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Every Team Ever

Every Team Ever

So a few years ago, on a review website called Lunch.com, I started a little reviewing project. The goal was to write about every professional major league sports team in the United States and Canada. It took awhile, but I pulled it off, and it was read and liked by thousands of people.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t very long before the moderators on Lunch stopped doing their jobs. Going to Lunch now reveals a message that says they’ll have thing up and running again before you can say “Who doesn’t love Lunch?” Well, apparently saying those four words is a process which is now pushing two years.

All that hard work I did is now gone, but earlier this year, I came up with another good idea: I would do the same project all over again, but this time, I would do it as a wordpress blog so it wouldn’t be exposed to the shortcomings of lazy moderators.

So far, I’ve got about 15 teams down. This is going to take a little bit of time, so you’ll just have to check back in regularly and know that I’m going to get to your own favorite team eventually.

Here’s the link:

https://everyteamever.wordpress.com

Drew’s Song:The Most Misunderstood Buffalo Bill

Drew’s Song:The Most Misunderstood Buffalo Bill

Rob Johnson must have been laughing his ass off somewhere. I assume it was after he bench-rode his way to his Super Bowl ring with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he was laughing somewhere along the line.

I don’t think I have to bring up the mess that preceded the 2002 Buffalo Bills season. The Bills, a hapless and luckless team for the first 25 years of their existence, made a serious bid during the late 80’s and 90’s to change their fortunes for good. Even though the team pulled the trigger on Rob Johnson after the ugly quarterback controversy between Johnson and Doug Flutie, and Johnson proved to be a disaster, the Bills were still so closely removed from respectability that the horrific 2001 season could have come off as an aberration. In fact, that’s what most onlookers dismissed it as. It was a little hiccup from a rebuilding team which would be back in the playoffs quick. It seems funny nowadays that Bills fans were that optimistic, but it seemed perfectly feasible back then. But the Rob Johnson fiasco did lead to one of the quirkiest eras in Bills history when general manager Tom Donahoe tried to make up for Johnson by trading for New England Patriots All-Star quarterback Drew Bledsoe.

Drew Bledsoe was a Bill for three years, and I never quite thought he got a fair shake from Buffalo. Fans continue to pile blame onto him for the circus act the team turned into. That happens for a couple of reasons: He was the quarterback, and as the quarterback, he was credited for setting the tempo during games; and he DID have one disgusting year in Buffalo – his second one – which set the tone for every Keystone Cop and Monty Python incident the Bills have endured since. I can even theorize that Bledsoe’s reputation even played a part in his lasting image in Buffalo. It wasn’t that Bledsoe had some obvious character issue which spending-crazed owners like Jerry Jones or Dan Snyder would have ignored. Bledsoe was always a stand-up good guy and a class act who took his licks after every game, but that habit sort of started and ended at the post-game press conference. He seemed willing to take all the undeserved media punishment that came his way, which may have turned him into the typical non-leader in fans’ minds. When he finally got fed up and lashed out during his final season in Buffalo, it was a little late, but it did manage to light a fire under the team’s ass.

Bledsoe was a victim of circumstance more than anything else. His years in Buffalo were a little on the odd side because in the three he was there, he ran the full gamut of possible types of records in the NFL: An even record, a losing record, and a winning record respectively. The even and the winning records are two of only four non-losing records the Bills managed to pull in the millennium. Despite not making the playoffs – even the winning record was a 9-7 effort in which the Bills were denied a tournament appearance because they couldn’t beat the Pittsburgh Steelers’ third-string players – he is the owner of ten team passing records, including most yards in a single season and most yards in a single game. His own famously dominant show against the Patriots which opened 2003 is one of only three victories against them since Tom Brady usurped Bledsoe and enabled Pats fans to become the worst people on Earth.

Let’s look at Bledsoe starting in 2002, his best statistical season in Buffalo. The 2002 season put an 8-8 tally on the board, but that year was an 11-5 year in disguise. Jim Kelly himself couldn’t have run the offense any better. Bledsoe, Ruben Brown, Eric Moulds, and Travis Henry all went to the Pro Bowl. The Bills’s offense was second in the NFL only to the AFC Champion Oakland Raiders, and they seemed to do it all: There were comebacks, blowouts, narrow escapes, game-changing plays, no-huddles, and he-can’t-possibly-be-able-to-do-that heroics and plays. There were about two plays which prevented the Bills from ten wins and the damned AFC East crown. (I know what you’re thinking, and here’s the answer: The Patriots went 9-7 that year.) In 2002, Bledsoe was also assisted by an army of excellent receivers which included Eric Moulds, Peerless Price, Larry Centers, Josh Reed, and Jay Riemersma. And when Price, Centers, and Riemersma split after the season, Moulds was suddenly the constant target after Reed fell into the league’s traditional second-year slump.

One of the better methods of building a team is to figure out your strengths, then fill out the roster by getting players who are good where the team is weak. In one way, the Bills prepared for 2003 by doing just that. Despite signing London Fletcher in 2002, the defense was garbage. So after the season, the Bills quickly signed linebackers Jeff Posey and Takeo Spikes. Unfortunately, Buffalo’s coach happened to be Gregg Williams, the former defensive coordinator with the Tennessee Titans. And the problem with defensive coordinators being head coaches is that they think they can get by with a smash mouth offense no matter what they have in position. No one is blaming Price, Centers, and Riemersma for taking their talents – and their collective total of around 100 receptions in 2002 – elsewhere. But one can point at Williams and Donahoe for replacing Centers and Riemersma – respectively a receiving fullback and tight end – with blocking fullback Sam Gash and blocking tight end Mark Campbell. Their sudden issues at wide receiver were ignored, and Donahoe’s first round draft pick was a damaged goods running back. Despite Bledsoe’s talent, this was clearly an offense built for punching holes in the forward lines.

With the offense rebuilt from the ground, Bledsoe had all of one threat to throw to. Travis Henry regressed, and newfound kicker Rian Lindell was missing so many kicks, you’d think he had a mob boss to pay off. Although the defense boasted All-Star talent like Spikes, Nate Clements, and Antoine Winfield and put on a hell of a show, the suddenly frail offense went through a stretch of several games without scoring a touchdown. The Bills went 6-10 and Williams was fired after the season. The new coach of the Bills became Mike Mularkey, who won the job in the traditional NFL fashion of convincing the team that he was some sort of guru. They also addressed their recently-bad passing game by drafting receiver Lee Evans. Aside from that, though, they didn’t do a whole lot to upgrade their roster, which showed when they started 0-4. It was around that time they pulled Travis Henry and plugged in running back Willis McGahee, their 2003 draft pick. Although McGahee was still slowed by a severe injury that he was hit with during his last year of college football, his installment sprang the offense to life. The Bills won their first game in week five, against the Miami Dolphins, then lost to the Baltimore Ravens – Deion Sanders scored the final touchdown of his career in that game – and then won two more before getting killed by the Patriots again just because some things don’t change. It was around this time that the media and locals started to harass Bledsoe again, and this time the mild-mannered Bledsoe responded by flying into an angry rant. The Bills finally woke up, swept the NFC West, and rattled off a six-game winning streak which placed them in playoff position. Their advance was finally stopped by the Steelers in a win-and-in game, and the Bills hit the golf course with a 9-7 record.

Although Bledsoe seemed to enjoy playing in Buffalo and liked the idea of ending his career there, the Bills suddenly deemed him expendable after drafting quarterback JP Losman in 2004. Bledsoe naturally didn’t want to sit on the bench when his team was on the verge of contending again, and you can’t really blame him. Management thought different, and that was the end of the Drew Bledsoe era. Bledsoe reunited with coach Bill Parcels on the Dallas Cowboys for a couple more years before calling it a career.

As for the Bills, a five-win 2005 in which upper management meddled every which way with what Mike Mularkey tried so hard to establish the previous year forced Mularkey to walk off after the season in frustration. If there was a single point where the Bills were clear that they would never again be the dynamo my generation in Buffalo grew up knowing, that was it. That point on was a welcome return to a sort of football irrelevance the Bills hadn’t known since the early 80’s, just before Marv Levy turned them around. There weren’t a whole lot more stars and keepable keystones – just a revolving door of players and coaches picked out by general managers trying to outsmart themselves. There are 122 professional sports teams in the big four leagues, and of those 122, 121 have made their playoffs during the millennium. Even perennial trash teams like the Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Pittsburgh Pirates, Los Angeles Clippers, and Florida Panthers have been to the playoffs. The Bills haven’t, and they’re now setting themselves up to create a new brand name as the NFL’s lovable losers. And sure, with Donahoe in charge of player movement, this may have been coming no matter what. But we can’t lay the blame for it at Drew Bledsoe’s feet. If anything, he prolonged the team’s respectability while Donahoe was hard at work destroying everything it built up in the previous decade and a half.

51 Things You’ll Never Hear a Buffalo Resident Say

51 Things You’ll Never Hear a Buffalo Resident Say

In March of last year, Time Out Chicago published a list of particular sentences and thoughts which people who had lived in Chicago for awhile could use to identify you as not being from Chicago. People loved the damn thing, and I dropped into a few other city blogs to check if other places followed suit. New Orleans did, and Portland tried, although no one ever published a full list for that city. Now, its been about a year and a half since Time Out Chicago published it, and after giving it some thought, I’ve decided its time for a Buffalo booster to punch up a list of 51. True to Buffalo’s form, though, no one here seems to have found out about Time Out Chicago’s idea. Buffalo is, of course, always three decades behind the times and current trends, so although it took me a years and a half to create my own list in response, I’m actually well ahead of the curve in Buffalo time. Note that if you’re stupid enough to say some of these things in public here – like number six – the people in this city are legally obligated to kill you.

1 – “Buffalo wings.”

2 – “Let’s be honest: The Bills never stood a chance against the Giants in that Super Bowl anyway.”

3 – “Main Place Mall is obviously the best hangout spot. There’s always a lot to see there.”

4 – “Don’t worry about having beer if you get snowed in. Tea is a fine substitute.”

5 – “Why go all the way to Mighty Taco? Taco Bell is closer. It’s just as good.”

6 – “I’m glad Buffalo Wild Wings is in the area. They know how it’s done!”

7 – “Why go to Canada to drink underage? You can buy a perfectly good fake ID here.”

8 – “The NFTA is working exactly like it’s supposed to. It’s doing a great job.”

9 – “I got caught in a traffic jam on the skyway during rush hour.”

10 – “Dolphins are mammals, not fish!”

11 – “Buffalo ’66 needs a sequel.”

12 – “Call the ballpark by its proper name: Coca-Cola Field.”

13 – “Nobody gives a crap about Irish lineage!”

14 – “I’m sensing an impending boom in heavy industry.”

15 – “I just don’t understand the logic of carving a chunk of butter into a lamb shape.”

16 – “Look, I don’t know my neighbors, so I don’t see why I should dig them out of five feet of snow just because.”

17 – “The Convention Center really adds to the aesthetic of the city.”

18 – “UB’s North Campus is easy to get to. You just can’t miss it.”

19 – “Tim Horton may be a hockey legend, but his donuts suck.”

20 – “I would prefer the pleasant natural smells of a typical city downtown area to the Cheerio smell infesting our downtown.”

21 – “All those one-way streets make navigation downtown a snap!”

22 – “Albany really sticks its neck out for us. We’re lucky to have them.”

23 – “Why does everyone like Rob Ray so much? He was a thug who never did anything for the community!”

24 – “Not having salt potatoes for the Fourth of July barbeque isn’t the end of the world.”

25 – “Ani DiFranco? That name doesn’t ring any bells.”

26 – “Who could possibly go running in this snow?”

27 – “The people in University Heights are so quiet and well-mannered.”

28 – “Summer here is gross. An average high of 80 degrees? Way too high.”

29 – “The view from the American side is just as good.”

30 – “I wish we had more New York City-style pizza joints. They do the best pizza downstate.”

31 – “The Albright-Knox doesn’t have anything interesting.”

32 – “All those Wrights and Sullivans need to be razed for more modern steel buildings.”

33 – “The Skylon is perfect for a first date.”

34 – “The Taste of Buffalo is just a low-budget version of the Taste of Chicago.”

35 – “Coffee? Starbucks, of course!”

36 – “I’m glad Niagara Falls axed the Festival of Lights.”

37 – “The city’s 4 AM Closing Time is absurd and needs to be cut back a couple of hours.”

38 – “What’s a weck?”

39 – “No, I don’t think my relatives would be interested in seeing The Falls.”

40 – “You know, it wouldn’t kill anyone to hold the annual pond hockey tournament at an indoor rink for once.”

41 – “William McKinley had it coming.”

42 – “$700 for a single-bedroom apartment is a steal. If you get that price, jump on it.”

43 – “Tim Russert and Wolf Blitzer? Overrated. Now The Buffalo News – there’s a shining beacon of great journalism!”

44 – “Three words when it comes to grocery shopping: Anywhere but Wegman’s.”

45 – “I wish Buffalo was more like New York City.”

46 – “The 1999 Stanley Cup Final was a long time ago and Brett Hull scored a good goal. Get over it!”

47 – “Another parking lot downtown would really improve the view.”

48 – “Don’t worry about potholes. They don’t exist here.”

49 – “Why would you move to North Carolina?”

50 – “I don’t see why this city thinks it’s so tough.”

51 – “I’m still waiting for Brian Higgins to run for President.”

If I were Infallible Dictator… I Mean, uh, Mayor

If I were Infallible Dictator… I Mean, uh, Mayor

What say, for a minute, that Buffalo’s Mayor was suddenly and tragically killed in a snow, football, and chicken wing-related incident and, through a series of wacky mishaps, I fell into position as Mayor of Buffalo. I can tell you now the first thing I would do: Assuming that everyone on the City Council died “mysterious” deaths, I would use the ensuing power void to tighten my grip and expand my authority, thus making myself from the mere Mayor into the Infallible Dictator of Buffalo. Maybe that comes off as a little harsh, but considering what I have in store for the city, I can’t take the chance of anyone there standing in the way of my grand plans. Yes, a giant laser would be involved. Actually, now that I think of it, two of them would be involved: One pointed at Albany and the other aimed straight at New York City. Before I started going all Bond villain on the state’s ass, though, I would first try to spruce up the quality of life in Buffalo in the following ways:

NFTA
It’s not a public secret that Buffalo’s public transit system is neither. What I would want to do is introduce the NFTA to the free market, so that when it died its inevitable death, it would go out knowing exactly how much it sucks. Buffalo’s public transit issues would ideally be solved when I brought a few enterprising transportation visionaries to Buffalo and gave them a few incentives to set up shop as the local people movers. Hopefully, the competition would drive the NFTA to get its act together, quit dropping routes to the city’s poorest neighborhoods, start providing something that resembles weekend and holiday services, and send its buses around on inner ‘burb routes more than once every two hours. If it acted the way it acts now in the face of real competition, I would watch and laugh as it died its slow death and their leaders kept begging for more funding. It had its chance. It blew it. And as a bonus, the city could finally liberate that undeveloped waterfront property the NFTA owns and refuses to do anything with.

Main Place Mall and Tower
A free market solution won’t do much more to the building that got me into The Buffalo News – the free market already killed this place, but its owners are too dumb to know it. One could liken Main Place Mall to a movie villain that just doesn’t go down, no matter how much the good guy keeps shooting at it. At any rate, the place gets demolished, and we get replica replacements of the Erie County Savings Bank and every other building that was wiped out to make room for Buffalo Place, except with updated, modern amenities. (Actually, I would hope the architect for this project would try to reproduce the interior of Main Place Tower’s lobby; to the little credit that can be given to it, the lobby is gorgeous.) Maybe we could also convince the Liberty Building owners to demolish that enormous nook on the mall side that ruins its symmetry in order to connect the two. For now, though, well, you do realize Seneca Mall was razed when people stopped going and businesses weren’t renting space there anymore, right?

Skyway
This is my infrastructure archenemy. While I’ve seen numerous proposals to turn it into a long, floating park, all those proposals have the same problem: They’re impractical. Don’t get me wrong; I love the idea, but there’s no way it’s getting done. Think about it; we’re barely able to maintain the skyway the way it is now, and one of the popular ideas involves year-round maintenance of lawn, glass-enclosed walkways, safety devices, asphalt pathways, and god only knows what else on top of the current structure. Meanwhile, tearing the whole thing down would be $10 million. The city spent more than that on Pilot Field! Therefore, I’m doing the easy thing here and ripping down the skyway. It would remove an eyesore, open up the waterfront to the Old First Ward, and make Tifft Street and Fuhrmann Boulevard more accessible. We could also get more green space in the city without it sitting there by giving the ruins a light landscaping makeover.

The Whole Stadium Issue
When Ralph Wilson died last year, I was impressed as I watched The Buffalo News raise the question of whether or not it would be right for Buffalo to keep the Bills. Then Terry Pegula bought the team, and The News dropped all pretense of economic and logistic issues and started debating about where to put the new stadium. It’s offensive that the idea of placing a stadium anywhere downtown is even being considered – a new downtown stadium would mean devastating property blows to Larkin, or the Cobblestone District, or both. The Larkin and Cobblestone Districts are both being held up as shining examples of the New Buffalo. Both are new neighborhoods which were built up around stagnant, abandoned property thought to offer nothing but potential parking lots. A downtown stadium would be a classic example of Buffalo shooting itself in the foot, 60’s urban renewal style. A good alternate site would be the old Central Terminal – we could give the classic piece a shining and buffing, and build the stadium right around it, perhaps turning the train platforms themselves into the entryway and the building into a fan zone and souvenir shop. Oh, and one more thing: I won’t be taking any shit from the NFL. It makes $9 billion a year. It’s footing the bill for this thing. Otherwise, the Bills are playing at Southside Elementary until I’m formally able to throw them out of the area.

One HSBC Tower
No, I don’t care what name they’re slopping all over it at the moment. Hell, the only reason I’m calling it One HSBC Tower is so it has a proper reference that everyone knows. To me, it will always be the oversized refrigerator box ruining the skyline that even cockroaches think is below their standards. The place is almost completely vacant, and knocking down the tower would immediately improve the skyline. We can hang on to the base, though – it would make a fine new convention center. Not because it’s any prettier than the tower (or the current Convention Center, in fact), but because it wouldn’t destroy the skyline, and it doesn’t choke off any streets.

Buffalo Convention Center
Speak of the devil. This is an ugly disparagement to the city’s radial pattern which also chokes off traffic. It just gets destroyed.

Delaware Park
I don’t think Frederick Law Olmsted, the architect of Delaware Park, would have approved of the huge landscaping blunder which guts it: The Scajaquada Expressway, which some idiot city planner thought would be a good idea to place in the middle of the park, bisecting it. Let’s face it; placing a high-speed road in the middle of a park doesn’t exactly scream “Welcome to our fun, friendly place of relaxation, meditation, and escape;” instead, it says “Nobody in this city gives a shit about physical exercise and fresh air, parks are just another span to drive across when you’re late for a football game.” This just isn’t going to do. Therefore, I’m going to make it into a large bicycle and walking trail, planting a few trees along the sides and through the middle, basically turning this chunk of the Scajaquada into a nice, tree-lined boulevard without the cars.

I guess I can amend this to say that all brutalist and modernist architecture built during the revitalization era from the ’60’s to the ’90’s should be removed and replaced with more of the Victorian and Gothic buildings that stood the test of time. We’re not trying to win any height contests here; we’re trying to bring some beauty to the area and get rid of the empty monuments that remain of the people who jumped ship. I can almost certainly think of more things to do than this – off the top of me head, the Buffalo Museum of Science could use an expansion, and why the hell does the city have so many parking lots? – but this should be enough to get the community’s creative juices pumping again. Maybe some of you think these ideas are a little farfetched, but if so, just remember two things: First, our (ongoing?) fiasco with the Peace Bridge involved a suspension bridge twin span which looked nothing like the current bridge; second, the city was once dangerously close to hinging its entire economic development plan on a fishing store.

Dispatches from Knife’s Edge

Dispatches from Knife’s Edge

Knife. So they decided to officially call this monster Knife. Winter Storm Knife, cutting across the heart of Erie County.

Maybe it’s meant to evoke some sort of ferocity, but I can’t help but think of it as a little bit kitsch. In Western New York, no one ever refers to winter storms by their proper names. We just refer to them by the features of them that everyone remembers. There is the Blizzard of ’77, for example. That’s all we need as an automatic reference to the legendary Blizzard of ’77, which everyone born after that year knows about. The Blizzard of ’77 is the standard by which every other bad winter storm is judged in Buffalo. I was born four years after that disaster, but I’m old enough to have seen some pretty hefty storms. I have recollections of the famous ’85 blizzard, when then-Mayor James Griffin voiced his battle cry for waiting out snowstorms: “Stay inside, grab a six-pack, and watch a good football game.” There was the Gridlock Monday storm of 2000, which dropped 35 inches and forced everyone driving home at the time to abandon their cars and walk home. There was the White Christmas storm of 2001, an anomaly in an otherwise mild winter which deposited 83 inches onto the city in four days – pretty much the entire snow measurement for an entire winter.

This current arctic blast currently dropped 75 inches in a little under two days, and it kills me that this is only the second-highest snowfall I’ve ever been in. (So far.) This is definitely beer and football weather; my school has been closed every day this week except Monday, which is the one day I don’t have classes. And so, with all my homework done, I’ve settled into backburner mode, except my version of beer and football so far has been tea and basketball. I managed to get out once to take a few photos during he calm before the current, second wave of the storm hit.

There’s a travel ban in place, so there won’t be any going anywhere until it’s time to visit the grocery store. When things clear up a little bit, I might try to go outside for a quick walk, but that’s out of the question for now.

You would never know right now that most of yesterday and today were sunny. This storm wasn’t simply some snow – it was a squall; a whiteout so complete that in my community, going out to shovel meant not being able to see the street.

There’s an odd process to having cabin fever. When you first realize you’re trapped at home, it’s easy to shrug, smile, call into work, and sit back with a nice beer to enjoy your day off. Snow days rarely go beyond that first day, and by the end, you’re refreshed and happy. You start getting sick of the walls by the second day, though, and not getting to go out starts getting boring. By the third day, you just want the snow to stop so you can get to the bar across the street. I tend to look for a little bit of variety – it’s a reason I like to be outside. Although I’m not at my breaking point right now, my routine during Winter Storm Knife has involved a lot of reruns of How I Met Your Mother and Futurama, college basketball and New York Knicks games, and movies. I usually have my workout done in the late morning or early afternoon, which knocks an hour to an hour and a half off my day between the workout itself and the fact that I’m usually so wiped out afterward that I end up napping at some point.

At some point, I started having some odd thoughts. What is this sudden obsession with putting Fritos on everything now? Is someone out to destroy bacon?

In any case, the city was well-prepared for the storm. It’s Buffalo, and snow happens, and getting hit with it in July wouldn’t surprise us. Before the storm came on Monday, I had an appointment with a podiatrist scheduled, which happened to be very good luck on my part because I was able to bicycle to his office. I was caught in the rain (yes, rain) on the way back, but it was nothing I hadn’t endured during my messenger years. The news outlets had been reporting on this storm for a few days by then, and it was due to hit on Monday night. We knew what we were in for; by late evening, everyone was already tuned into the broadcast stations to see the list of the next day’s closings. I think we were expecting a big whiteout but an otherwise minor emergency; two feet, two and a half tops.

You know things are bad when the newspaper delivery lets up, and this is our third day without a morning newspaper. The owner of the Buffalo Bills started offering $10 an hour plus tickets to the football game to drop by and dig out Ralph Wilson Stadium. Then he was shamed for it while drivers were advised to ignore the offer; people gave up when the snow didn’t stop; and now it was just reported that we’re not going to have a local football game to watch while we drink this week; the game is being moved to a different location altogether.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much to tell on the macro level because no one here has been able to see much of anything. I know only what I’ve seen on TV: The Weather Channel is trapped at an inn in Hamburg. One of the local TV stations was trapped for hours at a gas station. Both are giving us periodic updates, mainly as filler: “Hey everyone, it’s still snowing!” Now we know what they must have felt like in the south last winter. All that’s left to do now is wait for the snow to let up and look for ourselves to pop up on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report soon.

The Ultimate Ranking of Sports Team Names, Part Two: Just Plain Suck

The Ultimate Ranking of Sports Team Names, Part Two: Just Plain Suck

These are the names that don’t quite betray the ideals of good sports team naming, but which are nonetheless irredeemable all the same. Some come from bad trends, others lack originality, but all of them are inexcusable.

115: Florida Panthers, NHL
You’re an ad executive in the 90’s who needs a name that screams “XTREME!!! SPORT COMIN’ YOUR WAY!” and since you live in sun-drenched Miami, you laid on the beach and let it go until an hour before the presentation. So you need a ferocious animal now, but all the good ones are taken. What do you do? You pick out the name of a big cat which doesn’t even really exist (what most people call the black panther is just an ordinary, run-of-the-mill leopard with black fur). The panther is the little black dress of professional sports team names. It’s the go-to for those who either can’t do something better or those who need to throw on the quick emergency backup because they’re trying to get back out the door in a hurry. In other words: No matter how much resonance the panther may hold to the metro area, you never, ever, ever name your team after it.

114: Carolina Panthers, NFL
Okay, I don’t think there is a pair of teams on this ranking list so similar to each other. Both the Florida and Carolina Panthers were created in the early-to-mid-90’s. Both have an appearance in their respective sports’ finals amidst very nondescript existences. Both have names and logo designs with deep roots in 90’s advertising hubris. Honestly, I could have re-posted my bullet point from the other Panthers team or switched these two around, and it wouldn’t matter one bit. So why does Carolina get the slight nod? Because the Florida Panthers infect my favorite sport, while the Carolina Panthers infect my least favorite.

113: Jacksonville Jaguars, NFL
Another team created during our love affair with all things XTREME!!! during the 90’s, the Jags at least have a small bit of an edge over the Panthers and the, uh, Panthers by merit of the fact that they managed to avoid using Panthers as a name. I’ll give them credit for also avoiding use of the name Wildcats, that ubiquitous name for little league teams from sports movies. I can also credit it for a decent ring, featuring a duo of place and name which both start with the same syllable, with accompaniment by a series of short sounds which make the JA poppy. It still doesn’t change the fact that Jaguars are strictly rainforest animals from South America, not Florida. Or the fact that Jaguars are difficult to brand because they constantly get forgotten in all those other big cat names.

112: Nashville Predators, NHL
This is the kind of shit you get when you make the logo before thinking of a decent name for the team. I’ll admit this is probably about the best the Preds would be able to do with the image they were given, that of a roaring sabertooth tiger. But it should also make you wonder who would ever try such a naming technique, especially in a city nicknamed “The Athens of the South” and “The Music City,” both of which are quite capable of offering better, more memorable alternatives. It shows no respect for the city of Nashville whatsoever, and it ruins any shot at branding because the only people likely to remember it are transplants from the north who are only interested when the teams they cheered for north of the Dixie Line come to town. Again, it’s pointless 90’s hubris named to capitalize on a trend, and with the Preds always topping the lists of NHL teams likely to move, you have to wonder how much the name had to do with it.

111: Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL
Out of ferocious, XTREME!!!-style animals to name your sports team after? Time to turn to ferocious, XTREME!!!-style weather phenomena! The Lightning once claimed they were named in a fan contest, which would explain a lot, but former owner Phil Esposito later came out with the true story: He thought it up himself one night upon seeing a particularly vicious lightning bolt during a storm. While Esposito wrote of Tampa being the lightning capitol of America, it doesn’t excuse the fact that it happens everywhere, even in the desert. So again, no regionalization, no real respect for Tampa or its people, shitty branding which gets lost in a sea of other things which were more about fierce imagery than substance. At least the balance works: Two syllables, one syllable, two syllables. The city and team names both turn on hard syllables, and the “Bay” is a punchy word which adds oomph to the nickname.

110: Winnipeg Jets, NHL
Well, Winnipeg was once considered the cultural capitol of Canada, so if the Jets name is something there to imply modernity, it has that going for it. Unfortunately, how many non-hockey fans have ever heard of Winnipeg? Yeah, this particular cultural capitol is overshadowed by Canada’s other, more famous cities, not to mention a certain other Jets team south of the border which is a much better fit for its home. It was the second team in North America called the Jets, which destroys all tries at either originality or branding. It’s aesthetically terrible – three syllables to one, none of which have anything in common with each other. And even its regionalization – the only thing this name has going for it – is loose at best because of, again, a certain other team that lives in the United States.

109: Memphis Grizzlies, NBA
This name was a casualty of a relocation. When the Grizz were first created in the mid-90’s, they were located in Vancouver, where the name made a hell of a lot more sense. There are grizzly bears in British Columbia, after all. There aren’t grizzly bears running around in Tennessee, which wipes out any regional premise. Also, Memphis has a softer name than Vancouver. In Vancouver, the long “ooh” in the middle of the city name was a nice, very subtle compliment to the hard Z in the middle of “grizzlies.” Every other part of the Memphis name has a soft, quick sound, and it makes the audio aesthetic a really lousy pairing of words.

108: Pittsburgh Penguins, NHL
So you live in a blue collar, hard workin’ steel city and this is the best name you can come up with for your hockey team? I know penguins are speedy and graceful underwater, but they’re also antarctic creatures, which means they’re also covered with plenty of blubber. They waddle, an image unbecoming of a hockey team. The aesthetic doesn’t quite work as well as it should. While both are two-syllable words beginning with P, the city name jumps back up twice with a pair of hard syllables, while the team name turns on a smooth U. The best thing that can be said is that the branding is unique, but that’s mostly because no other team would ever call itself the Penguins.

107: Houston Texans, NFL
I wonder what Houston is trying to do. Sponge fans off of geographic rival Dallas by evoking the name of the state? This has the same problem as the Canucks up there: They’re trying to mobilize a fanbase by appealing to a sense of regional pride that expands way further than it should. What’s a Texan? Someone who lives in Texas. You know who also lives in Texas? Fans of the Dallas Cowboys. I should point out that while Texans may hold their state to their hearts, we have an increasingly open political world which is starting to attach a lot of negative connotations to Texas from the outside. Calling your team the Texans is an invitation for mockery by people who are buying into the view of Texas as a state full of uneducated, illiterate hicks, rednecks, and ultra religious bozos who hate common humanity and common sense and are so stupid and gun-happy they would cure a headache by shooting themselves in the head. Also, it’s a direct lift of the old AFL’s Texans, who were pushed out of the state altogether and became the Kansas City Chiefs. You know what city those Texans were based in? Dallas. I don’t know how anyone in Houston who’s in the know about the AFL Dallas Texans could possibly live with cheering for a team called the Houston Texans. At least the war is staying on the gridiron. So far.

106: Cleveland Browns, NFL
Would any Clevelanders like to explain to me exactly why they keep making fun of the Baltimore Ravens name? Their team name is the associative color of shit, dirt, and possibly Lake Erie when Cleveland managed to light it on fire. I’ll grant the association makes it quite the apt colloquialism for the way the Cleveland Browns have been playing since their return, but even the team’s real name association can’t save it. Even rudimentary football fans know the Browns were named after Paul Brown, the team’s first and greatest coach and one of the greatest coaches in NFL history. Basically, the Browns were named after a guy who, at the time of their naming, hadn’t done anything with them yet. So it hits a number of bad places: It’s a color with negative associations, and a man who meant nothing to Cleveland outside of football before he ever did anything. The latter at least suggests why Browns fans are so famously rabid: By branding the team after Brown himself, it closed itself off to anyone who isn’t in the know, and therefore the symbolism is related only to football and has nothing to do with civic pride. Therefore the team name may not even be capable of rising above its medium. Even Paul Brown himself hated it.

105: Washington Wizards, NBA
In the late 90’s, the owner of the NBA’s Washington Bullets grew a little uncomfortable with owning a team called the Bullets in the murder capitol of America, so he changed the name. I’m a little up in the air about accusing this of 90’s hubris; fantasy wasn’t where it is now, but the Harry Potter series appeared around the time the Bullets renamed themselves the Wizards. The branding was probably more unique in hindsight than it is right now, when we conjure wizards for everything. After that, this is another case of disbelief that Wizards was the best anyone could come up with in America’s capitol and one of its most historic cities. I guess the name does make sense in its way, though: The way Congress is able to constantly throw money away while doing jack shit suggests there’s black magic at work somewhere in The District. But who would ever want an association like that?

104: Oklahoma City Thunder, NBA
Although this name wasn’t taken in the 90’s, it’s definitely of the 90’s. The 90’s saw a period of sports team expansion in all four major leagues on a level that hadn’t been precedented for a long time. All four leagues had stabilized, the economy was up, and I guess all the leagues decided they had nothing to lose by rolling the dice. Unfortunately, the naming problem stems from the fact that too many admen got caught up trying to sell the public more on the XTREME!!! culture than on trying to create a connection with sports fans. Nearly a decade after the fact, the residue of the 90’s remains, stuck on yet another generic weather name which, like the Lightning, is even found in the desert. It’s another mass originality failure getting lost in generic ferocity. Ironically, it doesn’t roll especially well when you say it.

103: Carolina Hurricanes, NHL
XTREME!!! 90’s ferocity? Check! Regionalization? Uh… Does localized to the Eastern Seaboard count? Branding? Hey, fierce sports team names are in style forever! Right? Memorability? Sure, just like all the other ferocious weather names! Ferocity and balance? Okay, that I can legitimately give. 90’s! XTREME!!! The great shame here is that the Canes are a relocated team which had a great name in their last home: They were the Hartford Whalers.

102: Brooklyn Nets, NBA
There’s no major city with a cooler name than Brooklyn. Brooklyn is amazingly cool to say and listen to; it feels and sounds smooth with the OO sound taking the stage, and the weird mashing of consonants on the end cause a sudden jump which comes on just when your tongue is getting comfortable, bringing in a gritty, urbane feel. If you have to create a team in Brooklyn, your work is basically done. All you have to do is attach the proper noun. (Brooklyn Kittens!) Good thing, because that’s basically all the owners of the Brooklyn Nets did. Yes, the name survived moves from New York City to New Jersey and back again, and yes, Brooklyn rolls pleasantly and easily into Nets. That’s good, because Nets doesn’t lend itself to branding very well. If meant in strictly a basketball context, it won’t transcend the sport and appeal to new fans. If used in other contexts, Nets are bits of rope that spend the vast majority of their existences hanging around lifelessly. You have to hand it to Mikhail Prokhorov and Jay-Z – they did a hell of a job turning an unbrandable team name into the hippest team in the NBA.

101: Utah Jazz, NBA
If music genres translated to sports, Jazz is actually a perfect nickname. Jazz, like basketball, requires a lot of skill, as well as equal amounts of linear planning and improvisation. It’s not the nickname that’s the problem. It’s the location. There’s a team named after a fiery musical genre based in a state that hates music and fun altogether. Although they do get brand points, the brand is memorable mainly because it doesn’t make any sense. This team started out as the New Orleans Jazz, a damn near perfect name, and as little sense as Utah Jazz makes, I’m going to separate myself from the other writers who spend their team name lists by not calling for the name’s return to New Orleans. The New Orleans Jazz were formed in 1974 and lasted a short five years under terrible lease terms with two different home stadiums, never having a winning season. The Buffalo Braves lasted longer. As the Utah Jazz, they fielded four Hall of Fame players, a Hall of Fame coach, a two-time MVP, and won two conference titles. No matter how many arbitrary name lists the Jazz appear on, the name ain’t going nowhere with kudos like that.

100: New York Islanders, NHL
This name gets a few points for partial accuracy. New York City isn’t a real, honest-to-god city the way, say, Chicago is a real city, though. New York City is actually comprised of five different counties which consolidated their governments and therefore have no real power. Those counties became known as New York City’s boroughs, and of them, Staten Island and Manhattan are both legitimate islands. Brooklyn and Queens are both located on the west end of Long Island, while The Bronx is the only part of New York City on the US mainland. The problem is that even with such an unusual arrangement, New York City will never pass for a real island. It’s way too urbane, and the long I sound in the nickname adds the tropical tang we tend to associate with Hawaii or the US Virgin Islands. Therefore, the team name tends to be dominated by the I that starts off the nickname, which is the only real hard sound in it. Island imagery wallops this name, too – islands are seen as relaxed, laid-back places, whereas New York City is nicknamed The City that Never Sleeps.

99: Buffalo Bills, NFL
So are we talking about dollar bills, utility bills, duck bills…. While anyone who’s spent any length of time living in Buffalo knows how frightening those winter gas bills can be, all I can think of these days is that Snickers commercial where the St. Louis Rams got renamed the St. Louis Freds. The Buffalo Bills were named after an earlier team from the AAFC, an earlier competitor to the NFL, which in turn was named after a famous poacher. When your city’s name is Buffalo, you wouldn’t think there were a ton of options, but the city of Buffalo has a rich history as an industrial capitol for the entire world, an innovator in uses for electrical power, and an important location in early US wars and the Underground Railroad. Even with all that going for it, the team got named after the nickname of every Buffalo expatriate who was ever named William. Furthermore, Buffalo is a hard place with a real rough and tumble way of life – it’s a place where the word “buff” is perfectly applied, as are its close cousins “tuff” and “ruff.” And the NFL team still has the short, punchless, almost flighty Bills as a nickname. There’s no balance or heft there.

98: Cleveland Indians, MLB
This name has a unique and surprisingly effective verbal roll. Five syllables, all of them featuring either an N or an E. That’s about all it has going for it. Indians is a common name, so it has the feel of a massive cover-all in lieu of a more regional name related to the tribe which once populated the Cleveland area. (The Wyandot and Ottawa were the last two tribes to hold the area, moving in around 1740.) That doesn’t exactly lend it any originality, and the team compounds the flaw by claiming the name honors a former player, Louis Sockalexis, a great American Indian player who was frequently serenaded with war cries and whoops and slurs. When Sockalexis began to decline because of alcoholism, sports journalists nicknamed the disease the “Indian weakness.” That’s a bad enough legacy to hold, so in the case of The Tribe, it’s a very odd thing that the Indians stick to using that story over the true story of their name’s origin: They latched onto the idea of an Indian name, trying to rip off the Boston Braves after the Braves’ miracle World Series victory in 1914.

97: Kansas City Chiefs, NFL
Slightly better than the Indians, because Chief is a title rather than a people. Still, it does nothing to quell the surge of generic Indian imagery, and so we get just another boring name that manages to draw attention to itself anyway. To think, all it would take to stand out is to change the imagery slightly: Instead of an Indian Chief, they could make a switch to, say, a Fire Chief. They have the colors to match already.

96: Atlanta Braves, MLB
This name goes a little bit further than even Chiefs. Brave is technically an amorphous concept, so I can’t figure out why we choose to keep slamming it with Indian imagery. (Creek and Cherokee owned the land in Atlanta.) I understand this is an old name which survived through Boston and Milwaukee before the team reached Atlanta, but in this day and age, Indian names are major wins for teams. Some people get pissed off about them, thus drawing attention to the team which otherwise may not be worth paying attention to. Then the reactionaries to the pissed off people become fans of the team just to goad everyone on the other side.

95: Minnesota Wild, NHL
You already know this one is from the 90’s, don’t you? Look at that name! That name looks like it belongs on the marquee sign of a small town midwestern strip club, and a rather low-end one at that. Wild is also about the worst amorphous concept you could give to a place like Minnesota. The term “Minnesota nice” exists for a reason. Being wild in Minnesota means staying out until 11 while leaving the kids to a babysitter. Of all the amorphous concept names, this is probably the toughest to brand, because there’s not even a particular base from which to build a vision of wild. Wild like a forest? Wild like an animal? Wild like an asshole frat boy?

94: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, MLB
The “of” just kills it. In some ways, it can create a name that makes perfect sense: The Los Angeles Angels of Glory? The Los Angeles Angels of God? The Los Angeles Angels of Light? No, they did something completely nonsensical and said these Los Angeles Angels are of a city 40 miles south of Los Angeles, in another county. Even God is confused. The Angels nickname does work, though; as well it should, because “Angeles” is just the Spanish word for “Angels,” and they create a nice roll together. Too many listers complain about the redundancy, but if they were that adamant about it, they would also be decrying the city’s nickname, the City of Angels. City name, followed by city nickname. it’s just that in this case, they’re in different languages.

93: Chicago White Sox, MLB
And here we have the literal definition of Jerry Seinfeld’s famous routine about how sports fans are just rooting for their laundry. Not just any laundry, mind you, but the article of clothing most likely to get punished, dirtied, and lost in the laundry. The white sock is one of the most ubiquitous of all clothing articles, which means it’s also one of the blandest. Also, the city of Chicago has a kind of crushing name in your mouth, but the team nickname is a pair of very short words which aren’t weighed down enough to match it. And how the hell do you create a brand out of something people wear on their feet? It’s no wonder Bill Veeck pulled all those weird stunts. I stand by the argument that the Cubs have a worse name, but there’s little wonder why they’re the darlings of the city’s baseball scene when the alternative is this.

92: Boston Red Sox, MLB
I would like to repost my last entry, but a couple of things give the Bosox an edge over the Chisox: Red socks are more unique than white socks, and they stand out more, and the name has a better rapport with its city. Boston is a syllable less than Chicago and a lot easier to say, which makes it a lot better weighted. The Boston Red Sox also have a stronger brand than the White Sox despite their World Series drought being two years shorter and replete with more good years. Of course, the Red Sox are the only game in Boston as well, so there’s that, and that bitter rivalry with the New York Yankees also helps.

91: Colorado Avalanche, NHL
Would it really surprise you by now to learn this is another piece of 90’s residue? I can at least give it credit for not basing itself on either fierce animals or fierce weather, despite it being a natural occurrence. Besides, Colorado is a mountainous state, so we can assume avalanches happen there from time to time. Still, there’s not enough difference between Avalanche are other names based in XTREME!!! 90’s ferocity to vault it above and beyond most of the other teams introduced during the decade. Bad as this name is, though, it beats the shit out of naming the team the Denver Avalanche, because Denver is a softer, shorter word which doesn’t carrying nearly as much weight as Colorado or avalanche.

Quantified Sports Suffering in Buffalo vs. Cleveland: The Ultimate Battle!

Quantified Sports Suffering in Buffalo vs. Cleveland: The Ultimate Battle!

Buffalo and Cleveland could be twins. Their locations are similar, their histories are similar, their lifestyles, vital statistics, and living costs are all similar. Hell, the two even share their sports pain with each other, at least to such a point that fans in the two cities frequently root for each other’s teams unless their own teams are compromised in doing so. The sports fans in Buffalo and Cleveland have both suffered more than any fans in proximity to the Boston Red Sox or Chicago Cubs ever have. And yet, it’s Cleveland that seems to be getting all the publicity for how bad their fans have it, even though Buffalo arguably had it worse over the years. They’ve built such a brand name on hard losses that you wonder if any of the teams there really are interested in winning, just because a feel-good story would ruin the bad voodoo. Perhaps they think all the non-Clevelanders who follow Cleveland’s teams – and there are a ton of them, far more so than for any of the teams in Buffalo – would pat themselves on the back, compliment themselves for sticking it out, and bounce off to different teams.

A little movie called Draft Day was released this week. It’s about the GM of the Cleveland Browns and his fight for the year’s coveted draft pick, a guy who will uplift the city and its fans and relieve everyone of all their suffering. Buffalo has a small stake in this because Draft Day was dangerously close to revolving around the Buffalo Bills. After Cleveland stepped in and offered better incentives to Hollywood to make Draft Day about their football team, it was an instance of Buffalo getting nationally lowballed in accounts of its sports suffering yet again, and I asked myself: Which one of these cities really has it worse when it comes to professional sports? So let’s do this! Quantified sports suffering in Buffalo vs. Cleveland. One day, I’ll learn.

Past Glories
The thing about record books is that they’re there to preserve things. The histories of your sports teams are something you want to hold onto, because sports are part of popular culture, historical culture, and the entertainment industry. And once something happened to your sports team, it can’t be erased, and when a moment of real significance happens – whether it’s good or bad – it becomes something that helps define the team. This applies double to both championships and last-place finishes. When it comes to the defining moments of the past, Cleveland shines: Although the Browns never made the Super Bowl, they did win four NFL Championships which are their forever. If we extend the history back through the AAFC – which we should – that number is ramped up to eight, with the four titles Cleveland won in the four years the AAFC existed. (In the 1948 AAFC Championship, the Browns whomped the original Buffalo Bills 49-7.) Although the Browns stopped winning titles after the 60’s, they had plenty of huge moments after that, and they were also coached by one of football’s greatest innovators (Paul Brown) and fielded the greatest football player in history (Jim Brown). Of course, the original Browns are now the Baltimore Ravens, but for the sake of consistency, I’m going to play the same game with them the NFL does and pretend the team just “suspended operations” for two years and consider the brand new team the same team. In baseball, the Cleveland Indians won five Pennants and two World Series titles. Even a 1954 World Series loss became iconic to baseball lore when the Tribe became arguably the best team to ever lose the Series – they won 111 games that year; they were also one of Bill Veeck’s teams, and were the first AL team to integrate. The terminally bad Cavs even made a significant impact on the NBA when they drafted LeBron James, who became the league’s best player and took the Cavs to their only NBA Finals, an unwinnable series against an invincible San Antonio Spurs team. As for Buffalo, glory came in fleeting moments at its best. The AAFC Bills made the aforementioned title game in an otherwise resoundingly average existence before the AAFC/NFL merger stomped them out. The current Bills were one of the original AFL teams in 1959, and they reeled in dominant repeat championships in 1964 and 1965 and played in the game in 1966. The 1966 game is a big question mark among Bills fans regarding what could have been because winning it would have catapulted them into the first-ever Super Bowl (where they would have gotten trashed by Vince Lombardi’s Packers). After that, they experienced decency for a brief stretch in the 70’s with OJ Simpson, but were mostly terrible with an occasional average year thrown in to tease the fans. Even in the 80’s, when the Bills finally became legitimately good, they lost four straight Super Bowls. The Sabres have won three Conference Championships and one Presidents’ Trophy, but before today’s record losing became a problem with them, the Sabres made a habit of having a great season and watching it go to waste when the Boston Bruins would inevitably steal the division title and the Sabres would get knocked out of the first round of the playoffs. Buffalo’s strongest point right now is its lacrosse team, and while the city was once one of the richest and most important cities in the world, it somehow never had a professional major league baseball team – in fact it lost several bids for one.
Winner
There are those who might argue that Cleveland should get this, since it fell so much further. But my thoughts about that argument were explained when I mentioned records. I’m not doing this by ignoring any parts of a team’s past just because it didn’t happen in my lifetime, and past glories beat no glories any day of the week. Therefore, Buffalo is the so-called winner here.

National Embarrassment
This isn’t an on-field embarrassment I’m trying to cover now – every team has those, even the Yankees. For this category, I’m covering something that transcended what happened on the field and worked its way into national consciousness. And both cities provide very easy choices: For Cleveland, it was The Decision. In case your memory is geared toward the short term, here’s what happened: Cleveland had LeBron James, the NBA’s most transcendent and gifted player since Michael Jordan. However, he became a free agent, and some media prick decided his decision about where he was going to play was a big enough deal to warrant an hour-long TV special on ESPN. There was speculation about James everywhere, and the show was little more than waffling for an hour until decision time came and James publicly humiliated his devoted Cleveland fanbase by saying he was off to the Miami Heat. It wasn’t the actual decision that sparked outrage in Cleveland so much as it was airing it on national TV. Rust Belt people are a prideful group who believe in their cities, no matter how poorly reputed, and are always willing to do their part in trying to bring them back from the dead. James failed to understand that he was putting a viable face on Cleveland, and The Decision flew right in the face of a city trying to pull itself back together and positively promote itself. So when the Cavaliers owner told James off in a public note and Clevelanders started burning James in effigy, it was an effort to spare their own pride. Another group of people who failed to understand Cleveland’s mentality were critical theorists – who, notably, in my experiences, all say with great pride that they don’t care about professional sports (unless they’re griping about someone’s insane contract, an issue which I think unites everyone) – who couldn’t resist the urge to apply their favorite label to Cleveland by calling fans racists. Buffalo’s greatest embarrassment was so terrible and so wrong that calling it an embarrassment is being way too soft. In the 70’s, Buffalo had a star running back named OJ Simpson, who was comparable to LeBron James for everything. Simpson didn’t bounce from Buffalo, either – although he lived in California, he was always very proud to represent Buffalo, never said anything bad about the city, and was a regular at Bills games after retiring. And then in 1994, he was accused of murdering his wife, and while the law said he wasn’t guilty, the evidence was more than strong enough for the people to be very convinced otherwise. Simpson turned out to be a public projection presented in the place of a private scumbag. In 2007, Simpson robbed a Las Vegas hotel, and received a disproportionately long sentence of 33 years which many people believe was the law making up for what it didn’t do in 1994.
Winner
Buffalo. Although people in Cleveland will certainly try to use a metaphorical argument, no one was killed in regard to The Decision. In fact, after the initial anger period, Cleveland’s basketball fans are starting to act like they would welcome him back if he ever returned to the Cavaliers. While James himself had image problems in the immediate aftermath of The Decision, he’s also conducted himself in a way which laid them to rest, and even he now admits he sees why The Decision was a bad idea. By all accounts, James is a good man and a class act. Buffalo sports fans are actively trying to remove themselves of any connections to OJ Simpson, and have passed around several petitions asking for his name to be pulled from Ralph Wilson Stadium’s Wall of Fame.

Lost Team
Unfortunately, while the record books say the Cleveland Browns “suspended operations” for two years, records and ownership are very different things, and so the shared history won’t nullify the fact that one of the proudest NFL cities in the country was robbed of its team. Yes, they got them “back,” but the Browns being taken at all was no small thing. The owner who committed the robbery, Art Modell, is more hated in Cleveland than LeBron James ever was. We’re talking about a rabidly nutty fanbase here, and a very extensive one – Browns Backers Worldwide is the most extensive fan organization in the United States, and branches can be found in every major US city. (The largest is in Phoenix.) They also have an enormous foreign presence on US military bases, as well as proper foreign countries including Egypt, Australia, Japan, Sri Lanka…. And even the McMurdo Station in freaking Antarctica! Their two largest international chapters are in Alon Shvut, Israel, and Niagara Falls, Canada. The latter chapter is saying something because Niagara Falls is a clear encroachment in Bills territory. Bills Backers International is no slouch either, but how does a group as huge and devoted as Cleveland lose its team in the first place? Buffalo also has a serious lost team in its past: In 1970, the NBA oversaw the foundation of the Buffalo Braves, an exciting, run and gun team which featured coaching legend Jack Ramsey and MVP center Bob McAdoo. The Braves did manage to catch a base of hardcore fans, including current Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, a New York City native who chose the Braves as his team over both the Knicks and Nets and attended college in Buffalo because of his respect for them. The NBA is one of the most visible and ubiquitous sports leagues in the country. Its stars tend to be the most popular, because they’re the most versatile in regards to the way the sport is played (unlike baseball or football) and the ones who spend the most time in the game (unlike hockey, where stars get shifts of a few minutes and play maybe 20 minutes, a great basketball player can spend 35-40 minutes of a 48-minute game on the floor).
Winner
Cleveland by a distance of at least three states. They lost a team in the country’s most popular sport, the one whose championship game is seen as almost a national holiday. While no one could ever argue the popularity of the NBA, first of all, the NBA is the youngest pro sports league in the country, and the Braves existed before it morphed into the juggernaut it is today. The Braves left in 1978; the league was seriously cash-strapped right through the early 80’s, and moving teams was still fairly common when the Braves were on the outs. Hell, even the NBA Finals were usually shown on tape delay, if they were shown on TV at all. There’s also the impact of what the teams became after leaving. The Browns became the Baltimore Ravens, two-time Super Bowl champions. The Braves became the San Diego Clippers, then became the Los Angeles Clippers six years later, and they still haven’t won anything. Hell, they’ve been the poster boys of losing basketball, and it’s not until just now that the Clippers are giving their fans the kinds of successes they enjoyed as the Braves (who were consistently good for several years). Also, this can’t be understated: Cleveland got a team back, and that team was given the right to say it was the old team! While the loss of the Braves undoubtedly hurt, that’s nothing on losing a world class NFL franchise.

The Title that Got Away
Buffalo and Cleveland both have moments of pain quantified by the fact that they were a hair away from winning the league title when karma snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. In both cases, the events happened in the 90’s, long enough for the title draughts to have really sunk in by then. The Cleveland Indians had been in the dumps since the trade of Rocky Colavito, but in the 90’s, they were finally dominant again. They brought home two Pennants during the decade, and as for what happened during the World Series, I’m fairly sure the 1995 loss to the Atlanta Braves team no one was expected to beat is forgivable. In 1997, though, it was different: The Tribe played against the Florida Marlins to a seventh game, and they were one run up in the ninth inning with two outs left when close Jose Mesa – one of baseball’s best – spaced out. Long story short, the Marlins made up the run, the game went to extra innings, and the Marlins pulled it out. The Indians haven’t gotten that close since. The Bills played the closest Super Bowl in history against the New York Giants. Behind 20-19 with eight seconds left, their kicker shanked a 47-yard field goal try to the right.
Winner
I’m calling this a draw. It’s disgusting the Bills lost to the Giants in such a way – while revisionist NFL commentators like to say now the Bills couldn’t have won, they ignore the fact that the Bills weren’t playing like themselves. They were making mistakes and errors all game against a Giants team playing at its absolute, peak best. Had the Bills been doing the same, the closer score of that game would have been about 38-10, Buffalo. As for Cleveland, yes, they were fielding what was pretty much an all-star team too. However, what everyone conveniently forgets is that they were also playing against an all-star team. Florida won by spending big on guys like Al Leiter, Gary Sheffield, Moises Alou, Bobby Bonilla, Kevin Brown, Robb Nen, and Luis Castillo. That’s not what you would call light makeup. Jose Mesa was an outstanding closer, just as Buffalo’s Scott Norwood was an excellent kicker, and both blew it when they couldn’t afford to.

Signature Losing Streaks
This is a tougher and more significant contest than you might expect. A nice long streak can say a lot about a team. I guess the logical place to start with Cleveland would be in the NBA, where the Cavaliers have managed to reel in 26 losses in a row on more than one occasion. Everyone knows that. The more significant streak, though, is the brief run of appearances the Browns made in the AFC Conference Championship back in the 80’s. How much of a streak this really is depends on interpretation, but the Browns appeared in three AFC Championships in the 80’s, all against the Denver Broncos. They lost all three. Then, of course, there’s the Buffalo Bills and their two very famous losing streaks. They made it to the Super Bowl an unprecedented four years in a row, and are still the only team to ever do that. They also lost all four, as if anyone in Buffalo needs reminding. Known as well in Buffalo, however, is that back in the terrible 70’s, the Bills also managed to drop 20 games straight to the Miami Dolphins. You think they have it bad with their recent losing streaks against the Belichick/Brady Patriots? That was nothing compared to what Schula’s ‘Phins did to them every year for ten straight years.
Winner
Buffalo. I take nothing away from Cleveland here, but both of Buffalo’s major streaks were in the country’s major sport, and one of them involved, you know, losing the damned Super Bowl every year! Also, the Bills have a streak of playoff-free years that dates all the way back to 1999. The Browns have a similar streak, but it “only” goes back to 2002.

Ownership Problems
You don’t get a bad team without a bad owner, and the owners of the Browns and Cavaliers have proved that many times over throughout the years. Bad as the new Browns are, though, they all still take a backseat in Cleveland to Art Modell, who sinned against Cleveland when he moved the Browns to Baltimore. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Cavaliers fans have had to deal with Ted Stepien. While Stepien was only there for a few years, he left a mark. He was Jerry Jones before Jerry Jones was, interfering with the running of the team’s operations to such an extent that the NBA had to instate a rule specifically to prevent him from drafting first-round picks in consecutive years. Buffalo’s ownership problems have also been apparent, but the Bills were owned by Ralph Wilson for 54 years before Wilson died last week. The Sabres have had a more eclectic ownership history which involved the Knox family, the NHL, and Tom Golisano before Terry Pegula took them over and wimped out when it came to making the necessary changes of guard.
Winner
Cleveland. Ted Stepien was just too vile of a human being, and Art Modell screwed the city out of a champion football team. Whatever can be said about Wilson or Pegula, they were truly committed to their area and were class acts and fans of the teams they owned, for better and worse. 

Bad Draft Picks
In Cleveland, Tim Couch, Luke Jackson, and Brady Quinn aren’t lacking for haters, but I don’t even have to do any research to know their worst draft pick, ever, across any sport: If your starting quarterback is a rookie who is already 29 years old, you fucked up. With competent coaching, poor Brandon Weeden could have been a nice placeholder for a year or two until their guy finally came to town, but we can’t allow ourselves to go very far beyond that. There are a few Buffalo players in history who could qualify as the worst – John McCargo, anyone? Say what you will about the Bills’ bad picks, though, but they all at least signed contracts. Barrett Heisten, the 1999 first round pick of the Buffalo Sabres, never did that. Although that might have been a blessing in disguise, because Heisten played ten NHL games in his entire career, all with the New York Rangers, and his points column has a big fat goose egg in it. Six picks later, the Ottawa Senators got Martin Havlat.
Winner
Cleveland. Brandon Weeden was in the more popular sport, with the more visible team, and the media never let anyone forget the Browns were staking their future on a first round quarterback who was about to hit the wrong side of 30. Either the team was trying to outsmart itself or it stopped giving a shit years ago. How the hell does a general manager mess up like that?

Signature Losses
Both cities are steeped in the lore of bad losses. Cleveland has incidents like The Fumble, The Drive, The Shot, and Red Right 88 to live down. All of those were playoff losses, and two of them involved the Browns in the AFC Championship. The Shot, we can say, wasn’t too bad because the Cavaliers were in a lower playoff round playing against the Jordan Bulls, and it was Jordan who made The Shot. The Drive is sort of the same – John Elway was being John Elway, and the incident didn’t win the game for Denver, but took it into overtime. The other two, however, are inexcusable. Buffalo is still living down The Drop, No Goal, the Music City Miracle, and The Bounce. Buffalo likes to blame bad refereeing, and makes the claim about No Goal and the Music City Miracle. The Bounce was a wild act of physics that happened to defy Dominick Hasek’s spine. The Drop, like The Fumble (running back Ernest Byner fumbling at the two yard line) and Red Right 88 (the Browns making a desperation pass that failed when a field goal would have worked), just inexplicably happened when it shouldn’t have. The Music City Miracle, though, was entirely legit. It was a great play made against bad kickoff coverage, and no amount of griping about the refs being under someone’s belt will change the fact that science and math have both proven that amazing play was either backward or straight to side side, at the very least. 
Winner
This one is a tie. Even though No Goal happened in the Stanley Cup Finals and gave the Cup to the Stars, the Sabres could well have lost anyway even if it had gone in their direction. Cleveland’s gaffes cost them more than one trip to the Finals, so those are just as evil. The Drop and The Fumble are very similar – almost comical robberies of surefire game-winning touchdowns. So how about Buffalo and Cleveland meet in a nice sports bar over this and cry into our Great Lakes and Brooklyn Brewery microbrews together?

Signature Athlete Who Gave the City the Finger on the Way Out
Poor Cleveland. LeBron James came, and we all believed he would be a Cavalier forever. For seven years, all basketball aficionados were Cavs fans to at least some extent. When they made the Finals for the first time in 2007, I think nearly everyone was rooting for him to defy the odds and lead Cleveland to a stunning upset over the Spurs. Then in 2010, James briefly became the enemy of NBA followers everywhere with The Decision. Although there was more subtlety to it, Buffalo got a whiff of what this might be like when the Bills used their first 2002 draft pick on Willis McGahee. McGahee sat behind Travis Henry for a year, and when the Bills turned the corner in 2004 – their only winning season of the millennium – it was largely because McGahee was given the keys. McGahee played brilliantly for the next couple of seasons, but he also took his complaints about Buffalo to the media. Buffalo had loved McGahee, and he decided to turn around and spit right in the city’s face. Buffalo is one of those places where insiders can trash the place as much as they please – when we do it, it has a lot to do with frustration over how the city isn’t using its full potential. When outsiders do it, it’s because they never made the effort to get to know the place. McGahee was shipped to Baltimore. When he found that out, he apparently ran screaming around his house.
Winner
Cleveland. A fiasco like The Decision will get a tortured sports city pretty far when it comes to athletes sticking up their fingers.

The so-called winner in the tortured sports pantheon truly is Cleveland. You have to admit, though, Buffalo made it a hell of a fight.