In 1964 the Cleveland Browns won the NFL Championship (pre-Superbowl). This was the last time a Cleveland sports team won a championship. Around here even the smallest glimmer of hope that a team might make it all the way is snatched up in an instant by fans young and old. For almost 50 years now, Cleveland fans have been shaking their heads at the end of each disappointing season with what should be our official motto: “There’s always next year.”
Now we have had plenty of opportunities over the years. In the 80s it looked like the Browns had a shot at it but were left disappointed after infamous mishaps like “The Drive” and “The Fumble.” Even if you aren’t a football fan, to hear these references even mentioned in conversation in Cleveland you would instantly know from the disgust and disappointment dripping from those words that these were not happy events!
Our basketball team, the Cavs, had all our hopes high for the championship in the 2000s with our star player LeBron James. But the team failed to make it all the way and following LeBron’s publicly played out “Decision” to leave Cleveland, the team tanked.
Back in the 90s our baseball team, the Indians, was on fire. We made it to the playoffs every year from 1995 to 2001 and even to the World Series in ’95 and ’97. During that time we sold out 455 consecutive games with hopeful fans waiting for the drought to end, but left disappointed again. We had an opportunity again in 2007 but blew it.
This past week we had another shot. The Cleveland Indians had made it into October! We finished just barely 2nd in our division and had claimed the top Wild Card spot. This meant that we had to play in a one game win-or-go-home situation on Wednesday night. To be in Cleveland this past week you would have thought we were winning the World Series, not merely playing for a Wild Card spot. This was going to be our year! The excitement was palpable and it seemed nothing could bring us down. Until…we lost. Fans everywhere watched the game and our excitement slowly drained and was replaced by the depressing realization that…maybe next year we could win.
Cleveland fans can be broken down into essentially two categories. Fans who follow win or lose and becomes bitter at the constant disappointment. And fans who remain true through it all, but also remain eternally optimistic, possibly to the point of delusion. I fall into the 2nd category.
You see, I learned to be a “real fan” from my Dad. And despite the agonizing outcomes of some games, he never gives up hope that eventually at least one of our teams will win. So as people around me wallowed in a Cleveland sports induced depression, I remained positive. In the inevitable re-hashing of the season, I brought up the good plays, the strong players, the surprise rookies, and our great manager. I fervently believe that next year we will make it. And in the meantime, why be sad? The Browns are shocking everyone by playing awesome football after it seemed we had given up early on. Maybe it’s the year for them? Who knows!
And then it hit me. Why don’t I have the same hope, optimism, and refusal to be discouraged when it comes to God’s plan for my life? If I can say with all hope at the end of each baseball, basketball, and football season that next year it will happen, why don’t I say the same in my personal life? Each time I am faced with disappointment, each time I discover God’s timing is not ours as we hope for a child, why don’t I simply smile and say “There’s always next month.” Do I put more hope in the ability of a sports team than in the plan of our Lord and Savior? Of course having a child is of much more importance to me than a sports team and the letdown affects me on a much deeper level, but that cannot be an excuse. God is loving and faithful and His timing is perfect.
Being a Cleveland fan has taught me many things. It has taught me patience. It has taught me to always have hope. To always look for the bright side. But most importantly and perhaps the least likely thing I have learned from baseball is to remain hopeful in the promises not of baseball, basketball, or football, but of God. While I may not be able to shrug off life’s disappointments the same way I do a lost game, the bottom line is God is faithful. The things He has in store for me will be far greater than my team winning any championship. And throughout all the “next years” that are to come, while the players and coaches come and go, God is always there. So if God’s timing is not my own and I don’t see my prayers answered right away, I just need to remember, “There’s always next year.”