Updated: Oct 17
By John Kaufman
NFL, Betting & Fantasy Football Analyst
Hey there! My name is John Kaufman, but most of my family and friends call me Johnny. As I stated in the byline, you can find me on Twitter here: @ClevelandSpyder.
The story of how I chose that Twitter handle is pretty interesting and unusual, and it is so utterly appropriate for a Cleveland sports fan, or really, any fan who roots for a perennial underdog. But most importantly, there may not be a better way to reveal to you who I am and how I ended up becoming the person I am today. So, this is the story of me. And honestly, I'm as incredulous as you are that somehow it all began with a miserably awful baseball team from the 1800s...
Years ago, I was bored and I found myself goofing around online when I thought I remembered hearing that there used to be a Cleveland Spiders baseball team. This is probably like the absolute best time to mention that I am a HUGE Spider-Man fan. And as a massive Spider-Man fan I thought, damn, that would be so cool if Cleveland used to have a professional team nicknamed the Spiders. So, I googled it.
Well as it turns out, there was a Cleveland baseball team called the Spiders that existed from 1877-1899. They were pretty dang good for a couple of seasons, too. Believe it or not, the legendary Cy Young was a Cleveland Spider for a short while. However, in true Cleveland fashion their claim to infamy is that in 1899 they finished with an all-time MLB-worst record of 20-134. They also went 11-101 on the road that year, a record that will be impossible to break without a rule change as current MLB teams only play 81 road games each year. But easily the most impossibly hilarious fact about that 1899 team was that they averaged 145 fans per game. Their stadium – League Park – sat 9,000 people, and on average fewer than 150 people showed up to each game. Can you even imagine watching a Major League baseball game with like only 140 other people in an entire stadium? And that happened basically all year long, not just for one game! I mean, at least the line for the bathrooms weren’t very long.
To be fair though, that 1899 Spiders team really did get screwed, and by their own owners no less. (I think I’m beginning to see where Art Modell got his inspiration.) It’s a long story, but basically the Spiders’ owners also bought the St. Louis Browns that year, and they decided that the Browns were the better team and would draw more fans, so they traded all the best players from the Spiders to the Browns. They owned two teams in one league, and they imploded one team to make the other one much better. So yeah, Cleveland got screwed. Big time. (You can read about that miserable 1899 Cleveland Spiders team here.)
So, what does all this have to do with a Twitter handle? Well, it’s pretty simple. You see, I was born and raised in a little suburb of Cleveland called Willowick. It’s about twenty minutes east of Cleveland, so everyone in my family and all my friends grew up as rabid Cleveland sports fans. And while we all loved the Indians and the Cavaliers, Cleveland is a football town, so the Browns come first in everyone’s hearts. By like a bajillion miles.
And if you’ve been on this planet for longer than 12 minutes, you know that Cleveland sports fans – Browns fans in particular – are among the most tortured in American sports history. Your teams lose games. Our teams’ losses are so unforgettable and heart-wrenching that we named them:
The Drive, The Fumble, The Catch (this one I had to read about since it happened in the 1954 World Series, but holy moly did Willie Mays do us dirty with this unbelievable catch), The Shot (Michael Jordan’s famous shot over Craig Ehlo in the playoffs), The Move (Modell moving the Browns to Baltimore), The Decision (LeBron breaking up with us on national television in the most horrifying and embarrassing way possible). And honestly, it feels like I’m leaving five or six more tragic moments off this list.
Except for Mays’ unbelievable catch, I was alive for all of those horrific moments. I watched John Elway rip our hearts out with that 98-yard drive. I saw the ball get poked out of Ernest Byner’s arms just before he crossed the goal line. I cried when my Browns just up and left town. I stared in disbelief when Jose Mesa couldn’t close out the ‘97 World Series. I watched with abject terror when C.C. Sabbathia and Fausto Carmona both collapsed with a 3-1 lead over Boston in the ‘07 ALCS. And the 2016 World Series vs the Cubs? Well, it’s still a little too soon to talk about that one. But I will say this: in June of 2016, the Cavaliers – for the first time in NBA Finals history – overcame a 3-1 deficit against the Golden State Warriors, thereby securing Cleveland its first championship since 1964. Just four short months later, the Indians blew that exact same 3-1 lead against the Cubs. The irony and the timing of being on both sides of those 3-1 collapses did not go unnoticed in Cleveland, let's put it that way.
Any of these moments by themselves would be enough for any person to swear off sports forever. But all of them together happening to the same sports town? We used to say that our teams were cursed, but that’s only because a stronger word than cursed hadn’t yet been invented. But was that really true? Could an entire city actually be cursed? That seems so absurd, doesn’t it?
Then I stumbled upon that Wikipedia entry for the 1899 Cleveland Spiders and I thought, dear lord, this stuff has been happening to us for over a century now. Shit. Maybe we really are cursed.
Perhaps you are familiar with this phrase: "The night is darkest just before the dawn." Well, it had been dark in Cleveland for a very, very long time. But dawn did eventually arrive, and with it, one of the most breathtaking sunrises in all of creation. That sunrise, of course, came in the form of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and the rest of the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers. As I previously mentioned, our Cavs did the impossible that year when they came back from a 3-1 deficit against the 73-win Warriors. They gave me and my fellow Clevelanders something our city hadn't experienced in roughly three generations: a championship. It was as magical a moment as any Clevelander could have dreamt up.
And guess what? I don’t believe in curses anymore. (Although my beloved Browns are constantly doing everything they can to make me rethink that belief.)
So yeah, I used the handle @ClevelandSpyder for two reasons:
1. Cleveland isn’t just where I was born. It’s who I am.
This quote is from the opening narration of the movie Gone Baby Gone:
“I always believed it was the things you don't choose that makes you who you are. Your city, your neighborhood, your family. People here take pride in these things, like it was something they'd accomplished. The bodies around their souls, the cities wrapped around those.”
For me, that’s everything. I believe that you are born into fandom. It chooses you, not the other way around. (Unless you were born in, like, North Dakota or whatever. Then you can choose whatever teams you want. Go nuts, my friend.) And me, I was born a Cleveland sports fan, and I’ll remain one forever. I love my city, and I love my Browns, Cavs and Indians, er, um, I mean, future Spiders. (Please, please, please.) And, in spite of all the sorrow and epic losses and impossibly trying moments, I wouldn’t trade any of it for anything. It’s a part of me. It has made me who I am today. (Incidentally, if you’re single, go find you a Browns fan to date. Okay, so they’ll most likely have a drinking problem. But as far as loyalty goes… c’mon. We’re Browns fans. We learn how to be loyal before we start teething.)
The Spiders were Cleveland’s first unbelievably bad sports team. And oh boy, nobody was better at being bad than they were. No MLB team will ever even come close to losing 134 games. It’s the worst season in MLB history, and it will remain that for the rest of eternity.
So, I used Spiders in my handle because, honestly, it reminds me that as a Cleveland fan, how could it get any worse? The Spiders cornered the market on sucking, and they did it so well that it can never even come remotely close to being duplicated. So for all the Drives and Fumbles and Shots and Catches that have plagued me since childhood, none of that will EVER be as bad as those 1899 Spiders were. And look, while Cleveland sports fans could teach graduate-level courses on loyalty, we’re beyond dreadful with perspective. So yeah, I’ll take all the help I can get with that.
(Also, to the person who took the handle @ClevelandSpider – spelled with an “i” instead of a “y” like in my handle – just know that I wake up once a week annoyed about that.)
Hobbies, and Other Delightful Tidbits:
When I’m not watching sports, I love watching movies. I’m a HUGE movie fan. (Seriously. I memorized the list of all the Best Picture Oscar winners throughout history. I told you, I really like movies.) One of the hardest parts of the pandemic for me was not going to the movies. That sucked a lot.
I’m also a chess instructor. It’s something I did when I lived in San Diego years ago, and I started doing it again recently. I love teaching kids, and I adore everything about chess. Teaching is one of the most amazingly rewarding experiences in and of itself, but teaching something that I am really passionate about has been incredible. I love it.
I collect comic books. (I am also single, and these last three paragraphs are really starting to shed some light on some things for me.) More specifically, I collect Amazing Spider-Man comic books. I started when I was around 10 years old, so my collection is pretty big at this point. And it’s something I get to do with my cousin, Eddy, and his son, Landon, which is super fun. When my nephew, Jack, was born, I started buying him one older, more valuable Amazing Spider-Man comic each Christmas and for each of his birthdays. By the time that he is ten years old, he should have a pretty nice jump-start on his collection, and hopefully I can take him to his first comic book store.
My Favorite Fantasy Memory:
It’s a tie between winning my first-ever fantasy title (everyone remembers their first, right?), and winning my brother Nick’s redraft league for the first time. I had been in his league for a long time and had typically been one of the more solid teams, but I always got unlucky in the playoffs. It took forever to win a title in his league, so when I finally got over the hump, it felt divine. Oh, and it just so happens that I’m the defending champ in his league again this year. #HumbleBrag
My Role with ATB:
I’m the editor in chief for Across the Board, and I am also a fantasy, DFS and NFL writer for the website. From time to time I appear on the Across the Browns podcast, hosted by the founder of Across the Board Sports, Chandler Adams. And I now host the Across the Board main YouTube show and podcast, also with Chandler.
Bottom line: I love sports, but I especially love football and fantasy football. I try to learn everything I can about the game of football, x’s and o’s, offensive and defensive schemes, all of it. I can’t get enough. So if you’re as passionate about football and sports as I am, don’t be shy and hit me up on Twitter. I’ll be thrilled to chat, answer some of your questions, and learn something from you, too. And if you’ve ever read anything I’ve written, or if you’ve ever watched me on YouTube, or if you’ve ever listened to one of my podcasts…
THANK YOU!!! You’re incredible for sharing your time with me and I cannot even begin to express how appreciative of that I am!!