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LeBron and Manziel: Good for Cleveland

Cleveland hasn't had much to cheer about in recent years in terms of its pro sports teams. But with the return of hometown hero LeBron James to the Cavaliers and the drafting of lightning-rod quarterback Johnny Manziel by the Browns, the city has suddenly become front and center in the sports world--at least in terms of hype.

Jason Miller

Having accommodated the G-20 summit, the President of the United States many times, the making of tons of movies, that yellow duck and, of course, the hype-machine that is the Pirates Josh Harrison, the City of Pittsburgh has certainly grown used  to dealing with big-time events in recent years.

Our infrastructure thus is more than capable of handling the hordes of reporters (mostly from ESPN) that will descend upon the Golden Triangle over the weekend when Cleveland comes to town for Sunday's 1 p.m. ET match-up with the Steelers at Heinz Field.

The reporters will be in town to cover all things Johnny Manziel, the Browns' second of two first-round picks in the most-recent NFL Draft (Cleveland drafted some other guy only 14 spots ahead of Johnny Football), the 2012 Heisman Trophy Award winner and backup quarterback to Brian Hoyer.

Regardless of the outcome of the Week 1 match-up, Hoyer, who somehow managed to beat out Manziel for the starting job in the preseason (we all know this is temporary), will probably feel like some practice-squad guy as he sits at his locker and watches all those reporters ask Manziel what it was like, either to appear in his first game for those few plays that many predict he will get, or to hold his first regular-season clipboard (either way, nobody will care about what's-his-face, the starter).

And to think, we're still a couple months away from the start of the NBA season and the return of LeBron "King" James, the greatest basketball player in the world, to his almost hometown of Cleveland after leaving the Cavaliers as a free agent in 2010.

If the City of Cleveland thought the media (mostly ESPN) loved Manziel, just wait until King James returns. The World Wide Leader's infatuation with James is certainly no secret (I believe he finished ahead of Chuck Noll in the voting for ESPN's Mount Rushmore of NFL coaches in February), and I wonder if Pittsburgh's neighbors to the northwest will be able to handle all the hype.

Is there enough room? Are there enough hotels in the city and the surrounding area to accommodate all  those reporters? (The City of Jacksonville had to use docked cruise ships to make up for the lack of adequate hotel space when it hosted the Super Bowl 10 years ago. And as we all know, the Super Bowl isn't LeBron/Manziel.)

Even if Cleveland experiences some growing pains, I, for one, am truly happy for that town.

It has been 50 years since the Browns won the 1964 NFL Championship (the last world title for Cleveland), and after James up and left for the Heat four seasons ago, it was certainly a major blow to the region's collective sports psyche.

We in Pittsburgh obviously know what it's like to identify with our sports teams (specifically the Steelers), but I don't think any of us truly realize what it's like to have an athlete in town who transcends the sports world.

LeBron James has been his own brand since it became apparent upon his debut in 2003 that he was the real deal. And the fact he played in Cleveland, well, that gave the city the sports relevance that none of its teams had quite been able to provide. It's pretty rare for a team from a small-market city to have the national- and world-following that the Steelers enjoy.

It wasn't long before the Cavaliers became legit championship contenders, and in 2007 they advanced all the way to the NBA Finals (one of only three championship appearances for a Cleveland sports team since that '64 NFL title).

To have a player of such proportions leave a city like Cleveland would be akin to an entire franchise leaving town.

Speaking of which, the Browns team that won the NFL title in '64 currently resides in Baltimore, after moving there prior to 1996. Your grandfather's Browns are now the Ravens and have since won two Super Bowl titles for their adopted city.

Since returning to Cleveland as an expansion franchise in 1999, the Browns have experienced the pitfalls that such teams usually do, with numerous last-place finishes and only one playoff appearance.

In terms of NFL relevance, the Browns have mostly been an afterthought, which is kind of a shame given Cleveland's passion for football and the storied history of the old Browns prior to leaving town.

The hype for Manziel might remain just that, and he and Tim Tebow can someday compare notes (at least in terms of their football careers, if not their behavior away from the game). But for now, Manziel's No. 2 jersey is leading the way in sales, and his every move is analyzed on a national scale (even if it's just of him flipping the bird). Perhaps for the first time since returning to Cleveland as an expansion team, fans all across the country have a reason to talk about the Browns, and the national media has a figure in Manziel upon whom to heap tons of attention on a daily and weekly basis.

And after winning a total of only 97 games during his four-year hiatus, the Cavaliers are now legit championship contenders with King James back in the fold. (How could they not be?)

It might be weird to say this being a Pittsburgher, but Cleveland deserves this kind of hype and attention (even if it's mostly from ESPN).