Before the champagne had dried and J.R. Smith finally got his shirt back on, sportswriters and obsessives had already begun looking for what city was the saddest now that Cleveland was no longer the star of a 52-year-long sports version of "Hostel."
And wouldn’t you know it, it’s us.
Well … crap.
The sad stat was quickly passed around on Twitter, where comedian and "Daily Show" contributor Roy Wood Jr. made this joke:
Milwaukee is the "New Cleveland". 45 yrs since their last pro sports championship. Currently working on my '30 for 30' doc 'Belivewaukee' — Roy Wood Jr- Ex Jedi (@roywoodjr) June 20, 2016
Indeed, "Believewaukee" – based on the unofficial Cleveland sports motto of "Believeland" and the recent ESPN 30 for 30 doc of the same name. But despite the obviously joking nature of "Believewaukee," there was a feeling of, yeah, we are now that humble, long-suffering little sports city that the rest of the country could jokingly but lovingly pity and, hopefully, eventually see triumph.
We could now be the city united under the umbrella of sad, beleaguered fandom. Like getting name-dropped in a movie or seeing our city on a random travel or food list, it was a new label to happily plaster onto Milwaukee’s identity, a new reference to prove that bigger places know and care that we exist. And while "sports’ saddest town" isn’t a particularly sexy claim to fame, it’s not an unwelcome one. It essentially makes us the sporting world’s cute fascination.
But while the math may technically say that we now claim the title as professional sports’ kind of pathetic but mostly adorable three-legged puppy, I’m sad to report: nope. Milwaukee is not the next Cleveland, and "Believewaukee" is not a thing (namely because it barely qualifies as a pun; the obvious nickname should be "Dream City," a riff off Cream City, but this is beside the point).
For one, as the USA Today article argues, we have the Packers and the two Super Bowls they won in 1996 and 2010 to bail us out. Now, this is a controversial position, as obviously they’re not the Milwaukee, or even Wisconsin, Packers. We certainly don’t get a parade going down Wisconsin Avenue when they win it all, and we’re actually closer to Chicago than Green Bay.
But the Packers are not solely Green Bay’s team; they’re the state’s team. Above the Brewers, above the Bucks, Milwaukee is a Packers town. We still live, breathe and consume as much Packers as we can. We still start our newscasts with Packers updates before all else and cover them like they’re a hometown team.
It’s a complete aberration of a sporting relationship; there’s nothing like the Green Bay Packers – a truly small-town team that, in this modern age, is only still there due to the legacy – or this state’s fandom anywhere else. The closest thing might be the two major Ohio cities – and no, Cincinnati wouldn’t claim the Cleveland Cavs’ championship for itself – but those are two cities not only a far distance apart, but also of similar size and stature. They’re rivals; Green Bay and Milwaukee are not.
And frankly, the majority of the United States doesn’t care about the differences between Milwaukee, Green Bay or any of the other distinct cities and regions of the state; it’s all just Wisconsin to them. There’s a reason why, when you ask out-of-towners about Milwaukee, they prattle off things like the Packers, beer, cheese and "Making a Murderer" – 75 percent of which are things not particularly Milwaukee-based.
The San Francisco 49ers don’t even play in San Francisco anymore, so let’s not get too caught up in semantics; geographically and emotionally, the Packers are essentially a Milwaukee team.
As for the argument that Cleveland then had Ohio State’s success to sucker onto, we’re sticking with the big four professional leagues, please (and OSU’s in Columbus, not Cleveland, but whatever). In that case, the Milwaukee Admirals won the Calder Cup in 2004, so we’re still off the hook.
The more pressing argument against Milwaukee’s ascension into the saddest fan-base throne is right there in the description: We’re nowhere near sad enough.
Putting aside the additional economic pummeling the city took, Cleveland became the saddest sports town in America because, for the 52 years between the Cavs' championship Sunday night and the Browns’ NFL Championship win in 1964, it didn’t just lose; it suffered. It was punished by the sports gods in torturous ways that even the newly gnawed Ramsay Bolton would consider cruel and unusual.
Take the Browns: After that 1964 win, the Browns never made it to another championship game – and technically, since that championship was before the merger, they’re one of four teams to never appear in a Super Bowl. The closest they’ve gotten was in the ’80s, where they kept finding new ways to lose in hilariously heartbreaking fashion. In 1981, they lost on a late interception while in field goal range. Later in that same decade, they would lose three times to John Elway’s Denver Broncos, one by "The Drive" – one of the most iconic comebacks of all time – and one by "The Fumble."
The Browns found the most wounding ways to lose – and then got lost, themselves, moving to Baltimore where they would win a Super Bowl as the Ravens within five years of getting out of Dodge. At least their final head coach was a bust – oh wait, it was Bill Belichick, who only went on to win four Super Bowls with the Patriots and be considered an all-time NFL coaching (or cheating, WHAAAT, who said that?) genius.
But hey, at least they came back to Cleveland … to be one of the most consistently awful teams in the league. Their owners are horrible. They drafted Tim Couch, Trent Richardson and Johnny Manziel. Even regular-season losses end in miserably iconic ways, like last season’s blocked field goal against – you guessed it – the Ravens. The team’s lone triumph over the past three decades happened when they didn’t mess up their draft in a crappy Kevin Costner movie.
Speaking of cinematically immortalized Cleveland failure, "Major League" didn’t pick the Cleveland Indians by accident. The local baseball team hasn’t won a World Series since 1948. They did make two World Series in the ’90s, but even with some great rosters, they ended up losing in 1995 to the Braves and in 1997 to the Marlins – by blowing a lead in the ninth inning of Game 7, naturally. Because any Cleveland sports success must be topped off by an emotional dagger to the sternum.
Of course, nothing is worse than what the Cavaliers – mainly Lebron James – did to poor, poor, innocent Cleveland. We won’t even include Jordan’s famous game-winning shot over Craig Ehlo, which put the city yet again on the losing side of an iconic moment. Let’s just focus on that time Akron’s own brought the Cavs oh-so-close to triumph, only to leave town with the most egregiously public double-bird and win two championships with his friends in Miami.
During this stretch, when Cleveland was bad, it was a dumpster fire; when it was good, its briefest moments of joy were curb-stomped with cleats and then dragged through the streets to teach a lesson to anyone else about the price of happiness.
So what’s Milwaukee got? There’s the 2001 NBA playoffs, when the Bucks lost in seven games to the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference Championship. Yes, it sucked – but characteristically bad refs aside, it sucked about as much as any Game 7 loss would. As for the Brewers, there was the loss to the Cardinals in the 2011 NLCS but, again, that's just your run-of-the-mill series loss.
Sure, there were some stabs in there – Kareem leaving for the lights of Los Angeles, a 3-2 World Series lead lost to the Cardinals in 1982 – but maybe it says something about that famed easy-going Midwestern Milwaukeean attitude that those relatively slid off our backs. No one talks all that hauntedly about these moments.
As for the rest of this championship-free streak ... that's about it. All that's left is several decades of not particularly interesting mediocrity. When Milwaukee reached its highs and lows, they got hit with standard issue stumbles; when Cleveland reached its highs and lows – the lows mostly courtesy of the tragicomedy that is the Browns – they seemed to trip so hard they broke both legs in the process.
Maybe the Brett Favre drama adds some extra zing to our losing ways, but that’s only if you count the Packers – and even if you do, at least he left us a Super Bowl before becoming a nightmare. Plus, we had Aaron Rodgers to dry our tears.
Ryan Braun being a cheat hurt, but even so, it’s hard to say what he really damaged other than his own public image. Both the Bucks and Brewers have threatened to leave, but, unlike Cleveland, they stayed put.
Other than that, sorry, Milwaukee; we’ve just got your classic, generic-brand losses. We just haven’t been bad enough or failed gloriously enough on a big stage to be the next Cleveland. And, joke or not, trying to barnacle onto Believeland just feels like an attempt to co-opt another city’s color. There’s a lot of things Milwaukee can call its own; being lovable losers isn’t one of them. We’ve just lost, and pretending it’s anything more than that – that it makes us special the way it made Cleveland special – feels desperate, clinging to some kind of identifying and unifying experience we have really no claim to. It’s the sports equivalent of saying you’re a nerd because you like "Star Wars."
Plus, other than the Chicago Cubs – the ultimate losers – the new Cleveland is Buffalo. It’s obviously Buffalo. Their last championship was back in 1965 … in the AFL. Since then, Buffalo’s sporting lowlights include losing four Super Bowls in a row, landing on the wrong end of the Music City Miracle and losing the Stanley Cup in a triple-overtime Game 6 on a controversial goal that probably shouldn’t have counted. Buffalo also lost its NBA team during that time, and the only thing more embarrassing than having your old team become a champion like the Ravens is having your old team become the Los Angeles Clippers. So yeah … Buffalo. At least you win this fight.
As for Milwaukee, either we have to win a championship or we’re going to have to get a lot better at being bad. We just have to believe.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.