Going into this year, my favorite year of sports fandom was 2007.
The Cleveland Cavaliers upset the Detroit Pistons to win the Eastern Conference and went to the NBA Finals for the first time.
The Cleveland Browns went 10-6 in what was dubbed “The Season of Dreams” despite no playoff appearance.
The Cleveland Indians won the AL Central and was up 3-1 in the American League Championship Series before “The Collapse”.
This year officially topped that for me.
The Browns started off the year like most years since the franchise’s return in 1999: a firing
And then a shocking promotion to the front office
The Browns promoted Brown from Executive VP and General Counsel of the franchise to the top guy of football operations. Then they hired former baseball executive Paul DePodesta as chief strategy officer.
These two moves brought Cleveland sports fans new favorite word to the fold: analytics.
The Browns then hired arguably the best head coaching candidate in the league, Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.
Jackson’s offensive play calling and his fire to bring success to Cleveland sold fans quickly but some roster decisions have had people second guessing the new regime this year.
In free agency, the Browns shocked a lot of people by letting all their free agents go, most notably offensive lineman Alex Mack and Mitchell Schwartz.
Then with a prized quarterback prospect according to the draft experts in the Browns hands, the team traded down from the second overall pick passing on Carson Wentz for a stockpile of draft picks.
The Browns brought in Corey Coleman, Emmanuel Ogbah, Carl Nassib and Cody Kessler amongst their fourteen draft picks. Coleman has had flashes but dealt with a broken hand. Ogbah has been the shining star on defense after Nassib shined in preseason before he also broke his hand.
Cody Kessler was one of seven players who attempted a pass for the Browns this season as a result of injuries (Robert Griffin III, Josh McCown, Terrelle Pryor, Charlie Whitehurst, Kevin Hogan, Duke Johnson), leaving the quarterback position still a large question mark for the franchise.
The Browns started out 0-14 and set a franchise record with 17 consecutive losses dating back to last season before the dramatic victory against San Diego on Christmas Eve.
Browns will head into 2017 with potential two top ten picks in the draft and still looking for that franchise quarterback they’ve coveted since the Bernie Kosar era.
The Cleveland Indians came into 2016 with high hopes to be World Series contenders. Fans and writers all agreed they had the pitching to carry them deep but questioned whether they had the bats.
Michael Brantley had shoulder surgery in the 2015-2016 offseason and rushed to be ready by Opening Day but the problems nagged for most of the year and eventually led to another surgery. Many wondered where the offense would come from, luckily the entire team stepped up.
Free agent acquisition Mike Napoli as well as Indians veteran first baseman Carlos Santana led the way with 34 home runs a piece. Jason Kipnis returned to form hitting .275 and 23 home runs.
Francisco Lindor had an All Star and Golden Glove season hitting .301 with 15 home runs and 78 runs batted in and Jose Ramirez had his breakout year hitting .312, 11 home runs and 76 runs batted in.
And of course you can’t forget the rookie Tyler Naquin who belted 14 home runs including the walk off grand slam against Toronto in August.
The Indians were notorious for being safe and not giving up prospects, instead trading all star talent for prospects. They shut up the critics at the trade deadline when they gave up their top prospect Clint Frazier in a package for Yankees reliever Andrew Miller.
The acquisition sparked the Tribe on their run to the AL Central Divison title and their first postseason appearance since 2007.
No one expected the Tribe to do much in the postseason. After sweeping the Boston Red Sox in the Division Series, some took notice but didn’t expect them to silence the Toronto Blue Jays in the Championship Series.
Despite Trevor Bauer’s drone incident in which he almost lost a finger, that didn’t stop the Indians from punching their ticket to the World Series by beating the Blue Jays in five games.
The pitching from Corey Kluber, Josh Tomlin, rookie Ryan Merritt and the bullpen including Miller looked unstoppable as they headed to the Fall Classic.
It was the Indians 68 year drought against the Chicago Cubs and their 108 year drought and it seemed like everyone in the world was rooting for the Cubs.
Corey Kluber silenced the critics with nine strikeouts in six scoreless innings as the Indians took Game 1. The Cubs came back and took Game 2 as they headed to Chicago. Indians took Games 3 and 4 to take a commanding 3-1 lead.
Those Cubs didn’t quit though and took Games 5 and 6 to come down to a Game 7. The Cubs led 6-4 in the bottom of the 8th when Indians outfielder Rajai Davis hit one of the most dramatic home runs in World Series history.
Unfortunately, the Indians magic ran out after that and the Cubs won 8-7 in extra innings for their first World Series championship since 1908.
The Indians however added a big bat to make another serious run at a World Series title in 2017.
If everyone stays healthy, expect a Indians/Cubs rematch in the Fall Classic.
Of course I’m going to save the best for last.
The Cleveland Cavaliers started off 2016 with a move like the Browns, except the Browns didn’t have the best record in their conference at the time.
The sports world was shocked by the firing by those who paid close attention seen it coming, David Blatt never truly fit as the head coach of a team with Lebron James. The rumors swirled right from the start and despite the Cavaliers coming two wins shy of a championship in 2015, many didn’t expect Blatt to last very long.
Assistant head coach Ty Lue took over and you can see the team started to play harder. And when the team traded longtime Cavalier Anderson Varejao, you knew their intentions of a championship were serious.
The addition of Channing Frye brought another excellent shooter to the team that had plenty already.
The Cavaliers cruised to a 57 win season and the top seed in the Eastern Conference. They won their first ten playoff games and defeated the Toronto Raptors in six games to advance to the Finals for the second straight year.
The opponent was the same as the first time, the Golden State Warriors. Once again, Cleveland was deemed the underdog and the media thought the Warriors would cruise to a championship.
Never under estimate a team with the best player in the world.
Despite going down 3-1, Lebron James along with Kyrie Irving fought back with a dominate and historic Game 5 performances from the duo.
Another dominate victory in Game 6 by Cleveland forced a Game 7 back in Oakland.
June 19, 2016
The day Cleveland fans won’t ever forget
And then The Stop….and The Celebration
The 52 year drought was over and Cleveland was a championship city again. So Cleveland threw the biggest party in the city’s history. Over one million people attended the celebration and the passing of the torch between Cleveland’s last champion icon, Browns legend Jim Brown and the city’s greatest sports icon Lebron James.
The Cavaliers are currently sitting at 24-7, the best in the Eastern Conference and while shooting guard J.R. Smith is out until April with a broken thumb, the Cavaliers should cruise to the playoffs if healthy and should chase another championship in 2017.