October 22, 2014

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Dan Coughlin: Cleveland is suddenly a triple-threat sports town

The year is off to a good start. Not only does it bode well, it bodes great.
From a professional standpoint, it could be the best year of my life. Having seen my first Indians game at the old Stadium in 1948, my life spans many years. The year 2008 is going to be a big deal.
In 1948 Cleveland was christened the “City of Champions” because the Indians, Browns and Barons hockey team all won championships. It was a nice trifecta, but from today’s perspective it was tainted.
The Indians won the World Series, their second and most recent world championship. The Browns, however, did not win the NFL championship. The Browns weren’t even in the NFL yet.
The Browns were champions of the All-American Football Conference, a short-lived “outlaw” league that opened for business in 1946 and went out of business four years later. Think of it as comparable to the World League or the USFL, those start-up leagues of the 1970s and ’80s that raided the NFL for talent, making more noise than money. They didn’t last.
The fact is, the Browns very possibly were the best team in all of football back in 1948, but we’ll never know. The Philadelphia Eagles won the NFL championship in 1948 and 1949 and when the Browns entered the NFL in 1950 their first game was against the Eagles, who openly scoffed at these interlopers from the “minor” league. The Browns beat the Eagles, 35-10, in Philadelphia.
Would the Browns have beaten the Eagles in 1948? Yeah, I suspect they would have.
As for the Barons, they were certifiably a minor league franchise and they played in a minor league, the American Hockey League. No one pretended otherwise. When the Barons won the AHL’s Calder Cup, they were proud to claim that they were the seventh-best team in all of hockey, the label usually attached to the AHL champion.
The NHL was the only major league of hockey and it had only six teams, while the AHL was the premier minor league. We accepted that arrangement. The Barons, after all, had been invited to join the NHL but they declined.
The Barons were independently owned and they owned their players outright, the only team in the league that was nobody’s farm club. Owner Al Sutphin’s rationale defied argument. He was paying minor league salaries and was charging minor league ticket prices and he packed the old Arena on Saturday nights. It couldn’t get any better than that.
Could the Barons have beaten the Montreal Canadiens or New York Rangers? Not a chance. But they were champions of the AHL. We could spank Syracuse, Rochester and Hershey. Life was good.
This could be the best year of all. The Indians, Browns and Cavs are poised to win championships at the highest level if the stars align. There’s no guarantee, of course, but who can remember the last time they were in the hunt simultaneously? Never.
I think I have figured out how to do it.
Live long enough.
Dan Coughlin is a columnist for The Chronicle-Telegram and a sportscaster for Channel 8. Contact him at ctsports@chroniclet.com.