Today marks the beginning of the change for me from being a lifelong reader of the Cleveland Jewish News to being a weekly contributor. Starting today I will share with you my observations of the Northeast Ohio sports scene that have been gathered from a lifetime of sports participation, as a player, fan, and, for more than 40 years, a member of the media covering sports on radio and television on a daily basis. My earliest sports memories go back to the early- and mid-'50s, when, unknowingly, I began suffering the same disappointments that you all have suffered as Cleveland fans. As a young boy I left Cleveland Stadium after the four-game New York Giants sweep over my Cleveland Indians and asked my father (Jack Levine, the longtime "candy man" of Park Synagogue) why people were so upset. "What's the big deal?" I said. "We'll win it next year." Well, next year is 2012, and we are still waiting.
My first recollection of the Cleveland Browns was from a close-up view. My zeyde owned a dry cleaning and tailor shop at E. 70th St. and Lexington Ave. in Cleveland, a Babe Ruth clout's distance from home plate at League Park, where the Indians of Tris Speaker, Shoeless Joe Jackson and Nap Lajoie played. And where Paul Brown's Cleveland Browns practiced during the season.
Morrie Kono, an army buddy of my dad, was the equipment manager for the Browns, one of the first people hired by Paul Brown. Seeing and talking to players, coaches, managers and owners in locker rooms is commonplace to me today. But imagine what it was like as a grade-schooler to walk along with the likes of Otto Graham, Dante Lavelli, Len Ford, and Lou "The Toe" Groza.
I once handed Paul Brown a sheet of paper with an intricate play selection drawn up in crayons. It was a fake punt, with the snap going directly to the blocking back in front of the punter. I told Brown that I didn't write it down, but there probably was a way to get the blocking back to throw a pass in addition to trying to run. His response probably shaped my sarcastic trademark response to bad callers on my radio or TV shows - "thanks for the call."
At the end of most of our visits, Morrie would give the Levine brothers - me, Stu and Bill - a bag of shirts, pennants and the highly coveted, brand-new, official NFL Duke football. An hour later the scuffed ball would be in use at our Wilmington Road sports complex in South Euclid, affectionately known as "Chavez Levine."
Since then, my career has allowed me to be close-up and personal with "Red-Right-88," "The Drive," "The Fumble," "The Shot," "The Move" and "The Mesa."
This column will draw on those experiences and others. Sometimes it will have a Jewish slant; sometimes, not. You will read about Israeli Omri Casspi, assuming there is an NBA season to write about. And you will read about Jason Kipnis, even though you were misled by Internet reports that he was a Jewish kid from Chicago.
I have been the play-by-play voice of three teams that have folded under my watch and have worked for several radio stations that no longer exist. And I have faithfully followed sports franchises that haven't won a championship since 1964. Despite my history, I expect the Cleveland Jewish News will survive. And I am looking forward to being part of it.
Les Levine will write each week about sports. Levine has been a radio and TV sports broadcaster for over four decades, has done play-by-play of college and professional sports. "More Sports & Les Levine" can be seen Mon.-Fri. from 6-7 p.m. and 11-midnight on NEON Ch. 23 on Time Warner Cable. Levine is a 2006 inductee of the Radio/Television Broadcasters of Ohio Hall of Fame.
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