Bracket Breakdown, ELITE 8 Edition
By Andrew Clayman & Jeff Ellis
Only eight men still walk the rocky and desolate road toward the Final Four: 3 Browns, 3 Indians, 2 Cavaliers. Some of them were shoe-ins from the word "go." Others have defied logic to wear the Cinderella slipper (no offense, Grady). Now, loyal Cleveland sports fans must turn into bickering teenage Twilight addicts and align themselves with the camp of their choice: the Wizard or the King? The shortstop or the quarterback? #25 or #25? The Elite 8 is upon us!
And now... on to the regional finals!
#2 Ozzie Newsome vs #1 LeBron James
Round 3: Newsome def. Clay Matthews (65% of vote), James def. K. Lofton (88%)
ANDREW CLAYMAN: Early on in the tournament, I was encouraging voters to look beyond Ozzie Newsome’s unfortunate ties to Art Modell and the ill-fated “Baltimore Browns,” and to instead respect his greatness on the field. But since I fully anticipate a certain Akronite advancing easily in this matchup, I might as well start throwing the Wizard under the bus. For starters, let’s go with an oldie but goodie: he was overrated. Sacrilegious? Hardly. Newsome’s gaudy career numbers may have had as much to do with longevity as greatness, as his nearly 8,000 receiving yards were gained across 13 pro seasons, only three of which ended with a Pro Bowl appearance (rather low for a Hall of Famer). To go a step further, we can compare Newsome to a couple other legendary tight ends. Tony Gonzalez has played in 13 fewer games for his career, but has nearly 4,000 more receiving yards and 34 more touchdowns than Newsome (81-47). More significantly, Kellen Winslow Sr. (a Newsome contemporary) played in 80 fewer games than Ozzie, but caught only 2 fewer touchdowns, averaging 5 receptions and 61 yards per game to Newsome’s 3.3 and 40. To be fair, Ozzie’s averages were hurt by his diminished stats in his later years, but then again, that’s kind of the point. Newsome’s top tier years in the early ‘80s were outstanding, and yes, I have talked in earlier rounds about how he helped revolutionize his position (still true)—but in terms of being a dominant, game-changing force on the level of LBJ? Even with only half as many years as a pro, this is still an easy win yet again for Bron Bron.
JEFF ELLIS: Your anti-Newsome numbers look convincing on the surface, but they’re not really fair or put in the proper context. The tight end position is totally different now then it was when Ozzie played (hence, the stats of guys like Gonzlaez and Shannon Sharpe) and Winslow Sr. played in a very pass friendly system in San Diego, while Ozzie was in a generally run first system. I think Ozzie could have put up equal or better numbers to either player if they switched places. The question to me is, have we seen enough of LeBron thus far to have him knock off a Hall of Famer and a player who ranks Top 5 all-time at his position? I know what the votes will say, but I don’t think this one should be quite so clear cut. I mean, if LeBron retired tomorrow, he would not make the Hall. So how much of the vote is just based on what greatness Lebron might do along rather than what he has done. Plus, what if LeBron’s future greatness is accomplished outside Cleveland? Ozzie’s resume is written in stone. Just something to consider.
AC: Jeff, if you don’t think LBJ is a first ballot Hall of Famer right now, then you’re crazy. Sorry, I’ve overstepped my allotted space.
#2 Omar Vizquel vs #1 Bernie Kosar
Round 3: Vizquel def. S. McDowell (84%), Kosar def. Sipe (87%)
JE: Well, Omar Vizquel has managed to find his way to the Elite Eight. Can’t say I’m shocked, but it still makes me chuckle a bit. Omar was a great defender, solid bat, and had all-star personality for the Tribe. The problem is, he was never more than the third or fourth best player on his own team (great as those players may have been). To me, Omar fits into that category they used to set aside for Jim Rice-- a player who might fit better into a "Hall of Very Good" rather than a Hall of Fame. Of course, his opponent, Bernie Kosar, is far from the land of the elite himself. He was a good, occasionally exceptional quarterback by ‘80s NFL standards-- more of a steady leader than a superstar for the Browns. All in all, this matchup just has all the elements of a high school popularity contest—it’s giving me flashbacks. Two people who don’t deserve it are fighting for a spot that should be held by a more capable individual. Honestly, in an objective sense, can we really say that either of these guys was among the top four players to suit up in Cleveland in the past 40 years?
AC: If I'm not mistaken, Jim Rice is in the actual, non-hypothetical Hall of Fame now, so if Omar is on his level, I'd say that bodes well for him. In any case, regarding your high school angst, this tournament was always destined to have the popularity contest element to it. Cleveland fans’ sometimes irrational bonds with their favorite players are stronger than most, being that our relationships with the teams themselves are usually rather abusive and one-sided. Bernie Kosar was a sacred cow before he ever dug his cleats into the slippery sod at Municipal Stadium. Like Brady Quinn, he wasn’t local in the purest sense (Boardman isn’t exactly a Cleveland suburb), but his allegiance to the Browns franchise enabled him to earn the rarely bestowed “one of us” moniker. The Venezuelan-born Vizquel, meanwhile, became the most popular local athlete of his era in a more gradual fashion-- charming his adopted city with Roberto Benigni-like adorability. Omar certainly had far more personality than Bernie, and a hell of a lot more grace on the field. But while Vizquel was a showman, Bernie was the blue-collar general—outwitting his opponents and overachieving across nine memorable seasons. While Jeff and I disagree on Vizquel’s shot at Cooperstown (I say he’s in), there’s no denying that he has at least an outside shot. Not the case with Kosar and Canton. The question is, will Vizquel’s decade of hijinx and highlight reels be enough to keep him in the ballgame against THE Cleveland Browns Quarterback? I say O-no.
#1 Jim Thome vs #3 Mark Price
Round 3: Thome def. Warfield (53%), Price def. A. Belle (68%)
AC: As the third round was coming to a close, Jim Thome looked like a dead man walking. The Indians all-time homerun king was down a handful of votes to the Browns Hall of Fame receiver Paul Warfield. Then, after I swung my influential support to Thome in Part II of our bracket breakdown, the tide suddenly turned, and Jim snuck his way in as the Indians’ third representative in the Elite Eight. Perhaps, in Grinch-like fashion, the people of Cleveland are finally opening their bitter hearts to the Thomenator again. If so, that new leaf may be quickly re-turned, because the eternally popular Mark Price is ready to punch his own ticket to the Final Four in this matchup of #25 jerseys. In many ways, Price and Thome are like peas in a pod—“aww shucks” good old boys who always exhibited good sportsmanship, signed autographs for the kids, and avoided saying anything that could be perceived as controversial-- or remotely interesting for that matter. Thome started his career backing up legends like Brook Jacoby and Alvaro Espinoza, while Price had to serve as John Bagley’s apprentice. Once they got their moments, though, these two helped change their respective franchises. Mark Price: a 17 point, 8 assist guy and a 4-time All-Star. Jim Thome: a 40 HR, 110 RBI guy and a 3-time All-Star. Had Thome stayed in Cleveland, he’d also likely hold Omar Vizquel’s title as “Most Beloved Tribesman.” Instead, he is likely going to see this matchup stolen away by the Cavs sure-handed point guard of yesteryear. Cleveland’s heart is willing, but it just ain’t big enough to lift Thome into the Final Four where he belongs.
JE: As I’ve proudly stated before, Mark Price is one of my favorite basketball players of all time. A deadly shooter with incredible instincts and court vision, Price would likely be talked about as one of the best point guards of the ‘90s had he played in a larger market. Even with that said, he never played at a Hall of Fame level for any extended stretch of time. Jim Thome, on the other hand, is the surest Hall of Fame bet of any of the Indians’ ‘90s nucleus, thanks to Manny’s recent steroid issues. Thome was rarely the headliner when it came to those powerful lineups (Belle, Ramirez, and even Juan Gonzalez and Roberto Alomar trumped him at times), but there is no denying his production across 12 years in Cleveland’s greatest baseball era. If OPS is the new stat de jour to show a player’s worth in Major League Baseball, then Thome’s six years at a .990 or better clip (in Cleveland alone) should speak volumes. My vote goes to the future Hall of Famer—the one who will almost assuredly go in as an Indian.
#7 Grady Sizemore vs #1 Jim Brown
Round 3: Sizemore def. Sabathia (52%), Brown def. Hickerson (96%)
JE: So long Grady, it’s been nice knowing you. You made it so far, but you’re facing a behemoth now. Don’t take it personally. Anyway, at least we can appreciate the athletic merits of this match-up. Sizemore is not only a great baseball player, but was also heavily recruited to play college football-- as a quarterback no less. With his athleticism, it’s not outside the range of possibility to think that Sizemore could have suited up in the NFL someday, as a special teamer at the very least. In the end, he choose wisely, as baseball is the sport that seems to have been his best fit, particularly if he hopes to overcome nagging injuries to enjoy a long career. By comparison, Jim Brown had to settle with going pro in his second best sport, by many accounts. Brown’s prowess on the lacrosse field is still the stuff of legend, so much so, in fact, that he is now enshrined in the Lacrosse Hall of Fame, along with the college and pro football halls. So yes, Jim Brown is in three halls of fame. Grady’s ladies have no answer for that.
AC: Jeff and I didn’t agree on who should have won the third round match between CC Sabathia and Grady Sizemore, but we did agree that neither guy really deserved a spot as one of the top eight Cleveland players of the past 45 years. Nonetheless, Jeff’s man Grady won the day, which in the long run only got him the right to be steamrolled by Jimmie Brown. As Jeff indicated, the argument could be made that Sizemore—on purely athletic merits-- might be one of the few men in this tournament who could have competed on close ground with Brown head-to-head. But in terms of on-field performance in their sports of choice, Grady has a long, long, long way to go to warrant a single legitimate vote in this matchup. You’ve likely heard many of these little factoids rattled off before, but let’s review for old time’s sake, because they never get old…
Led the league in rushing 8 out of his 9 seasons; 8-time First Team All-Pro; averaged 104.3 rushing yards per game for his career (still an NFL record); averaged 5.2 yards per carry (highest among any of the NFL’s all-time top 50 rushers); retired as the NFL’s all-time leader in rushing yards AND touchdowns; elected to Hall of Fame in 1971. And some other stuff.
When the votes are all counted, we'll finally be down to the Final 4 in the 64 Since '64 Tournament, as we crown a champ to conclude what will hopefully be the final year of the title drought era.