If sports history feeds a city’s collective memory, then Cleveland suffers from partial amnesia. Perhaps a willful loss of memory.
I have this based on an observation from no less an authority than CLE Clothing Co., a sartorial enterprise trading richly off the unique mix of ragged pride, stupefied sense of irony, strident defiance and self-deprecation that is Cleveland’s collective psyche. From a perch at the city’s very nexus at East 4th and Euclid, the shop has left untouched seemingly no old-school bit of city history, no professional sports misfortune ever befalling the region as grist for an ironic hipster t-shirt or an old-timey poster suitable for dorm or loft wall. The Drive. The Fumble. The Shot. The Move. The Decision. Beer Night. Red Right 88…
How about the Cleveland Rams — the only NFL champions ever to play the following season in a different city?
Recently I made a short shopping trip through CLE Clothing’s displays, pawing through stacks of t-shirts and riffling through posters in idle search of some small bit of Rams memorabilia. There was the rising tide of Cavaliers wine-and-gold (LeBron having recently been “forgiven”), the eternally-autumn colors of the Browns, the flag-waving red white and blue of the Indians (because Native Americans surely would choose the colors of the nation that most oppressed them to best represent them).
Then it came into view: a poster hailing: Cleveland Bulldogs, 1924 NFL Champions.
Something about the Rams must be in the vicinity!
More hunting. A Cleveland Spiders t-shirt!
More hunting still. The Cleveland Rosenblums! The Cleveland-f’ing-Rosenblums. Near total obscurity, it seemed, was no obstacle here. A treasure trove, this was, of Cleveland sports history.
And still I searched, and searched, and searched, indignation rising like a vague dyspepsia from this flagrant disregard of the Rams. Half-heartedly, I checked with a salesclerk. No Rams stuff.
Ever heard of ’em? Nope.
So. To review what CLE Clothing Co. did offer in the way of Cleveland sports memories:
- A prehistoric football team that won a pro title before disbanding forever
- A 19th century baseball team with the record for lowest winning percentage, probably forever
- A pre-NBA basketball team that lasted six seasons (though admittedly compiling three championships in the duration)
And no Rams, 1945 NFL Champions.
The Rams were the ultimate jilting, the epic Cleveland letdown — not content merely to leave Cleveland at the altar but to marry Cleveland, open all the wedding gifts with Cleveland, honeymoon with Cleveland, then run away from Cleveland for some buff beach bum on the West Coast.
Art Modell and LeBron James may have forsaken Cleveland, but not right after they had won a championship (Clevelanders should have been so lucky). No, if you’re looking for the ultimate Screw-You-Cleveland, it arguably was the Rams — NFL champions today, gone tomorrow.
I figure some of this disregard for the Rams must be attributable to the name. “Rams” still exists today, and it’s contemporary-sounding; it’s not funny or old-timey like “Rosenblums” or “Spiders” or “Bulldogs” (or “Browns”). So no ironic hipster t-shirt.
It can’t be the Rams’ ancientness. Look at the Bulldogs!
It can’t be the Rams’ overall mediocrity (save for that one championship season). Look at the Spiders!
It can’t be that the Rams won a championship. Look at the Rosenblums!
It certainly could, however, be that the Rams moved, hence no sense of possession or ownership in Cleveland. Though many in Brooklyn still romanticize the Dodgers’ World Series championship in 1955, two years before the team moved to Los Angeles. And many in L.A. still pine for the Rams, even though they moved again nearly 20 years ago, the second time to St. Louis.
Ahh, who knows; too many questions. My quest to understand how a championship team could disappear so thoroughly down the memory hole of its (and my) hometown continues…