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From the cheap seats: The changing landscape of Ohio sports

It’s not easy to be a loser. Trust me, I’ve been an Ohio State Buckeye fan for as long as I can remember and while the Buckeyes have been a powerhouse in the NCAA, professional sports in Ohio haven’t shared the same fate.As for the Blue Jackets, I relinquished any sort of affiliation for the Toronto Maple Leafs after another devastating playoff loss in 2004 and jumped on the Blue Jackets’ bandwagon­—if any sort of bandwagon even exists for a perennial basement dweller.

For the three major professional teams located in Cleveland, it’s been a combined 156 seasons without a championship, a record that’s spanned over 50 years. Frank Ryan’s Cleveland Browns were the last team to bring home a championship way back in 1964. Since then, Cleveland has had 50 years of heartbreak. They gave up ‘The Drive’ to John Elway, ‘The Shot’ to Michael Jordan, and saw their hometown hero LeBron James leave in ‘The Decision’. Perhaps the highlight of those years was the Cleveland Indians’ 10-cent beer night on June 4, 1974.

In Cincinnati and Columbus, the story has been almost equally devastating. The Bengals have never won a Super Bowl; while enjoying just one winning season from 1991-2008, the once ferocious Bengals became known as the hapless “Bungals.” The Reds have been Ohio’s only somewhat successful professional team. They’ve won three World Series pennants in the last 50 years, but from 1996 to 2009, the Reds had just two winning seasons. In Columbus, The Ohio State University dominates sports culture. Only recently did the city add the franchise, but the Jackets have been the laughingstock of the NHL for almost the entirety of their 14-year history. Collegiately, the Buckeyes have dominated the NCAA since the late ’60s, but a 2010 NCAA investigation exposed NCAA violations, leading to the resignation of famed Buckeye Head Coach Jim Tressel. The Buckeyes received a two-year bowl ban and watched their 2010 season go down the gutter.

On Friday night, I went to ‘The House that Sergei Bobrovsky Built’—if I can call it that. It was my first pilgrimage to Ohio, the heartland of American sporting despair. The Blue Jackets were playing host to the Boston Bruins, a city and team that seems to know nothing but winning. During my lifetime, Massachusetts’ sports teams have been the pinnacle of success; between the Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins, the state has won eight championships since 2001. In the same time span, Ohio sports fans have only seen one championship series that ended in typical Ohio fashion—with the San Antonio Spurs sweeping the Cleveland Cavaliers. On game night, The Blue Jackets jumped out to an early 2-0 lead but, as always seems to be the case in Ohio, an unlucky bounce put their opponents on the board. The Bruins pulled ahead in the third but a Jack Johnson goal tied it up for the Blue Jackets, who held on to force overtime. Following a scoreless overtime period, 13 shooters solved nothing before Bruins centreman Alex Khokhlachev beat Bobrovsky to seal the deal for the Bruins. At the end of the day, at least we got one point.

The following night I took my seat at Ohio Stadium to watch the 10-1 Ohio State Buckeyes take on a horrid Indiana Hoosiers squad. The spread going into the game was 38.5 for the Buckeyes but the Hoosiers wouldn’t go away, eventually pulling ahead early in the third on a 90-yard touchdown rush. The Buckeyes clawed back in the second half on the strength of Jalin Marshall’s four touchdown game to seal a 42-27 victory. While the win looked good on paper, the College Football Playoff committee will not be impressed by the Buckeyes this weekend. Four years after the Buckeyes were mired with scandal, Ohio State has once again returned to the top of the Big Ten.

Maybe, as Bob Dylan once said, “The times they are a-changin.” A weekend in Columbus showed me there might be a light at the end of the tunnel, and a bright future for sports in Ohio. The 2014 off-season brought hope back to Cleveland when LeBron James took his talents back to ‘North Beach,’ pairing up with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving to creating one of the league’s few super teams. After a revamping of the front office his past year, the once abysmal Browns have found their way back to relevancy, led by a lethal running attack and a ferocious defence. In Cincinnati, the Bengals have strung together three consecutive playoff appearances and currently sit atop the AFC North. Maybe, just maybe, I wont be a loser for much longer.

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