Thursday, May 28, 2009

How to End a Title Drought?

The Cleveland Cavaliers were trailing 3-1 in their series with the Orlando Magic entering tonight's game in need of three straight wins. They are currently the city of Cleveland's best chance to win a championship for the first time since 1964 when the Jim Brown-led Browns won the NFL Championship, before the Super Bowl-era.

This has been probably the most heartbreaking drought with events like Red Right 88, The Drive, The Fumble, The Shot, and The Error. Two years ago, the Cavs were in the NBA Finals and were promptly swept by the Spurs, while the Indians led the Red Sox 3-1 in the ALCS and lost the last three games, including Game 7 when Kenny Lofton was held up by third base Joel Skinner when he would of scored the tying run in the 7th inning. The Red Sox went on to win 11-2 as they scored eight runs in the last two innings and the drought continued. This also includes the Indians forty years missing the playoffs in a row until 1995, the reign of terror by Ted Septien in the early 1980s almost ending the Cavs franchise, the failure of the NHL's Cleveland Barons, the last major sports team to cease operations and the 1995 Browns move to Baltimore by Art Modell.

So with all that baggage to work with, how is it possible for the years of losing to end? The fact is that years of losing create the thought of "curse" in the minds of the team/cities fans psyche. There is always the feeling that the other shoe is about to drop. You can see it anytime a nervous energy takes over a stadium/arena and the team you root for is suffocated by this. It happened to both the Mets and the Cubs last season; same goes for the Vikings in the playoffs. Unfortunately, it seems like that conventional ways to win never work, there needs to be a moment where a team is seemingly "destined" to win.

Most of the recent "curses" that have been foiled had a moment where a collective fan base no longer thinks the worst will happen. It could occur anytime in the playoffs, and usually comes at the lowest point in the season. The best example of this theory is the Boston Red Sox; they reached their low point after Game 3 in the 2004 ALCS against the N.Y. Yankees when they were down 3-0. As any Bill Simmons reader knows, the Dave Roberts steal is considered that turning point for the Red Sox, mainly because the next play, Bill Mueller knocked Roberts in with a single off Mariano Rivera. After that, and a couple of game-winners by David Ortiz, the Red Sox steamrolled their way to breaking the Curse of the Bambino.

A better example on a personal level was the 1994 N.Y. Rangers when Mark Messier guaranteed victory in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference Final series with the N.J. Devils. They trailed the series 3-2 and the game 2-0 when Messier assisted on a goal, then scored a hat trick and the Rangers won 4-2. Unlike the Red Sox, the Rangers didn't steamroll their way to the Cup and actually gave Rangers plenty of reasons to believe it wasn't coming. But, they fought through a late-tying goal by the Devils in Game 7 followed by Stephane Matteau's OT winner and the great Howie Rose call put the Rangers in the Stanley Cup Finals. Then, the Rangers took a 3-1 series lead, lost the next two games and held off a final charge by the Canucks to win the Stanley Cup after 54 years.

Those aren't the only droughts that needed the perception of a team of destiny for it to be broken. The Chicago White Sox stole Game 2 of the ALCS against the Angels after a controversial when the umpire said Josh Paul dropped a third strike with two outs to A.J. Pierzynski when he actually just threw it back. Joe Crede would win the game on the next at-bat and the White Sox swept their way to the World Series, their first since 1917. The Phillies ended the 25 year Philadelphia championship drought and their moment of destiny was a 4-run 8th inning in Game 4 of the NLCS against the Dodgers when Shane Victorino and Matt Stairs hit two 2-run HR's that turned a 5-3 deficit to a 7-5 win. They also had a bases-loaded infield single in Game 3 of the World Series to further the team of destiny role. The Detroit Red Wings ended a 42 year Cup drought in 1997, plus being labeled chokers for recent flameouts in the playoffs. In Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals, Steve Yzerman scored on a 60-ft shot and the Flyers were done in four games.

The Cavs ended up winning the game to make the series 3 games to 2 in favor of the Magic. LeBron had a part in 32 straight points but that's in my eyes isn't a turning point that makes the Cavs a team of destiny, which means something needs to happen in Game 6 that changes the fortune of this team, whether it's another game-winner from LeBron, a great block or even LeBron announcing he will stay in Cleveland tomorrow. Whatever it is, there needs to be a sign that this drought will end very soon if the Cavs are going to win this championship, or this season will be known forever in Cleveland as The Letdown (unfortunately I can't come up with a better name than that).

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