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64 Since '64: Top Players of Cleveland's Title Drought Era: Round 3, Part 1
November 18, 2009 · By Andrew Clayman

Bracket Breakdown, Round THREE, Part 1

By Andrew Clayman & Jeff Ellis

Now this is where things really start to get interesting. The 64 Since '64 Tournament has reached the Sweet Sixteen, and those of you who've been voting in the online bracket will now get a chance to cast aside the novelty of it all and get serious. Here in Round 3, some classic Cleveland sports debates will get re-examined, and possibly some new, completely unneeded ones will get started. Just who had the better all-around quarterback in the '80s, the Kardiac Kids or the Dawgs? Could the Wizard of Oz lose to the one Brown selected before him in the 1978 draft? And will Jeff and I ever agree on the true value of one Mr. Omar Vizquel. It all gets settled now!

Click Here to Vote In Round 3 of the 64 Since '64 Bracket

RD 1 Archive: Brown & Orange Regional | Wine & Gold | Red & Blue | Scarlet & Gray
RD 2 Archive: Part I | Part II

Let's get going with the Sweet Sixteen, beginning today with the left half of the bracket.

Round 3, Brown & Orange Regional

#1 LeBron James vs #5 Kenny Lofton

Round 2: James def. V. Martinez (92% of vote), Lofton def. Byner (81%)

JEFF ELLIS: When I saw this match up, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Kenny Lofton-- unceremoniously getting fed to the lions. If you actually vote for Kenny, it’s possible that you’re using some complex backwards logic to presume that the basketball gap between LeBron and the former college basketball star Lofton isn’t as great as their presumably massive gap in baseball skills, thus making Kenny the “greater” of the two. However, the odds are better that most Lofton voters are simply James haters or just anarchists looking to create chaos from a state of order. Fact is, an athlete like Lebron could have probably found a way to make it to the top of any sport he played. As for Lofton, I do want to give props to the man who was easily the best lead-off hitter the Indians have had in my lifetime. Hopefully he can take comfort knowing that this loss is far more acceptable than finishing second to Pat Listach in Rookie of the Year voting.

ANDREW CLAYMAN: I’m not so sure I buy the idea that Lebron would have automatically excelled at baseball if he'd gone that route. As Michael Jordan showed the world, baseball is not necessarily a sport that rewards the greatest athletes that choose to play it. Kenny Lofton, a former point guard on an Arizona basketball team that reached the Final Four, was quite possibly the finest pure athlete to ever don an Indians uniform. But it was really his underrated fundamental skills—working a count, bunting, baserunning, tracking fly balls—that made him a six-time all-star. During his three stints in Cleveland, covering 10 seasons, Lofton went from a pesky speedster to a dynamic, well-rounded, and consistently clutch performer. Any ‘90s Tribe fan will always remember #7 scaling the center field wall to bring a ball back from the Davey Tree Picnic Plaza, or his improbable sprint home from second base on a Randy Johnson wild pitch in the 1995 ALCS. Even his swan song as a 40 year-old in 2007 proved to be shockingly impressive, as he helped jumpstart the Indians offense down the stretch and into the postseason, up until a Joel Skinner stop sign derailed his efforts. All of this praise is a long-winded way of saying that LeBron James is going to bounce Kenny Lofton worse than a football thrown right at Robert Royal’s mitts. It doesn’t matter that K-Love was once a baller, or that LBJ’s baseball skills end at straightening the bill of his Yankees cap (ironically, Kenny once famously called James a "backstabber" for donning said cap at Progressive Field). In this match, the Cavs all-time steals leader slides by the Indians all-time steals leader.


#6 Clay Matthews vs #2 Ozzie Newsome

Round 2: Matthews def. Ramirez (60%), Newsome def. G. Pruitt (88%)

AC: This might be the first matchup of the whole tournament that could have potentially been decided with actual on-field history—albeit of the practice variety. The Wizard of Oz, 6’2”, 232 pounds, out of Alabama. Clay Matthews, 6’2”, 245 pounds, out of USC. Newsome, a first round pick of the Cleveland Browns in the 1978 draft (#23). Matthews, ALSO a first round pick of the Browns in that same 1978 draft (#12)! Has any team ever struck gold with two mid first rounders any better than this? Newsome and Matthews went on to be teammates for the next 13 seasons—one as the rock of the defense, the other as the rock of the offense. Perhaps Brian Sipe or Bernie Kosar could offer some insight into how Ozzie and Clay matched up in preseason scrimmages—the obligatory immovable object versus the unstoppable force. For the rest of us, though, we’re left with a gut inclination. According the to Hall of Fame, Newsome was the superior football player. But when it comes down to a franchise’s all-time leading receiver against its all-time leading tackler, how can it be cut and dry? Hell, Clay Matthews just stunned Manny Ramirez in round two. I say he takes that momentum all the way into the Elite 8!

JE: When I realized these two players were both taken in round 1 in 1978, I couldn’t help but consider the fact that, across a full decade and 70 rounds of drafting, the new Browns haven’t managed to find a single player anywhere near the level of these guys, let alone two within an hour of each other. If you want to be a great team, you need to have drafts like that—the kind that turn a franchise around. Ironically, Ozzie Newsome has gone on to have a couple of those drafts as a GM, which is part of the reason that even an underachieving Ravens team manages to look like a legitimate contender on a fairly regular basis. Clay Matthews was my favorite player on those ‘80s Browns teams, but I have to vote for Ozzie in this matchup. Even with his nauseating Modell loyalty, it doesn’t change what he did as a player, particularly as an innovator at the tight end position. When Newsome retired, he was statistically the best pass-catching tight end ever. Clay was a great player, but he wasn’t ever one of the best all-time at his position.

 

Round 3, Wine & Gold Regional

 

#1 Bernie Kosar vs #4 Brian Sipe

Round 2: Kosar def. S. Alomar (89%), Sipe def. Daugherty (63%)

AC: Well, Bernie and Brian would probably love to see how that Newsome vs Matthews game plays out, but as it turns out, they’ve got their own business to attend to. The fates have set up yet another Brown vs Brown matchup here in the Sweet Sixteen, and this one is even juicier. At long last, Cleveland must decide: Sipe or Kosar? Kardiac Kids or the Dawgs? #17 or #19? As the local folk hero, Kosar is the heavy favorite, and to his credit, he took Cleveland to the Super Bowl doorstep three times. His predecessor, however, remains the Browns all-time leading passer (23,713 yards to Kosar’s 21,904). Sipe also threw more touchdowns (154-116) and actually won more games (57-55 career record to Kosar’s 53-51-1). Yeah, they were both just .500 quarterbacks, but what are you gonna do? It’s the Browns. In any case, Kosar was much better at keeping the ball away from the other team (81 picks to Sipe’s 149) and his career QB rating was considerably higher (81.6 to 74.8). Sipe won an MVP award, Bernie never did. Bernie got to 3 AFC Championships, Brian never did. When the stats offer no assistance, you gotta go with your gut (Butch Davis style), and my gut says Kelly Holcomb—err, Bernie Kosar.

JE: I got to strongly disagree with Andy on at least one count. To me, the stats do tell the tale here. There are two key stats that strongly show why Kosar was a far superior quarterback. One, Kosar had a career QB rating over 80 at 81.8, while Sipe was almost 7 points lower at 74.8. In terms of rating, that’s a pretty sizable difference. The bigger stat to me, though, is career interceptions. As mentioned above, Sipe’s 149 picks dwarf Bernie’s 87, and his nearly 1:1 TD/INT ratio is far inferior to Kosar’s solid 3:2 ratio. I have stated it every round, but Sipe basically only had two years where he played as an above average QB. Yes, his peak year was better than Kosar’s peak year, but over the long haul there is no doubt to me who was better. I’ll admit, when this tourney began I thought for sure I would vote for Sipe, but after the deeper look, I have to swallow my pride and vote for Eric Mangini’s favorite new consultant.

 

#2 Omar Vizquel vs #3 Sam McDowell

Round 2: Vizquel def. Leroy Kelly (70%), McDowell def. Dieken (51%)

JE: This city’s love for Omar Vizquel is certainly strong, but if we’re honest with ourselves, little O shouldn’t really have even advanced this far. In a pure baseball sense, if you were to field an all-time Indians team, Omar would not be on it, but Sam McDowell would certainly be in the rotation. I hate to be the buzz kill, but this tournament is about greatness, not sentimentality. McDowell was a dominant player in his time, which to me was something Omar never was. Omar will win and advance here, and in a few years the Cleveland fans will be pissed when he fails to get elected into the Hall of Fame (again, sorry to say, but don’t hold your breath). Omar is a great player, but he needs to bow out here. I encourage the fans of my generation to shed their youthful biases and check the numbers (including McDowell’s 6 all-star selections to Vizquel’s 3, and his 5 seasons leading the American League in strikeouts). If that doesn’t work, remember that McDowell was the inspiration for Sam Malone on Cheers. You watched that show, right? Ted Danson, pre hair plugs?

AC: Jeff, I’ll let your irrational hatred for Brian Sipe slide. But you gotta stop talking about Omar like he stole your date to the high school prom. Considering that Vizquel took care of Hall of Famer Leroy Kelly with relative ease last round, he’s probably not sweating McDowell too much. Meanwhile, Sam barely crept past Doug Dieken to get to this match. Is this all due to a generational imbalance in the voting? Ehhh, yeah, partially. But that doesn’t mean Vizquel isn’t worthy of his admirers. While you can say we were all foolishly swayed by those unnecessary barehanded grabs and nonchalant catches with his back to the infield, Omar the Showman was also statistically the best defensive shortstop in baseball history—his .985 fielding percentage easily besting Ozzie Smith (.978) and Lou Boudreau (.973). He also hit for a much higher average than Smith (.273 to .262) and hit three times as many longballs (steroid era, sure, but I’m fairly certain Omar wasn’t juicing). In many ways, Vizquel is also the embodiment of the Indians’ glorious ‘90s revival— more likeable than Belle and Lofton, more loyal than Thome and Ramirez. Does he have the national rep to get into Cooperstown? Maybe not enough for a first ballot, but most writers already know that Ozzie Smith set the bar, and Vizquel, at the very least, matched it—plain and simple. He’ll get his due someday. In the meantime, he’ll settle for outdueling Sam McDowell—a man who may have found his way to Cooperstown himself if it hadn’t been for the bottle. I hope the voting is close, because McDowell certainly warrants it. But saying Omar Vizquel has no place among the top names in modern Cleveland sports is just silly.

 

In the next edition, we'll conclude Round 3 and determine the Elite 8 of Cleveland's not so great sports era.

 


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