If Job were a jock, he'd have played in Cleveland—at least in the years when his wealth evaporated, his body broke out in boils and agony attended his every waking moment. Only after testing the limits of human suffering was Job rewarded with a long, prosperous life. In professional sports, this is known as leaving Cleveland.
For generations of athletes, coaches and fans, Cleveland sports have been a psychically draining triple-whammy of middling success, missed opportunity and perpetual misery. Hollywood rarely affords them happy endings, either. In almost any movie about Cleveland sports teams (like baseball's Indians or football's Browns), you'll feel this exhausting, enduring disappointment. (Cavaliers fans shouldn't get too comfortable. You know a LeBron movie is coming.)
In the latest, Draft Day, Kevin Costner plays Sonny Weaver Jr., general manager of the woeful Browns(who have just two real-life winning seasons since returning to the NFL after the original Browns moved to Baltimore and became the two-time Super Bowl champion Ravens).Can Sonny get the first overall pick in the draft to save the team from Cleveland's malaise? If you've seen any of the movies below, you know what to tell him: Forget it, Sonny. It's Cleveland.
Major League II (1994) Nothing can ever take away from the up-yours finale of 1989's Major League, in which a squeeze bunt sends the Indians to the American League Championship Series. Except Major League II, which revealed a quintessentially Cleveland truth behind that "happy" ending: The Chicago White Sox bounced them from the playoffs. That's just the first insult in a strange sequel that, much like the Yankee brass insists on well-shorn players, shaves away the original's puerile personality for a PG rating. Does the Tribe make it to the World Series here? Sure, but they probably lost to the Braves (as the real team did in 1995).
Raging Bull (1980)A draw was all anyone got on Jake LaMotta until the megalomaniac middleweight entered the greater Cleveland area in 1941 to fight Jimmy Reeves. If Martin Scorsese's math is accurate, LaMotta sent Reeves to the canvas three times in 48 seconds. LaMotta, however, took his first-ever lossin a controversial decision where the bell saved Reeves. (He was down on points before his rapid, last-minute pummeling of Reeves.) A riot ensued, hopefully not to the vivid degree depicted by Scorsese as violent hordes trample a woman.
The Express (2008) The sobering story of Ernie Davis, a promising Browns running back felled by cancer before he even played a down for the team, leaves a lasting sting. Although the Washington Redskins drafted the first black Heisman Trophy winner, they sent him to Cleveland in a deal that was carried out behind the back of Browns owner Art Modell (the He Who Must Not Be Named of Cleveland sports). After his leukemia diagnosis, Davis suited up only for a pregame run-on and died at 23. It's a sadly real moment this movie can only memorialize with predictable platitudes. Or to put it another way—Brian's Song it's not.
Moneyball (2011) Where would you find the epicenter of baseball's "epidemic failure to understand what is really happening in the game," where those in charge "misjudge players and mismanage their teams"? According to this Oscar-nominated adaptation of Michael Lewis's book, the front office of the Indians. From those closed-minded confines, Oakland A's GM Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) plucks Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) to make him the (fictionally composited) architect of more strategic Sabermetric player selection. It's just like the Tribe to lose an Aristotle of athletics by declaring war on WAR. And it's just like Hollywood to embellish a bit—i.e., longtime Indians GM John Hart, who built the Tribe into two-time Pennant winners, was no rube.
The Fortune Cookie (1966) Even nice guys like Jack Lemmon have it in for Cleveland. In his first of 10 films with Walter Matthau, Lemmon plays a CBS cameraman knocked over in an on-field collision at Municipal Stadium (the home of the Browns v1.0). At the urging of his "cheap, chiseling shyster lawyer" brother-in-law (Matthau), he feigns partial paralysis to bilk the team for $1 million. Until its mean streak yields to poor-wittle-Cwevewand kindness, it's one of Billy Wilder's more incisive works. Hollywood was so pleased with Matthau's fictional efforts to fleece Cleveland that they handed him an Oscar.
Against the Ropes (2004) Admittedly, Cleveland's athletic brass ring isn't always tarnished. But here, the city only seizes glory with Hollywood's help. Although it's the only title on the list in which an athlete takes his sport's ultimate prize in Cleveland, the actual story is rooted in Detroit. Actor-director Charles S. Dutton's film follows female boxing promoter Jackie Kallen (Meg Ryan), whose real-life fighter James Toney won several International Boxing Federation titles. Yes, Cleveland: Good things can happen, however embellished. But there's nothing good when a modern-day sports film has the gall to end on the slow clap.
Howard the Duck (1986) Duck hunting is technically a sport, and who'd argue the worst duck-hunting movie isn't the one set in Cleveland? Or the one in which female ducks boast engorged human-like breasts? Or the one in which Jeffrey Jones jams his dong-ish alien tongue into a cigarette lighter? Or the one in which Lea Thompson, queen of inappropriate sexual advances in otherwise innocuous '80s movies, seems to seriously consider bestiality? But look on the bright side: This was Marvel's first full-length film, and they clearly survived Cleveland. Maybe there's still hope yet.
Photo via Summit Entertainment