Monday, August 1

Favorite Teams

As Andy has frequently pointed out, he has really been carrying this blog as of late. [Editor's note: I've posted 27 of our last 30 articles; seems fair] So until [Editor's note: I had to insert the word "until" - see how hard-working I am?] he stops complaining [once Nick actually writes something], I thought I'd pitch in. There is an Ohio St preview in the works, but I'll wait until closer to the season for that. Instead, I'd like to elaborate on a brief discussion that took place during Tribe Weekend - your favorite all-time teams in a specific season. The things I took into consideration were obviously the success of the team and how much I liked the individual players, but also just how entertained I was by watching them throughout the year. This is what I came up with.

Honorable Mention:
1996 Cleveland Indians
1998 Cleveland Indians
1999 Cleveland Indians
1998 Ohio St Buckeyes (football)
1998-99 San Antonio Spurs
1998-99 Duke Blue Devils (basketball)
2007 Cleveland Browns
2006-07 Ohio St Buckeyes (basketball)

The Tribe in the 90's was just an incredible thing. These three squads didn't get as far in the postseason as the '95 and '97 ones - that's why they're bumped to honorable mention. The '98 Bucks finished #2 after defeating Texas A&M in the Sugar Bowl. They were ranked #1 for most of the season, and if not for blowing a 15-point fourth quarter lead to Michigan St, would have played Peyton Manning and Tennessee in the championship game. The two basketball choices may seem odd, but as you'll see in #8, when I was younger I would fall in love with one particular player then follow that team along with their Cleveland counterpart. David Robinson was that player in basketball. He was the best big man defender I have ever seen (yeah Dwight Howard/Hakeem Olajuwon, I said it). Then San An added Tim Duncan and dominated the strike-shortened '98-'99 season. As for Duke, my Dad and brother followed them so they were my inherited team as a youth. If not for their loss to Rip Hamilton and UConn in the title game (we'll unfortunately see them again later), this '98-'99 team would have gone down as one of the greatest NCAA teams ever. The '07 Browns were...well, the best of very limited Browns options. If the Colts don't sit Peyton Manning that Sunday night against the Titans they make the playoffs. Mike Conley, Greg Oden and Daequan Cook made up one of the most talented freshman classes in NCAA history and led the '06-'07 Bucks to the title game, only to lose to Florida. Now on to the Top 15. (I realize the normal thing to do would be a Top 10, but these first five teams were too beloved to be honorable mention.)

15) 2009-10 Ohio St Buckeyes (basketball)
Evan Turner is my favorite college basketball player ever, and Dallas Lauderdale, David Lighty, and Jon Diebler are all high on that list as well, so it's easy to see why I regard them so highly. Their season was cut short by Tennessee in the Sweet 16 when J.P. Prince blocked ET's buzzer-beater attempt.

14) 2006-07 Cleveland Cavaliers
There is a drastic drop-off from how much I love the Buckeyes/Browns/Indians to the Cavs, so this is the lone NBA team on the list. This team may not have been as good as the 60+ win teams of '08 and '09, but are at the top because of their epic series with Detroit in the Eastern Conference Finals. After dropping the first two, very winnable, games at The Palace, Cleveland took the next four to reach the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. Game 5 saw one of the greatest individual performances in league history, when LeBron James scored 48 points, including the team's final 25, in a double overtime thriller. Daniel Gibson's 31 led the way for the clincher in Game 6. The Cavs were overmatched in the Finals and swept by the Spurs.

13) 2001 Cleveland Indians
Two moments really stand out about the Tribe's 2001 campaign, and they both came at the expense of the Seattle Mariners. On August 5, Cleveland completed The Impossible Return, erasing a 12-run deficit to beat the Mariners. I was in attendance for Game 3 of the Divisional Playoff Series when the Tribe put a 17-2 beatdown on the M's. Seattle got the last laugh, however, winning the series and knocking Cleveland from the postseason.

12) 1998-99 Ohio St Buckeyes (basketball)
As I mentioned earlier, I was more of a fan of Duke when I was younger, but I was really into this OSU team. Led by Scoonie Penn, Michael Redd, and Ken Johnson, the Bucks made it to the Final Four but lost to eventual champs UConn. Due to recruiting violations by then-coach Jim O'Brien, the NCAA would later vacate all of this team's wins.

11) 2002 Cleveland Browns
From 'The Helmet Toss' in the opener to the playoff-clinching goal line stand against Atlanta in Week 17, the Browns' 2002 campaign kept fans on the edge of their seats. It was such an entertaining year, only to end in heartbreaking fashion when the Browns let a 24-7 second half lead slip away against the Steelers in the playoffs.

10) 2007 Ohio St Buckeyes (football)
I already wrote a recap of this squad for the Buckeyes through the 2000s article, so I'll just recycle that.

Todd Boeckman stepped in at the quarterback position, attempting to fill the shoes of departed signal-caller and Heisman trophy-winner Troy Smith. He did an admirable job, earning a spot on the All-Conference team and bringing his team to the National Title game. Beanie Wells was the feature of the offense, and was named team MVP for the first of what would be two consecutive years. Brians Robiskie and Hartline had big seasons before becoming afterthoughts as seniors. The defense was devastating, with DE Vernon Gholston breaking Mike Vrabel's single-season sack record, and linebackers James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman and corner Malcolm Jenkins becoming household names.

OSU won the first 10 games of the season, but suffered what appeared to be a season-ruining defeat at home against Illinois. After disposing of michigan (again), the college football gods were wearing scarlet and gray, as every team ahead of the Bucks lost in the final weeks of the season and the one-loss Buckeyes found themselves in the National Championship. This turned out to be a bad thing, as they were stomped by LSU.

9) 1994 Cleveland Browns
I was only seven years old during the Browns' '94 campaign, so I don't remember a whole lot of details from this season, but it's the first team I really remember watching and getting into. I absolutely loved Eric Metcalf, and that defense was something special with Pro Bowlers Michael Dean Perry, Eric Turner, and Pepper Johnson. They finished the season 11-5 and won their Wild Card Playoff game with the Patriots, but as it goes with Cleveland sports, the season ended in bitter defeat as Pittsburgh beat the Browns for the third time that season in the Divisional Playoff round.

8) 1998 Minnesota Vikings
This being a Cleveland sports blog, this probably looks like a curious choice. Like I said previously, when I was younger I would attach to a certain player and cheer for his team. In football, that was Cris Carter. Hands down, he had the greatest hands I've ever seen (unintentional pun). If he would have played with Joe Montana and Steve Young his whole career he would have had Jerry Rice numbers. So when Art Modell moved the Browns in 1996, I became a full-fledged Viking fan for a few years. In '98, the Vikes drafted Randy Moss to play with Carter, Jake Reed, Robert Smith, and Randall Cunningham and created one of the greatest offenses the NFL has ever seen. But of course, their 15-1 season ended in Cleveland-like fashion after blowing a late lead and losing in overtime to an inferior Atlanta team in the NFC Championship.

7) 2006 Ohio St Buckeyes (football)
Again, taken from the 2000s post:

This was the most talented team of the 2000's. Troy Smith won the Heisman trophy, Ted Ginn was, well, Ted Ginn, Anthony Gonzalez was as good of a #2 receiver as you will ever see, RB Antonio Pittman had a stellar season sharing carries with freshman Chris Wells, Quinn Pitcock was an All-American defensive tackle, and sophomores Vernon Gholston, Malcolm Jenkins, James Laurinaitis, and Marcus Freeman burst onto the defensive scene.

Ohio St ran the table in the regular season, going 12-0. The highlights came in Austin, Texas as the Bucks avenged the previous year's loss against the Longhorns by routing them 24-7, and in The Shoe when Ohio St edged michigan in what was being called "The Game of the Century." OSU and scUM entered the game as the top two ranked teams in the nation, and Ohio St's late interception sealed a 42-39 Ohio St victory.

Much controversy surrounded who the Buckeyes' opponent would be in the title game, as OSU was the only unbeaten team in the power conferences. Should we be forced to beat michigan again? Give undefeated, untested Boise St a shot? The BCS decided that Florida was the most deserving, and Ohio St went in as heavy favorites. The Buckeyes started the game the best way possible, as the human-highlight reel Ted Ginn took back the opening kickoff for a touchdown. Everything went downhill from there, hard and fast. Ginn was injured during the touchdown's celebration, and spent the conclusion of his college career on crutches. Florida went on a 41-7 run, embarrassing Ohio St and the Big Ten, and marking the beginning of my unbelievable hatred for Tim Tebow, which has grown every single day since.

6) 1995 Cleveland Indians
This is where the list became difficult for me, because all six of these top teams were something special. The '95 Wahoos were just stacked with bats, including an absurd Albert Belle/Manny Ramirez/Jim Thome heart of the order. Alas, the Tribe were defeated by the Atlanta Braves in the World Series.

5) 1995 Ohio St Buckeyes (football)
Two words can sum up why I ranked this squad so high - EDD-IE! EDD-IE! Eddie George is my all-time favorite athlete, and in 1995 he ran his way to the Heisman Trophy. The team also featured Biletnikoff winner Terry Glenn, Bobby Hoying, Orlando Pace, Mike Vrabel, and Shawn Springs. Talented enough to win the title, the '95 Bucks were the epitome of the John Cooper era, winning their first 11 games before losing to michigan and then Tennessee in the Citrus Bowl. Interesting side note - Luke Fickell was apparently on this team.

4) 2007 Cleveland Indians
The '07 Indians weren't as talented as the '90s versions, but because I was older I feel I was able to appreciate them more. Another reason I ranked them higher than the '95 team was because their ALDS series against the Yankees was my second favorite victory of any of my teams (we'll get to the first soon enough, but I think you already have an idea). But continuing with the trend, they met the same fate as all the others on this list when they were beaten by the Red Sox after holding a 3-1 series lead in the ALCS.

3) 1996 Ohio St Buckeyes (football)
In 1996, the Buckeyes outscored their opponents 455-131. Let that sink in for a second. OSU was the best team in college football that year, but didn't win a National Title because of another Cooper loss to that school up north in the season's final week. But the loss wasn't all bad, as it set up one of the most thrilling wins in the Buckeyes' history, the 1997 Rose Bowl. After Jake Plummer led Arizona St to what appeared to be yet another comeback victory, Joe Germaine hit David Boston for a game-winning touchdown with 19 seconds left to play.

2) 1997 Cleveland Indians
The decision to rank the '97 team as my top Indians squad was not an easy one. Ultimately I chose them because I liked their pitching better. I was a big fan of Bartolo Colon and Jaret Wright. The Tribe won an exciting five-game series with the heavily favored Yankees in the ALDS, thanks in part to a brilliant performance from the rookie Wright in game 5, then disposed of the Orioles in six game in the ALCS. I'll stop typing there.

1) 2002 Ohio St Buckeyes (football)
This one was a no-brainer for me. You could not make up a more thrilling season than the one had by the '02 Buckeyes. There were so many games coming down to the wire, fantastic finishes, unbelievable plays, unlikely heroes, and of course the epic upset of Miami in the BCS title game. Hopefully I have many great Cleveland/Ohio St seasons ahead of me, but it is going to be tough for anyone to unseat this team at the top of the list.


Andy said...


Great article - I'm glad our discussion at Harry Buffalo sparked this piece. I fully intend to write my own - it should be easy to do so without Nick haranguing my choices. I will comment on a couple of aspects from your piece:

I kinda liked the '10-'11 OSU hoops squad.

How did you manage to write about the '01 Tribe without a mention of the great Rusty?

Remember that '94 game when Metcalf took two punts back for TD's? Fantastic.

Randall Cunningham is my favorite non-Brown ever. That guy was awesome.

I think the '97 Tribe was the most disappointing loss I've ever experienced. The '02 Bucks was the flipside.

Figgs said...

I liked the '10-'11 OSU bball as well, and probably should have thrown them an HM (that sounds sexual). I have the '09-'10 team higher because of Turner.

I apologize for the giant omission of Rusty. I don't know what I was thinking.

Another serious gaff. Metcalf's two punt TDs is one of my first vivid Browns' memories and one of the biggest reasons I loved Metcalf and that '94 team. I had every intention of mentioning that, I'm not sure what happened.

Big Cunningham fan as well. Beards has an old Randall Philly jersey - hands down the coolest thing about him.

I agree with both of those last statements. I wasn't sure about putting them #2 because of that, but there were just so many great moments too. Also because every other team other than the 2002 Buckeyes ended in a devastating way as well.

Andy said...

I made a mistake - that Metcalf game was '93. He did lead the NFL in PR for TD in '94 with two, though, one of four years he was tops in that category.

A couple Buckeye squads from the Cooper and Tressel era went out on high notes with Bowl wins. That's one thing people often neglect in their quest to demand a College Football playoff without putting any thought whatsoever into the position: more than one College team every year ends on a positive note. As Herbstreit once pointed out, there's more to college football than crowning a single champion.