By Thomas Skernivitz
As a lifelong resident of Greater Cleveland and a fan of its sports teams, I’d selfishly like to think “Believeland” was written for me about me. I’m 52 years old, after all, and was only seven months out of the pocket when the Browns won the city’s most recent title in December of 1964.
How has that losing streak shaped my life, if at all? How would just one Indians, Browns or Cavaliers championship have changed anything here —while also realizing that a city such as Pittsburgh (of all places) just won its 12th title during the same time frame? If I were the writers of “Believeland,” that’s what I would have spotlighted. And maybe they did.
I watched the first five minutes of the documentary but had to turn it off when the very first person interviewed was just the opposite of me and by no means an accurate reflection of a long-suffering Cleveland sports fan. Instead the opening comments were delivered by a 33-year-old local sports talk show contriver who grew up in Colorado rooting for the Denver Broncos. Yeah, that’s who I want speaking on behalf of our city and its sports fans. Michael Jordan couldn’t have sucked the air out of a moment any quicker.
If I had had any say, I would have focused less on our devastating losses and more on what made Clevelanders special throughout our despair both on and off any fields or courts, particularly in the 1970s and early ‘80s, when our city literally was the joke of an entire nation. The June 12 death of George Voinovich, Cleveland’s mayor from 1980-89, reminded me of those unique times, when the only people who had our backs were ourselves.
Voinovich, according to a Plain Dealer tribute, restored fiscal solvency to the city, oversaw downtown development, improved government operations, and brought the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to town. Actually, the people of Northeast Ohio, led by Voinovich and his pledge of $65 million in public money to fund construction of a facility, were the ones who brought the Rock Hall to Cleveland. More than 600,000 fans signed a petition favoring Cleveland over another contender, Memphis. In a USA Today fax-in poll — well before the internet and email — other cities such as Philadelphia, Detroit, Cincinnati, and even New York never stood a chance. We took matters into our own hands … and dominated.
On Monday, May 5, 1986 — my 22nd birthday — the Hall of Fame Foundation chose Cleveland as the permanent home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. We partied spontaneously that night at the Indians-Royals game at the stadium. We danced that ensuing weekend at the Mining Co. Finally, Cleveland had won something. And the MVP was none other than you and me.
Edgar Allen Poe wrote, “Never to suffer would never to have been blessed.” When it comes to the people of Believeland, there are none more special. We just don’t have the parade to recognize as much.
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