Ohio sports fans are some of the most passionate and loyal. They support their teams through good times and bad. Sadly, the state has seen way too many bad stretches.
The Cleveland baseball team hasn’t won a World Series since 1948. The Reds have been waiting since 1990, and haven’t won a playoff series since 1995. The Bengals have never won a Super Bowl, and the Browns, even with the Dawg Pound cheering, have never played in one. But through it all, the fans in Ohio — often buoyed by the success of the Buckeyes football team — have continued to show up and stand up to support their teams.
Here are the five best times to have been an Ohio sports fan.
The Best Times To Be An Ohio Sports Fan
2016: LeBron Delivers On Promise; Indians Nearly Win It All
With apologies to Bob Feller and Jim Brown, the most iconic athlete in Cleveland sports history is LeBron James. In 2016, the Ohio native was in attendance for two special moments, both of which brought tears to Ohio sports fans.
In Game 7 of the NBA Finals, James led the Cavs in a gutsy comeback to win the first title for a Cleveland team in more than five decades. It culminated in a comeback from a 3-1 series deficit and the toppling of the cocky Golden State Warriors, who had set an NBA record for victories. Ah, karma.
A few months later, LeBron was in a luxury suite wearing an Indians cap as the team battled in their own Game 7 — in the World Series against the Chicago Cubs. That game and its epic finish is one of the most incredible in baseball history, and Cleveland lost. But it was still an incredible year to be a Cleveland and Ohio sports fan.
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1975-76: The Big Red Machine
One could argue for this team and that team as baseball’s best ever — although, maybe that was the 1927 Yankees, maybe the 1998 Yankees, or some would even pick the 2018 Red Sox or the 1986 Mets. But they would be wrong. Baseball’s greatest team hailed from “flyover country” in the heart of the midwest — the 1970s Cincinnati teams known as The Big Red Machine.
The Reds won pennants in 1970 and 1972 but weren’t quite mature enough yet to win a title. In 1975-76, the Machine rolled along like a beast that couldn’t be tamed. The Reds won in seven thrilling games in the 1975 Fall Classic, and then in 1976 became the only team to sweep multiple rounds of the postseason, going 7-0 as they steamrolled the Phillies and Yankees.
The Machine featured the greatest catcher and second baseman to ever play the game (Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan) and two more MVPs in Pete Rose and George Foster. Then there was team leader Tony Pérez, who is in the Hall of Fame. The core of the club was “The Great Eight” which also included shortstop Davey Concepción, who ranks among the best defenders ever, and outfielders César Gerónimo and Ken Griffey Sr. — All-Stars in their own right.
In 1975 they won 108 games, and in 1976 they garnered 102.
While the Machine was firing on all cylinders, the other Ohio teams were nothing special, though the Buckeyes were a force in the Big Ten football race. It doesn’t matter because the Reds were so great that Ohio sports fans could beam with pride for a decade, confident that their baseball team was the best.
1995-97: Indians Heyday
Yeah, so this is a bit of cheating because it’s not one single season, but it’s impossible to ignore the mid-1990s when the Indians emerged as one of baseball’s premier teams. In 1995 and 1997, the team won pennants, the first in franchise history since Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House.
The team was led by superstars such as Kenny Lofton, Manny Ramirez, and Jim Thome. And the team was popular: as we outlined in another feature, the franchise set a record with 455 consecutive sellouts at The Jake.
1954: Browns and Indians Dominate
Can you imagine a world in which the Browns are the dominant team in the NFL? That was the case in the 1950s when the Browns played in seven NFL title games in eight seasons, winning three times. In 1954 they won the NFL crown with Otto Graham leading then offense and franchise patriarch Paul Brown coaching the team.
Also in the 1950s, the Indians were the second-best team in the American League. Unfortunately, the best team was the Yankees, and they made winning the pennant practically an annual habit. However, in 1954 behind a famed pitching staff that included three future Hall of Famers (Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, and Early Wynn), the Indians won 111 games, which established a league record.
They took it on the chin in the World Series, losing four straight to the Giants, but that hardly spoiled what was a golden era. From 1950 to 1955, the Indians won at least 90 games every season, and while the team was typically bridesmaid to the Yanks, the team was exciting and played before packed crowds.
1964: Bad, Bad Jim Brown
Are you sensing a theme here? It’s rare that the state of Ohio has had periods in which multiple teams have been really good, but there have been times when one team was so great that it was a wonderful time to be a sports fan in the state.
In the early 1960s, football was a game in which you could still run the ball and have success. There were even players whose job it was to do so. They were called running backs. Some of them were even stars. The biggest star was Jim Brown, the granite-like back for the Browns, who also had the feet of a dancer and the breakaway speed of a sprinter.
In 1964, behind Brown’s 1,446 yards and a 5.2 yards per carry average, Cleveland went 10-3-1 and then defeated the Colts 27-0 in the NFL title game. The team returned to the championship game the following year, in what was Brown’s final season. The 29-year-old retired from football to pursue a career as a Hollywood actor and political activist. His 5.2 yards per carry average remains the best in history.
For pro football fans in Ohio, there was no better time than when the great Jim Brown was carrying the pigskin.
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