The Cleveland Curse

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Help.

Somebody. Anybody.

Dr. Phil. Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo. Buffy The Vampire Slayer. We're not picky.

No need for archaeologists to take a flyer on finding a hellmouth in Belize. We got you covered.

Basketball season. Football season. Baseball season. Any time of year will do.

We do not yet have a losing Lingerie Football League team but only because that inaugural season of the Cleveland Crush (I wish I were making that up) doesn't roll around until Fall.

You may think this is all coincidence, a cyclical downturn. You may think it's no reason to suspect forces of evil at work.

Then please explain why presently the city's only winning team is the American Hockey League's Lake Erie Monsters.

Sorry, this city needs a "slayer." We thought we had one in Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert when he sent the Cleveland Curse packing in July. Stood right up and told the demons to hitch a ride to South Beach with LeBron James, he did.

Condemned them to walk the earth with James wherever his life of misery took him.

In a singular moment that rallied the rejected, Gilbert guaranteed the Cavaliers would win a NBA championship before the Miami Heat would.

"The self-declared former 'King' will be taking the 'curse' with him down south," Gilbert wrote in a statement on the team's website. "And until he does 'right' by Cleveland and Ohio, James [and the town where he plays] will unfortunately own this dreaded spell and bad karma."

So...how's that going?

• The Indians lost 90 games in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1978. They finished last in Major League Baseball in home attendance, which is not easily accomplished outside of Pittsburgh.

• The NFL Browns finished 5-11 in consecutive seasons and fired a head coach for the fourth time since 1999. They are denying reports their latest coach, Pat Shurmur, came from a temp agency.

• Jim Brown, the greatest player in franchise history and maybe the greatest player in NFL history, got crossways with the organization and was a no-show for the September induction of 16 Hall of Fame Browns into the organization's stadium Ring of Honor.

• Gilbert's Cavaliers own the worst record in the NBA. They have lost 31 of 32 games. They have set a team record for consecutive road losses and have the record for consecutive losses overall in their crosshairs. In a "contest" against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Cavaliers scored 57 points and lost by 55 points. Steven Seagal movies don't receive that kind of drubbing in the voting for Oscar nominations.

• Just recently my newspaper, The Plain Dealer, conducted a phone interview with Washington Generals' founder Red Klotz, whose team lost 2,495 consecutive exhibitions to the Harlem Globetrotters before winning a game in 1971. And we're calling him for advice.

• Did we mention the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Browns' most hated rival, are in the Super Bowl looking for their seventh Lombardi Trophy in eight tries? Pittsburgh's "One for the Thumb" slogan was hard enough to take in Cleveland. When we get around to "One for the Big Toe" Cleveland sports fans can only hope the Rapture occurs during the Super Bowl national anthem.

Gilbert is still popular among people here for puffing out his chest and telling LeBron James where to go. He called James a quitter. He called him a traitor.

Actually, he did more than call him one.

Gilbert. who also owns Fathead LLC, discounted the LeBron James' vinyl wall sticker to $17.41. Not coincidentally, 1741 is the year Benedict Arnold was born.

Gilbert made Clevelanders feel good the night of "The Decision," the hour-long exercise in narcissism staged by James on ESPN. He made everybody else say, "Whoa, was this guy channeling Sam Kinison or what? With such a vindictive owner running things, no wonder James got out of there."

His other mistake was in telling the Curse where to go. Curses leave when they're ready to leave. They do not take direction well as Cubs fans have learned in dealing with the Curse of the Billy Goat.

"You simply don't deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal," Gilbert wrote that July night...."I PROMISE you that our energy, focus, capital, knowledge and experience will be directed at one thing and one thing only: DELIVERING YOU the championship you have long deserved and is long overdue...."

Sure enough, people in Cleveland deserve a championship as Gilbert said.

It's been since 1964 when the Browns won the NFL title. Then Jim Brown retired. At age 29.

The Indians haven't won since 1948. The Cavaliers have never won.

Former Browns owner Art Modell, still Public Enemy No.1, moved the team to Baltimore after the 1995 season. The curse stayed. Modell won a Super Bowl with the Ravens. The Browns have played one postseason game since. (Good guess, yes, they lost. To Pittsburgh of all teams. After leading 24-7 with four minutes remaining in the third quarter.)

Former Browns coach Bill Belichick didn't win in Cleveland and was roundly dismissed as an anti-social mope. He's won three Super Bowls in New England. When Stephen Hawking gets stuck trying to solve the mysteries of the universe, it's believed he calls Bill Belichick.

Based on all that and also on the crackling fire and hellish sounds heard under our city streets, you'd have to say LeBron James' chances to pick confetti out of his hair look pretty good.

Bad Company

Cleveland doesn't have the market cornered on depressing years in sports or on depressing championship droughts.

Circa 1972 in Philadelphia comes instantly to mind. The NBA's Sixers won just nine games in '72-73 (still a record). The NFL Eagles of 1972 won just twice and the Phillies went 59-97.

The difference: Philadelphia was only five years removed from winning a NBA title with Wilt Chamberlain.

ESPN put together a list of the most tortured sports cities a few years back. For good reason, Cleveland won.

Here was ESPN's Top Ten, with my comments. I took into account recent changes of fortune where applicable:

10. HOUSTON

The Astros make Houston's spot on the list possible. But at least the Rockets won two championships while Michael Jordan was off swinging and missing at curve balls.

9. SAN DIEGO 

OK, 91 seasons with only one championship. But life is so good otherwise, it wouldn't be on my list. I lived there. Fans only truly get upset when the Chargers lose or when the ocean breeze makes it difficult to light the beach fire pit on the first try.

8. ATLANTA

It belongs in the conversation for all the losing that's gone on there: 147 seasons and one title. But a World Series 15 years ago and all that excellence from the Braves has kept hopes fairly fresh.

7. SEATTLE

Lost more than a basketball team to Oklahoma City. Lost Kevin Durant. Seattle did win a NBA title 31 years ago, which, in Cleveland and Buffalo, would feel like just yesterday.

6. MINNEAPOLIS

The Twins won the World Series in 1987 and 1991. If that happened in Cleveland, they'd immortalize everyone with a statue including the bullpen catcher.

5. BOSTON

OK, the Red Sox ended the Curse of the Bambino with a World Series title in this decade. That was a long drought. But The Celtics, Patriots, Bruins? This is a city unworthy of any miserable list.

4. CHICAGO

I know all about the Curse of the Billy Goat and how the Cubs haven't won a World Series since 1908. But now the Blackhawks have won. So have the White Sox. So did the Bears of Mike Ditka. Do we really need to mention Michael Jordan and the Bulls?

3. BUFFALO

Hasn't won anything in 45 years. Gets the seat at the head table next to Cleveland at the roast.

2. PHILADELPHIA

The Phillies won in 2008, ending a 25-year title drought. The key word there is "end." Please leave the list immediately.

1. CLEVELAND

Last NFL title: 1964. Last World Series championship: 1948. Last NBA title: never.
Not that anyone is counting.

Amazon's Under-the-Radar Coupon Page Features Deals on Home Goods, Electronics, and Groceries

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From Ear to Eternity: When Mike Tyson Bit Evander Holyfield

Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) compete in their rematch in Las Vegas on June 28, 1997. The bout would make sports history.
Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) compete in their rematch in Las Vegas on June 28, 1997. The bout would make sports history.
Focus On Sport/Getty Images

As the 16,000 spectators began filing out of the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, following a night of fights on June 28, 1997, MGM employee Mitch Libonati noticed something strange on the floor of the boxing ring. He later described it as being roughly the size of a fingernail, with the texture of a piece of hot dog or sausage.

It was no concession stand remnant. It was a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear.

Wrapping the morsel of flesh in a latex glove, Libonati hurried backstage, where Holyfield was conferring with officials and doctors after his opponent, Mike Tyson, had been disqualified for biting him on the left ear. In all the commotion, Libonati wasn't allowed inside the room. But Michael Grant, one of Holyfield’s training partners, accepted the ear fragment on Holyfield’s behalf.

Libonati’s discovery was the climax to one of boxing’s most controversial and bizarre evenings, one in which "Iron" Mike Tyson—the most famous fighter of his era—meted out a savage reprimand for what he perceived was dirty fighting on the part of Holyfield. The ear-biting far exceeded the brutal underpinnings of boxing and added to Tyson's reputation as a frenzied combatant both in and out of the ring.

 

Mike Tyson’s collision with Evander Holyfield had started when the two were just teenagers. On the amateur circuit, they had sparred together—not quite knowing the heights each would achieve, but understanding the other would be a formidable obstacle if they were to ever meet as professionals.

Evander Holyfield (L) had success against Mike Tyson (R) early on.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Tyson was a prodigy, having won the heavyweight championship of the world in 1986 at the age of 19 and dominating the division up until an upset loss to James “Buster” Douglas in Tokyo, Japan, in 1990. Holyfield was the lighter fighter at cruiserweight (190 pounds), moving up to the heavyweight division in 1988 and gaining respect for his trilogy with Riddick Bowe.

Long before that fateful night in 1997, Tyson's personal life had started to overshadow his accomplishments inside the ring: An allegedly abusive marriage to actress Robin Givens darkened his image in the media and ended in a very public divorce after just one year. In 1992, a rape conviction sidelined the fighter for more than three years while he served out his prison sentence.

When Tyson returned to the ring, he rattled off a string of wins against fighters not quite at his level, including Peter McNeeley, Buster Mathis Jr., Frank Bruno, and Bruce Seldon. Holyfield had stepped away from competition in 1994, but as Tyson knocked off inferior opponents, talk of a bout with Holyfield intensified. Finally, the two met in Las Vegas on November 9, 1996, with Tyson a 17-1 favorite over the semi-retired Holyfield.

Holyfield would prove his doubters wrong. Through 11 rounds of action, he outmaneuvered and outclassed Tyson by negating his opponent's power with movement and volume. Holyfield also landed headbutts that were declared unintentional, but to Tyson seemed deliberate. Before the fight could see a 12th round, Holyfield knocked Tyson down and earned a technical knockout victory.

 

While it was an undoubtedly disappointing moment for Tyson, an upset in boxing virtually guarantees a lucrative rematch deal. Both men agreed to meet a second time, with Holyfield earning $35 million and Tyson getting $30 million. Tyson’s camp, however, insisted that the referee from the first bout, Mitch Halpern, not be booked for the second, because Tyson felt he failed to call the illegal headbutts. The Nevada State Athletic Commission didn’t want to be seen capitulating to Tyson’s demands, but Halpern stepped aside voluntarily. So referee Mills Lane took his place.

Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) first met as amateurs.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Before a huge crowd full of A-list celebrities like Sylvester Stallone and a then-record 1.99 million households that had purchased the event on pay-per-view, Tyson and Holyfield met for a second time at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on June 28, 1997. While Holyfield took the first round, Tyson appeared fit and adaptive, and came out blazing in round two. Then, just as Tyson had feared, Holyfield’s headbutt struck him again.

The clash of heads opened a cut over Tyson’s right eye, which threatened to obscure his vision as the fight went on. It also opened a reservoir of frustration in the fighter that would manifest in a spectacularly violent way.

Coming out for the third round, Tyson had forgotten his mouthpiece and had to go back and retrieve it—a foreshadowing of things to come. His aggression was working against Holyfield, but with 40 seconds left in the round, the two clinched up. Tyson moved his mouth so it was near Holyfield’s right ear. With his mouthpiece still in place, he clamped down on the ear, ripped the top off, and spat it along with his mouthguard onto the canvas.

Holyfield jumped up in the air in shock and pain. Referee Mills Lane was initially confused by what had happened until Holyfield’s trainers, Don Turner and Tommy Brooks, yelled out what Tyson had done. Lane called for a doctor then told Marc Ratner, the executive director of the athletic commission, that he was going to end the fight. Ratner asked if he was sure. Seeing Holyfield was bleeding from his ear but otherwise ready to fight, Lane waved the two men back into competition.

Incredibly, Tyson bit Holyfield a second time, this time on the left ear, before the round ended. This time, Lane was aware of what was happening and had seen enough. Before the start of the fourth round, he disqualified Tyson.

 

That was far from the end of it. Realizing he had lost the fight, Tyson grew incensed, shoving Holyfield from behind and pawing at the security guards who had stormed the ring in an attempt to restore order.

After the bout, Tyson didn’t appear to be overly contrite. He explained that he was frustrated at Holyfield headbutting him without being penalized, and said he had lost control.

An emotional Mike Tyson reacts to his disqualification loss to Evander Holyfield.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

“Listen,” Tyson said. “Holyfield is not the tough warrior everyone says he is. He got a nick on his ear and he quit.”

Tyson believed his retaliation was justified. “This is my career," he said. "I’ve got children to raise and this guy keeps butting me, trying to cut me and get me stopped on cuts. I’ve got to retaliate. What else could I do? He didn’t want to fight. I’m ready to fight right now. Regardless of what I did, he’s been butting me for two fights. I got one eye. He’s not impaired. He’s got ears. I’ve got to go home and my kids will be scared of me. Look at me, look at me, look at me!”

Two days later, Tyson issued a tempered apology in an effort to minimize the consequences, but it was too late. In addition to losing his boxing license in the state of Nevada, Tyson was fined 10 percent of his purse, or $3 million, which was thought to be the largest fine in sports at the time.

 

Tyson could never entirely shake the stigma of his actions. When a lucrative bout with Lennox Lewis was being planned in 2002, the fight ultimately ended up taking place in Memphis, Tennessee; Nevada refused to restore Tyson's license following a press conference brawl between the two men.

Tyson ultimately continued competing through 2005, when he lost his last bout to Kevin McBride. Holyfield retired in 2011. Earlier this year, the 54-year-old Tyson expressed a desire to return to the ring. The fighter once known as "The Baddest Man on the Planet" is scheduled to fight Roy Jones Jr. on November 28, 2020. Yet Holyfield, now 57 years old, remains a possible future opponent.

The two have occasionally interacted in public in interviews, with Tyson expressing remorse and Holyfield admitting he briefly thought about biting Tyson on his face right back. The pair even filmed a spot for Foot Locker in which Tyson “gave” Holyfield the missing piece of his ear.

In reality, Holyfield never did get his ear back. After Mitch Libonati handed it over to Michael Grant, the piece somehow fell out of the latex glove while being transported to the hospital.

Many fighters talk about leaving a little piece of themselves in the ring. It’s usually metaphorical. For Evander Holyfield, it was simply the truth.