by Ken Carman
Listen to Ken on the Ken Carman Show with Anthony Lima, weekdays from 6 am-10 am
The year started out bad enough.
On Sunday night, Jan 3, 2016, Jimmy Haslam went to a podium and fired another head coach, and general manager, and (eventually) team president. That surreal feeling for football fans, had become something familiar. In Cleveland: The absurd became common place.
It was a bitter start to what would become the one of the greatest years in Cleveland sports.
When I look back on this year, it’s not bitter feelings on an election. It’s not any sadness over celebrity deaths (even though 2016 bid adieu to a world hero in John Glenn), it’s a feeling of hope. A feeling that anything can happen at any time. That while time can be at it’s bleakest, as long as there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and as long as you can see a flicker of it, something can change.
2016 was a year where Cleveland was put on center stage, both in sports, and in life. At the end of this year, it seems as if while everyone else’s world is “falling apart” ours is stronger than ever.
It’s stronger than ever because while others had made Cleveland the butt of jokes, Cleveland has built, and rebuilt to become better. The job is far from over, but in a year of so much struggle and strife, Cleveland stands tall above others, and shows as an example of how a city can overcome, and strive to be better.
So often, I became used to writing the pep talk. In 2016, I was blessed to share the story. From January 3rd, to June 19th, there was a lifetime of experience that changed us. As sports fans and later as people. On that Sunday night in June, a moment so many of us dreamed of actually came to pass.
That moment, the block, the shot, the stop, the reaction after, had played out in our heads so many times, but to actually see the Cleveland Cavaliers hoist a trophy, left a lot of us wishing we had prepared more.
My friend Dustin Fox called it the movie, but how could any of us actually think that it would play out exactly like one? When it happened, we had no clue just how to handle ourselves except for keep our eyes and ears open, and try to stay awake enjoying every single second we could. So we could remember it forever, because we know better than anyone that, that feeling may very well never happen again in our lifetime.
From a sports perspective, it was unreal. Summer carried into fall, and while the Browns tried to find their feet, the Indians helped fans of my generation rekindle a love that we thought was maybe long lost.
Children of my age remember the Cleveland Indians of the 90’s as Gods. Before we learned about free agency and business decisions, these were men who were of legendary status while they played on the field in front of us. We might know now that they didn’t get along the way we thought they did then, it doesn’t matter. They wore red cleats and high red socks, and all of our little league teams did the same thing.
Twenty years later it’s been a different story. What was once a hopeful feeling turned to cynicism. Either the owner was too cheap, or the GM didn’t have the stones to follow through on a trade, for some of us, the Indians had played just well enough to make us angry too many times. Of course, it had to be a team that really WAS like the team we imagined as kids to bring us back to our senses.
The 2016 Indians were as tight knit as a pro sports team could be. They took things personally, and carried a chip on their shoulder. Reading that last sentence back, they were basically ever person from Cleveland since Moses. Fans loved them and they loved the fans. It was such a good story, that to most of us, it didn’t even matter the way the World Series finished. Baseball is like life, and certainly like life in Northeast Ohio: You have to treasure the moments and experiences, even if the final outcome isn’t exactly how you wanted it.
2016 was a year for growth and change. We hosted a Republican Convention without incident. Leaving outsiders with a look of surprise of how much our city has grown since the 70’s, or 80’s or whenever the last time they were here. So many of us had children or got married, or started new, all while feeling a little better about how things have been.
Sports doesn’t change much for our real lives, but it certainly does change and can improve our outlook of it.
The Browns are the prime example of it. Over 14 games the team was winless. Never had we ever seen such deserved pessimism from the fan base. A fan base from old have seen the Browns as one of the pillars of professional sports, to young seeing the Browns as perennial losers.
Looking back at January 3rd, it’s hard to fight against the angriest of Browns fans. They have done nothing to warrant any positivity. Even with the changes made, it’s a long process, and no one can guarantee that future decisions will be the right one. Visiting fans, and sports websites taking old shots at the Browns felt like the way things used to be.
Cleveland was the city of champions now, and the Browns were making us look bad.
One of the angriest of those fans was a man named Mark Grosschmidt. Mark is from Canton who loves his family, loves Cleveland sports and loved the Browns. He didn’t trust the baseball guys running the team. He didn’t trust Jimmy Haslam.
He couldn’t stand that the Browns let go of Brian Hoyer. He was one of my best friend’s dad, and he was the same as any of our dads. He couldn’t stand the Browns losing, and would say horrific things about them when they lost over and over.
Mark passed away on November 26th.
I went to his wake back home, and there with his family were picture board of him with his grandchildren, the Browns jersey he had, with his coat, and photos of the time he got a limo for us to go to the Browns game when his son got leave from the Army.
Mark’s obituary was written like any other, with one exception. In the second to last line it’s written “In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you pray for the Cleveland Browns to win at least one game this year.”
I waited until this week to share it, because just like any guy from Northeast Ohio, I wasn’t going to attach the memory of a person I admired with the effing Browns. But I did want to share it to prove something. There were times that Mark, no doubt, HATED the Browns, but even until the end, there was some hope.
It reminded me of what we do best, and while even though we became champions in 2016, we never lost a value that’s instilled from birth if you’re from here: Hope. Eternal.
It’s that sense that’s kept us sharp, and ready to build to the future. It’s why we won’t be left behind ever again.
There is still a lot to be done in our lives, and in our community. The process of enrichment is one that should never end. Yet, 2016 was a year like any other for our group of not just sports fans, but our group of people. While others may have counted down the minutes until 2017, proclaiming 2016 the worst year ever, we stand on the edge of something great, and possibly even better than a sterling 2016. Here’s hoping.