two years before that, I witnessed the last Browns home game before the team moved to Baltimore, a bitter scene.

The cities' fates are intertwined, for better or worse, because of events that are slowly receding into history's mists, and if James and the Cavs prevail, I will toast Cleveland's success. Its fans, like good fans everywhere, are due such a moment.

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