In northeast Ohio, Cedar Point amusement park has long been the undisputed king of the quick drop-off. However, the 364-acre peninsula of steel and wood has been getting a run for its money as of late.
Make no mistake, a new theme park hasn't sprung up in Ohio -- it is the local sports teams that are providing the queasy stomaches and free-fall chills of the spine.
There is a natural curve for most sports teams, a cycle if you will. A few draft picks here, throw in a trade or free agent signings there, and suddenly a team is growing together. More importantly, the team is winning together. The front office adds pieces as the years go on with the goal of becoming championship contenders.
Typically, this success continues for a few seasons before players begin to move past their primes, and assistant coaches are offered promotions to join other teams. At the end of said cycle, the team is still somewhat competitive, but the signs are clear that things are not what they once were.
To Cleveland fans, this cycle would be a welcome change from the reality that faces their favorite teams at present day.
Take the Cleveland Cavaliers, a very well-known starting point. Over the previous two seasons, no team has won more regular-season contests (127) than the Cavs. After losing to the Phoenix Suns on Sunday, the Cavaliers are still stuck on eight wins. Losing 20 of their past 21 games, they own the league's worst winning percentage (.216). And after losing Anderson Varejao (arguably the team's most valuable player) to injury for the season, the Cavs will struggle to maintain even that winning percentage. At present rate, it would take the current Cavaliers seven seasons to match those 127 wins of the two previous years.
In the history of the NBA, never before has a team finished with the worst record in the league one year after finishing with the best. The reason for the extreme drop-off is obvious. With one uttered sentence (the meme of 2010's summer), the Cavaliers' primary source of wins headed south to Miami, and fans were left with season tickets to a circus that has no happy ending in sight. In a twist of fortune, seven seasons is also the length of time that the two-time MVP LeBron James played in Cleveland.
However, it doesn't end with the Cavaliers’ historic run from first to worst.
In 2007, the Cleveland Indians were a single win away from the World Series. They had taken care of the Yankees in the Division Series and were leading the Boston Red Sox three games to one with staff ace CC Sabathia pitching at home in Game 5. The Indians lost the next three games by a combined score of 30-5, subsequently setting the stage for a flurry of trades that Clevelanders are still stunned over.
Fearful of losing them to free agency, Indians' brass traded away consecutive Cy Young award-winners Sabathia and Cliff Lee along with fan favorite catcher Victor Martinez. Alas, the Indians lost 93 and 97 games, respectively, the past two seasons. Once again, fans were left without even a real second shot at a title run. No slow drop-off. No gradual coming to a halt. Just a fast fall from the top.
And then there are the Cleveland Browns. An absolute disaster since returning to the league in 1999, it would seem the Browns really don't qualify for the typical cycle due to terrible front office decisions including, but not limited to, the NFL Draft and a revolving door of coaching changes. But in 2007, the team won 10 games under then head coach Romeo Crennel, and had fans excited about the possibility of playoff football returning to the lakefront.
Unfortunately, that team would miss the playoffs by one game, leaving fans longing for more. Even more unfortunate, that 10-win team became a four-win team the following season, leading to more coaching and executive changes amongst the front office. Since then, another GM or two has been lost, and the Browns are once again picking near the top of the draft this spring because of a poor record.
While there may not exactly be height requirements at any of the three major sports venues in town, the Cavaliers, Indians and Browns have provided the city of Cleveland with quite a free-fall. With Cedar Point in their back yard, Clevelanders are quite used to the roller coaster experience. But somehow, with regard to their beloved sports teams, the term "thrill ride" just doesn't seem appropriate.
But given the current state of the three teams, passengers are reminded to keep their hands and arms inside of the car until it comes to a complete stop. Whenever that may be.
-- Rick Grayshock writes for WaitingForNextYear.com, a site dedicated to Cleveland and Ohio State sports.