By In Football

Take the kid out of Cleveland

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. — So this is not really about skiing, but to I’m here in Beaver Creek for the Birds of Prey World Cup ski tournament. You might have heard that there’s a Winter Olympics coming up here in a couple of months, so I’m here working on few things.

And it’s cold. Seriously. Cold. OK, not the coldest I’ve ever been. The coldest I’ve ever been, I can tell you the exact date, was January 10, 1988 in Minneapolis. I was there to cover the Arizona-Minnesota playoff game, but because I knew the game was being played indoors I did not exactly dress for the occasion. Oh, I had my winter coat, but no hat, no gloves, no boots, I just didn’t expect to be outside for very long.

And, I wasn’t outside for very long. But long enough. The bus I took dropped me off on the wrong side of the Metrodome. The walk was probably 10 minutes, maybe 15. Hey, I’m a Cleveland kid. I grew up delivering newspapers in brutal cold. I grew up playing football in the snow, sledding on ice, what could 15 minutes of Minneapolis cold do to me anyway?

Answer: It could just about break me. The wind was howling, the temperature — I’m estimating here — was 583 million degrees below zero, and you could double that with the wind chill. By the time I made it around to the door my entire body was not just numb but tingling from a hundred thousand little tiny needles of ice. My nose felt as if I could break it off and put in my pocket for safekeeping. That was a different kind of cold one I never really wanted to experience again.

So, when I came here to the Colorado mountains, I brought enough warm things to clothe three Eskimo families. No joke, I have layers. Lots of layers. And today, when I went out to the race — “The wind chill is currently minus-1 degrees Farenheit,” Siri told me — I wore on five layers of shirts, three layers of pants, a neck thing I bought at some ski shop, a wool cap, a wool hood to put over the cap, three wool socks and boots.

And I stood at the bottom of the mountain, barely able to move, feeling like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, and watched some amazing skiing. This was the giant slalom event and everybody was pretty excited for it because apparently American Ted Ligety is making a claim as the greatest giant slalom skier who ever lived. I am certainly not enough of a ski expert to know what makes him so good, but I will say that even to a complete novice he is remarkable to watch ski. Just before he skied, fellow American Bode Miller went. Now Bode — I’m writing a story on him — is like this skiing version of James Bond, every turn there’s danger, every second he’s taking some death defying risk. During a Bode Miller run, you find yourself shouting or thinking “Whoa!” at least 25 times.

Ligety? None of that. He skies like it’s easier than walking. Everything is in perfect control, like he’s he’s a conductor telling the snow what to do. I guess the best way I can describe it is this. I watch Bode Miller ski and I think, “Man, I’d NEVER do that.” I watch Ted Ligety ski and I think, “Man, that looks like so much fun.”

OK, so Bode ends up second — his first podium finish in two years. Ligety finishes first, making him the first man since the great Alberto Tomba to win four of these giant slaloms in a row. Everybody’s all excited, and it’s white and beautiful and beyond freezing, and I’m bundled in all this clothing, and I feel about a million miles away from anyplace I’ve ever been. You know that feeling where you’re almost outside yourself?

Then, from a distant, I heard a woman yell this: “Oh my gosh, New England got the onside kick!”

And, like that, I was a kid back in Cleveland. Just like that. Nine words. I should say: I had no idea what was going on in that New England-Cleveland game. None. I didn’t know the Browns were winning. I had not seen a score all day. I wasn’t thinking about football at all. But as soon as I heard her shout that, my mind went, “Hey, the Patriots are playing the Browns today.” And I knew. Any Clevelander would know. I immediately thought about Brian Sipe throwing the interception. I thought about John Elway hitting that third-and-18. I thought about Ernest Byner fumbling. I thought about Michael Jordan hitting that shot and Art Modell yanking my heart out and Jose Mesa blowing that game and LeBron James leaving and the false hope of the Cory Snyder Indians and …

Nine words. That’s all it took to rip me from the top of a gorgeous mountain and put me back in my little bedroom, 14 years old, telling myself how stupid it is to cry over one football game but crying just the same.

I assumed the Browns lost the game — as it turns out when the woman said that, they were still winning. Like that mattered. Later, I found out that the Browns led 26-14 at the two minute warning, with New England still in its own territory. Then, of course, the Patriots scored with 1:01 left. The Browns, of course, committed a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty. The Patriots, of course, recovered the onside kick (in Cleveland territory because of that stupid penalty). The Patriots, of course, got what most people seem to agree was an atrocious pass interference call against Cleveland to move the ball to the 1. The Patriots, of course, scored with 31 seconds left.

Then, to make it just a little more fun, Cleveland got the ball down the field far enough to attempt a 58-yard field goal as the clock expired — and the kick fell short and the Browns lost 27-26.

But I didn’t need to learn any of that. It was all inside me already when I heard that woman shout the onside kick thing. Somehow, it seemed even colder outside.

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19 Responses to Take the kid out of Cleveland

  1. Matt says:

    As a Minneapolitan who saw only that the Vikes were up by 4 with :10 left … I know both those feels.

  2. The high was 1degree in Minneapolis on January 10th, 1998.

  3. wordyduke says:

    Well, at least Josh Gordon got a bunch more yards. Just not enough points. . . .

  4. KSols says:

    How do you even watch downhill skiing in person?

  5. Mickey says:

    Great stuff Poz. Thanks

  6. Dan says:

    Hey guys, if we all stay quiet Joe will never know that he froze to death while missing the craziest afternoon of fantastic finishes that any of us can recall in a long time.

  7. Dan says:

    OK, I can’t hold my tongue. Joe, the Ravens and Vikings combined to score 5 touchdowns in the last 2 minutes and 4 seconds of their game. The Steelers almost pulled off their version of the Stanford Band Play and as a matter of trivia there is a new record for longest field goal. But I suppose none of that compares to Ted Ligety on skis.

  8. I too am from Cleveland. The coldest I’ve ever been was in Duluth Minnesota. It was like 20 below. I remember getting out of my parents car and my lungs stinging with my first breath. I’ve never been so cold in my life.

  9. gogiggs says:

    Actual thought I had at about the two-minute mark: I don’t know how they’re going to lose this, but’s going to be interesting to see.
    I’m grateful, really. This way the sting is just absorbed into the OSU loss. So, really, the Browns preserved their draft position, while looking good and, well, OSU lost and it sucked.
    That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

  10. Guess says:

    Probably I give Joe more shit than any other commenter, but this one gets a +1.

  11. Cuban X Senators says:

    I got on a plane in Austin heading for DC a few days before Christmas sometime in the mid-’90s. Must have gotten a hell of a deal on the ticket because I flew through Minneapolis. I’d left my good winter coat in DC and, like Poz, thought, “oh I won’t even be outside in Minneapolis & it’s 50 degrees in DC.” I just did not dress for my stopover.

    Took off before 7am, “flight time, #:##, and it’s -20 in Minneapolis.” Wow, I’ve got to go out and just feel -20, I think. We arrive, and needless to say the sun’s been up a while, “we’ll have you right to the gate . . . it’s -25 here in Minneapolis.”

    It’s hard to say without seeming like the biggest wimp ever, but just that blast of air from the crack between the plane and the walkway froze my feet for more than an hour.

  12. Dan says:

    It’s interesting that they lost by one point, because they went for a 2-pt conversion early in the third quarter (which, to me, was too early to be chasing points) and missed it. New England then converted on their two-point conversion on their touchdown at the end of the third quarter. The score, then, was 19-11 (a one-score game) instead of 20-10 (a two-score game). The lead at the time the comeback began, instead of 26-14 would have been 27-13, and the two touchdowns would have only tied it. Perhaps, Cleveland would have lost anyway, and perhaps the flow of the game and the related decision-making would have changed, but (despite the small sample size of one occurrence that I am using) I think that chasing that additional point with 25 minutes left in the game because 14-0 is much more comfortable than 13-0 ended up costing the Browns dearly.

  13. SWL says:

    Curios on Poz’ commentary on the Bronco’s (successful) attempt at a 64 yard FG yesterday with time running out in the first half.

  14. KTM says:

    I also grew up in Cleveland. For years i blamed Prevent Defense for these losses. After yesterday, and looking back at the season and all those years, i change my vote to Prevent Offense – Browns are always outscored in the 4th quarter. In other words, they think they just have to hold, when in reality, to win they have keep scoring. When they score more than 7 in the 4th , they usually win. So changing the “holdem to 17 pts to win” to “Score more than 28 and you should win”, keep scoring in the 4th – more than 7. Flacco’s Ravens scored 29 and won. Rothelisberger fell short 28. Dalton scored 28 in the 2nd half and won. We fell short by 3.

  15. brian says:

    January 10, 1999 was the date of that Minnesota game. My ears perked up because the Cardinals were still in St. Louis in the 1987 season, but it was actually the year that was wrong.

  16. G says:

    From another generation:
    Here in the UK, where pretty much we have neither the weather nor the elevations for snow resorts, in pre-Murdoch/Sky days, we had a weekly show, ‘Ski Sunday’, with highloghts of the (European) skiing events. The show was really just a taunt, ‘See how much fun these Europeans have with real snow & real mountains’, on the surface and ‘Work as hard as these Europeans and you too can have a Winter holiday’ as the underlying message.
    Seldom if ever was a British skier mentioned, and then mostly in the blooper reel at the end, crashing at the gate, crashing at the jump, crashing at the tightest curve ….. etc.
    Ingemar Stenmark semed to be from another planet.

  17. KurtBevacqua says:

    And people still wonder why all the LeBron angst in Northern Ohio. Unless you have lived through this prolonged tragedy you have no way of understanding it.

  18. I always thought this was the case, but reading the comments confirms it: The coldest anybody has ever been it’s somewhere in Minnesota! Having lived there for 13 years I can’t point to one particular day, but I clearly remember the week-long temperatures below zero and not being able to breath when you first step into the cold.

  19. Mark says:

    The coldest day of my life was January 4, 1981 in Cleveland Municipal Stadium as a 12 year old boy – 4 degrees, -36 degree wind chill. Red Right 88. The beginning of a lifetime of very cold moments in sports.

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