The newest in the series of 30 for 30 films, "Believeland," debuted last weekend. Like any sentient sports fan — especially as one who has been around longer than ESPN — I look forward to these documentaries. Most of them are well made, and the best of them thrum with emotion.
“Believeland” is based on the premise that 21st-century Cleveland is the unluckiest city since first-century Pompeii. Oh, get over yourselves.
Look, I love Cleveland and I liked “Believeland.” ESPN has produced more than 80 documentaries for the 30 for 30 series and this was among the more watchable installments. It covers a vast swath of territory and moves along for 90 minutes. It will be devoured by its target audience in Cleveland and its timing — released on the eve of the Cavaliers’ latest appearance in the NBA Eastern Conference finals — is impeccable. But this film is not on par with “The Band That Wouldn’t Die,” to name one.
It is not overstating things to say that sports fans across the continent, outside of Toronto, the Bay Area and Oklahoma City, are rooting for the Cavs to break the Cleveland curse. Certainly, I would like to see it, in part because I have a kid living in Cleveland and he needs to chill. He has immersed himself in a certain local ethos, probably because his mother is a Red Sox fan and she spent the first 43 years of her life believing in the Curse of the Bambino. Bah.
The problem of “Believeland” is the premise that Cleveland has cornered the sports market on woe, and that “you have to be from Cleveland to understand.” It’s the capital of the Rust Belt, its manufacturing jobs are gone, its children are forced to leave town — and its die-hard denizens trudge on, their hearts and souls married to their sports teams like no other fans in the world.
Ever been to Buffalo?
One of the best scenes in "Believeland" is Earnest Byner’s heartfelt apology for The Fumble in the 1987 AFC championship game. Big play? Yes. Cost Browns the game? No. Had Byner scored, the Browns would have merely tied the Broncos. What happens when Denver gets the ball back with 1 minute remaining? What happens in overtime, if it came to it? To Clevelanders, these are trifling questions because they do not fit their narrative.
Nobody else has endured “Red Right 88” or “The Drive” or “The Fumble” or “The Shot.” Nobody else can understand the treachery of Art Modell, the pain of The Decision or the frustration of a brush with World Series immortality. “You have to be from Cleveland to understand.”
Ever been to Ottawa or Milwaukee or Vancouver or Salt Lake City?
The irony of "Believeland" is that disbelief is what sets Clevelanders apart. This is not only unbecoming, it’s not even unusual.
They are Chicago Cubs fans with less of a sense of humor. Clevelanders have kin in Hartford, where the hockey team won it all in another city. They would be just like Bengals fans if the Bengals had a more glorious history.
Ever been to Buffalo?
Leaving aside Shawn Porter, who brought the IBF welterweight title home to Northeast Ohio in 2013, and Stipe Miocic, who won the UFC heavyweight title for Cleveland on Saturday night, it is true that “The Land” has for 52 years suffered from an unusual lack of major-team championships. Yet, there have been successes and, either way — and to quote Bill Munny — deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.
You don’t have to be from Cleveland. Scores of millions of sports fans, all over the continent, are pulling for the Cavs for that reason. They understand.
Michael Arace is a sports reporter for The Dispatch.
Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.
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