Here they are, the 12 worst moments in Ohio sports history. From LeBron leaving Cleveland, to the Bengals’ multiple Super Bowl failures.
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As sports fans, we’ve all been there.
The shocking buzzer beater that knocks your favorite team out of the playoffs. The out-of-nowhere collapse that ends a promising season. The star player who leaves town, crushing your team’s title hopes for the immediate future.
For some reason, however, when it happens in Ohio it seems to resonate throughout the country.
Sports fans in Ohio celebrate wildly when a team enjoys success, because they know it doesn’t come around every day. After all, professional sports teams in Ohio have only brought home two championships since 1976.
Ohio colleges and universities have seen greater fortunes, but have been privy to a few heartbreaking moments all their own.
Hide your eyes, Ohio fans – these are the 12 Worst Moments in Ohio Sports History:
12. University of Cincinnati, Xavier fall in March Madness just hours apart (2018)
Separated by less than three miles, Xavier University and the University of Cincinnati both enjoy nationally prominent programs and thus are natural rivals in college basketball.
But many unaffiliated fans enjoy rooting for both teams and the general success of Cincinnati sports.
So in 2018, when both teams took top-2 seeds and conference championships into March Madness, hopes were high – until a fateful Sunday afternoon in Round Two on the same court in Nashville.
First, the top-seeded Musketeers of Xavier saw their 12-point halftime lead disappear as Florida State pulled a shocking upset to move to the Sweet 16.
Then, the Bearcats Fell
That heartbreak was enough, but the Bearcats followed in the very next game and somehow ‘out-choked’ their rivals, surrendering a 22-point lead to a pesky Nevada team, who hit the winning shot with only nine seconds to play.
In the space of several hours, Cincinnati hoops fans went from having two tournament front runners to “wait until next year.”
11. The Shot: Michael Jordan’s buzzer-beater defeats Cleveland Cavaliers in playoffs (1989)
As you’ll see, heartbreaking moments in Cleveland tend to resonate to the point that the events themselves are known by just two words. First example: “The Shot”.
Down by a single point to the Cavaliers in the deciding Game 5 of the opening round of the NBA Playoffs, the Chicago Bulls got the ball to Michael Jordan – the last person any Cleveland fan wanted taking the last shot.
Sure enough, Air Jordan dribbled twice from right to left, hung in the air over Cleveland’s Craig Ehlo, and hit a 15-footer to end the series, sending Cleveland home for the summer.
Of course, The Shot was far from Jordan’s only legendary moment, but it was the one to end an Ohio’s team season.
10. Ohio State fires football coach Woody Hayes (1978)
Some “worst moments” aren’t game outcomes. Instead, they’re unfortunate incidents that tarnish or end the careers of legendary sports figures.
Woody Hayes brought the Ohio State University football program to prominence throughout a 28-year stretch that included five national championships.
But it all crashed down at the 1978 Gator Bowl, where Hayes took a swing at an opposing Clemson player during a skirmish on the Ohio State sideline. Hayes was offered a chance to resign after the game but declined – leaving Ohio State no choice but to terminate its most successful and longest-tenured head coach in the school’s signature sport.
9. Bengals’ close calls in Super Bowls (1982, 1989, 2022)
The Cincinnati Bengals are the subjects of plenty of jokes over the years, but do people realize how close this franchise has been to three glorious Super Bowl titles?
Three trips to the Big Game have yielded three losses by a TOTAL of 12 points – twice to the San Francisco 49ers, and in February 2022 against the Los Angeles Rams.
Super Bowl 23 was arguably the toughest, as Hall of Famer Joe Montana fired a touchdown pass with only 34 seconds left to give the 49ers a 20-16 victory.
With quarterback Joe Burrow at the helm, the Bengals figure to have some opportunities to break the hex in the coming years.
8. Ohio State falls to archrival Michigan (1995-1996)
Loaded with future NFL stars, the 1995 and 1996 versions of the Ohio State Buckeyes were a couple of the best teams in Big Ten history. Until they met archrival Michigan.
In both years, the Wolverines upended heavily favored Ohio State, handing the Buckeyes their first loss and ruining their national championship hopes.
In 1995, it was Michigan’s Tim Biakabutuka rushing for 313 yards through the OSU defense en route to a 31-23 Wolverines win.
The following year coach John Cooper sparked controversy by benching his starting quarterback, Stanley Jackson, before the big game. The decision backfired as the Buckeyes struggled in a 13-9 defeat.
This one ultimately had a happy ending. After a few more years of struggles against Michigan, Ohio State let Cooper go, sparking an ongoing 20-year run of Buckeye Big Ten dominance that’s featured a pair of national titles.
7. Indians lose World Series to Florida Marlins (1997)
The Indians took a 2-0 lead into the seventh inning of Game 7, poised to end a 49-year World Series drought in Cleveland.
But a Bobby Bonilla home run, coupled with a blown save by José Mesa in the ninth inning allowed Florida to rally and ultimately walk off with the game and championship on Edgar Renteria’s 11th-inning single.
It was the final blow to the Indians of the 1990s, who despite a collection of talent including Manny Ramirez, Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton, Jim Thome and others, were never able to bring home baseball’s biggest prize.
6. Indians blow 3-1 lead, lose World Series to Cubs (2016)
Nineteen years later, Cleveland’s drought was up to 68 years, but this time they had three chances to break through, carrying a 3-1 lead in the 2016 World Series against the Chicago Cubs.
No matter – it would be the Cubs, rallying for three straight wins to break their own 108-year “Curse” and sending the Indians to defeat once more.
The Tribe had a chance to clinch the title at home in Game 6 in front of a raucous crowd but fell behind Chicago 7-0 after only three innings and never recovered.
Game 7 is considered one of the best games in World Series history. Everywhere but Cleveland, that is, with the Indians rallying repeatedly to erase Chicago leads. A Rajai Davis three-run home run tied the game at 6 in the eighth inning, before the drama built with a 17-minute rain delay at the end of the ninth inning.
When the game resumed, the Cubs scored twice in the 10th inning. A final Indians rally fell short in the bottom of the inning, and Chicago won the title, 8-7. Many Indians fans believe Cleveland would have capitalized on the momentum from Davis’ home run and won the title if not for the late rain delay.
5. The Fumble: Browns lose a second straight AFC Championship Game to Denver (1998)
We’ll get to its predecessor soon enough, but 1988 saw the Browns take on the Denver Broncos for the AFC title for a second straight year. This time, with the game in Mile High Stadium, the Broncos stampeded to a 28-10 lead, but Cleveland rallied within one score in fourth quarter.
But with under two minutes to play and the Browns headed for what appeared to be a sure game-tying touchdown, running back Earnest Byner fumbled on the two-yard line, and the Broncos prevailed 38-33.
The miscue clouded Byner’s extraordinary day, with 187 total yards and two touchdowns, as Denver returned to the Super Bowl.
4. The Drive: John Elway goes 98 yards to topple the Browns (1987)
The prior season, the Browns hosted the AFC Championship matchup against Denver. Leading late in the fourth quarter, Denver mishandled a kickoff forcing them to start a potential game-tying drive from the two-yard line.
But quarterback John Elway led the Broncos 98 yards in 15 plays, firing a short touchdown pass with only 37 seconds to play and sending the game to overtime.
Everyone recalls “The Drive” and for good reason – but what’s often forgotten is Denver’s eventual game-winning field goal, a 33-yarder by Rich Karlis, went OVER the upright rather than through the uprights.
Nonetheless, the officials called the kick successful. Denver prevailed 23-20 – another heartbreaking ending for the Browns.
3. Pete Rose banned from baseball for gambling (1989)
Believe it or not, for all the on-field heartbreak Ohio teams have suffered, we’re done with in-game moments. These last three events didn’t happen during play, rather, they’re events that changed the landscape of Ohio sports in a more permanent fashion.
We start with the banishment of Major League Baseball’s all-time hits leader, Pete Rose, who enjoyed much of his success with the Cincinnati Reds and was the club’s manager at the time of his ban.
Rose was the subject of a year-long investigation and, while Major League Baseball never formally stated he bet on baseball games, Rose accepted a place on baseball’s ineligible list, believing reinstatement was a possibility a year later. The banishment of a local icon rocked Cincinnati’s baseball community, and made the 1990 World Series title somewhat bittersweet with Rose unable to partake in the celebration of a team he’d helped to build.
33 years later, Pete Rose remains ineligible not only for participation in MLB, but for induction into its Hall of Fame. The Reds, however, inducted Rose into their Hall of Fame in 2016.
2. The Decision: LeBron leaves the Cavaliers (2010)
When LeBron James’ contract expired after the 2010 NBA season, fans knew things could go either way. He could stay with his hometown Cavaliers or try his hand in another NBA city.
So when “The King” announced a nationally televised TV special to declare his intentions, Cleveland fans breathed a sigh of relief. Surely their native son wasn’t going on ESPN to break their hearts?
Wrong. In a move widely panned by critics, fans, and especially Clevelanders, LeBron made the phrase “take my talents to South Beach” famous, declaring he’d sign with the Miami Heat.
Of course, James would eventually right this wrong. After winning a pair of titles with the Heat, LeBron returned to Cleveland in 2014 and brought the city its first professional sports championship in 52 years in 2016.
1. The Move: Art Modell takes the Browns out of Cleveland, becoming the Baltimore Ravens (1995)
You can lose a game, a favorite player, even a championship – and still look forward to brighter days.
But losing a beloved franchise? That’s what Cleveland football fans faced when Art Modell, owner of the Browns, moved the franchise to Baltimore after the 1995 NFL season. And that’s why this was arguably one of the worst moments in Ohio sports history.
Unhappy with the stadium situation, Modell agreed to the move after Baltimore promised to build a new, state-of-the-art, football-only stadium for the team. The football team left Cleveland and became the Baltimore Ravens starting with the 1996 season. Naturally, Cleveland fans were left devastated without an NFL team.
Again, this one has a semi-happy ending, as Cleveland was awarded an expansion franchise in 1999 and allowed to retain the “Browns” moniker. However, the Baltimore Ravens have since won two Super Bowl titles, and they’ve dominated the head-to-head matchups against the ‘new’ Browns, 34 wins to 12.
For his part, Art Modell remained a villain in the city of Cleveland until his passing in 2012.