‘Believeland’ Relives Crushing Memories, Demonstrates Strength of Cleveland Sports Fans


In this image featured in the documentary Believeland, the fan reflects an important theme of the film of heartbreak and suffering our Cleveland sports teams have brought the fans.

“Believeland” captures what it means to be a Cleveland sports fan — every heartbreak, every improbable moment, every disappointment our three sports teams have given us.

The film is directed by Cleveland native Andy Billman, and narrated by Scott Raab, a Cleveland native and Esquire Magazine writer. Legendary Browns running back Jim Brown, former Indians slugger Jim Thome, former Cavaliers guard Craig Ehlo, Shaker parent and former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Lee Weingart and celebrities such as Arsenio Hall are featured in the film.

The documentary opens with images and clips of Cleveland fans suffering as Randy Newman’s “Burn On” plays in the background. The soft, heartwarming song about Cleveland, along with the clips of fans hanging their heads, set you up to relive, or see for the first time, all the Cleveland sports heartbreaks over the past 50 years.

The film provides detailed descriptions of Red Right 88, The Drive, the 1997 Indians loss in Game 7 of the World Series, The Fumble, The Shot and The Decision. Even though I knew what was going to happen, it still hurt as I watched the events unfold.

I sat next to my father while watching the documentary, and every choke or bad break drew a wince from him. He said, “That one was horrible” or “I just couldn’t believe that really happened.” When we watched Jose Mesa blow the lead in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series, my dad covered his eyes.

Former Indians manager Mike Hargrove summed up every fan’s feeling about heartbreak when he talked about Game 7. In the film, Hargrove says that a couple months ago, someone asked when he had recovered from the loss. “As soon as it happens, I’ll let you know,” he said.

The most powerful part of the film was the reflection on The Fumble. Former Browns running back Earnest Byner apologizes to all the fans he disappointed after fumbling the ball inside the 5-yard line during the 1987 American Football Conference Championship. The Browns lost to the Denver Broncos, their bitter rivals. Byner was brought to tears during the documentary, unable to forget his mistake. Former Browns coach Marty Schottenheimer even shed a few tears sympathetic for his running back.

The film also describes in detail the Browns’ move to Baltimore in 1996. It provides an interesting, unknown side of the story. It explains former Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell’s reasoning for the move. While we still might despise Modell for moving our beloved Browns, at least we now know why the businessman did it.

The film also shows Cleveland sports fans’ undying optimism and pride in our teams. After every mistake, the fans say something like, “We still love ‘em!” The film shows the rest of the country what we Cleveland fans already know: We will never give up on our teams, no matter how many times they crush our dreams.

The film relies too heavily on interviewing sports writers and radio personalities like Brian Windhorst and Tony Rizzo and would have benefited from more fan testimonials. There are too many of Raab’s memories, and not enough interviews of amateur fans who don’t work in sports at all, who are construction or steel workers, lawyers, or bankers.

But, I’d still recommend this film to anyone who wants to watch a depressing yet uplifting story about suffering, the improbable love we still have for our frustrating teams, and the hope for Cleveland to finally win that championship.

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