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For Cleveland and Atlanta, plenty of sports lowlights

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Bradley: Can the Hawks Beat the Cavs?


ATLANTA (AP) — On the sports misery index, Atlanta and Cleveland are hard to beat.

The two cities have combined for one championship over the last half-century — and that came in 1995, when the Atlanta Braves beat the Cleveland Indians in the World Series.

So, you know, one of them had to win.

Otherwise, they've come up with plenty of excruciating ways to come up short.

With the Atlanta Hawks taking on the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA's Eastern Conference finals, let's take a look at some of the lowlights:

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THE DRIVE AND THE FUMBLE

The Cleveland Browns have never reached the Super Bowl. In the 1987 AFC championship game, they led 20-13 and had Denver backed up on its own 2-yard line. John Elway engineered one of the most memorable drives in NFL history, going 98 yards for the tying touchdown with 37 seconds left in regulation, and Denver won in overtime. The teams again met in the conference final the following year. With the Broncos clinging to a 38-31 lead, Earnest Byner got loose for what looked to be the tying score, only to be stripped of the ball at the 2. The Broncos recovered to preserve the victory.

BRAVES BLOW IT

Coming off their 1995 World Series championship, the Braves won the first two games of the 1996 Series at Yankee Stadium by a combined score of 16-1. New York won the next four and the championship, most notably rallying from a 6-0 deficit in Game 4 when Jim Leyritz hit a tying three-run homer off Mark Wohlers. The Braves would go on to claim a record 14 straight division titles, but never came so close to winning another title.

THREE OUTS AWAY

Talk about close. Two years after losing to the Braves, Cleveland was three outs away from winning the '97 World Series, leading Florida 2-1 going to the bottom of the ninth. Jose Mesa gave up the tying run, and the Marlins won in the 11th on Edgar Renteria's two-out single off the glove of pitcher Charles Nagy.

VICK'S DOWNFALL

Michael Vick was one of the most exciting players the NFL has ever seen, a quarterback with a rifle arm and a sprinter's speed. He guided the Falcons to the NFC championship game but his Atlanta career came crashing down in 2007 after he acknowledged running a dogfighting operation. Vick served time in federal prison and never played again for the Falcons.

FALCONS FLOPS

Since entering the NFL in 1966, the Falcons have been an infrequent playoff team. Still, there are some postseason losses that really sting. Like blowing a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead at home to Dallas in 1981. Or, when hosting the NFC championship game in 2013, squandering a 17-point lead to San Francisco and coming up 10 yards short of the potential winning touchdown on their final possession. Then, of course, there was Atlanta's only trip to the Super Bowl in 1999. Safety Eugene Robinson was arrested the night before the game and got beat for a long touchdown in Denver's 34-19 victory.

THE MOVE

The Browns were not just Cleveland's NFL team, they were a part of the city's fabric. That's why it hurt so badly when owner Art Modell, rebuffed in his bid for a new stadium, moved the Browns to Baltimore after the 1995 season. At least Cleveland got to keep its history; Modell's team was renamed the Ravens, while the Browns returned to the NFL with a new team and stadium in 1999.

LEBRON LEAVES

LeBron James was Cleveland's hometown hero, helping transform the Cavaliers into one of the NBA's top franchises. After several playoff flops, he signed with Miami in 2010 — announcing the move in a much-panned television special known as "The Decision." The King would win two titles in four years with the Heat, while Cleveland had a 26-game losing streak in 2010-11. But like the Browns, James returned to his roots by re-signing with the Cavaliers. Once again, he has Cleveland tantalizingly close to its first NBA title.

WHERE'S DOMINIQUE?

The Hawks looked like a team on the rise in the 1980s, assembling a high-flying roster led by future Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins. In the 1988 playoffs, Atlanta took a 3-2 lead on Larry Bird and the aging Boston Celtics, with the potential clinching game at the Omni. Trailing by two points, the Hawks couldn't get the ball to Wilkins for a game-tying shot, forcing Cliff Levingston to put up an awkward attempt that missed. The Celtics wrapped up the series in Game 7 after an epic duel between Bird and Wilkins.

STEPIEN'S REIGN OF TERROR

Ted Stepien bought the Cavaliers in 1980 and thought the best way to build a winner was by trading first-round picks for aging players. Needless to say, it didn't work out. Cleveland started the 1981-82 season with 19 consecutive losses and finished 15-67, one of the worst seasons in NBA history. Stepien eventually sold out after threatening to move the Cavs to Toronto. The NBA passed a rule that prohibits the trading of first-round picks in consecutive years, known appropriately enough as the "Ted Stepien Rule."

FAREWELL, NHL

Atlanta was the first Deep South city to land a major league hockey team in 1972. The Flames were an early hit, but the fire quickly burned out; they moved to Calgary in 1980. Nineteen years later, the NHL granted another expansion team, the Thrashers. Like their predecessor, they never won a playoff series, eventually moving to Winnipeg in 2011 to make Atlanta the only city in the NHL's modern era to lose two teams. And Cleveland? It had the largely forgotten Barons for two years in the 1970s, a team that won less than 30 percent of its games and quickly went out of business.

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For Cleveland and Atlanta, plenty of sports lowlights
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 12: A general view as a double rainbow forms overhead during a Melbourne Victory A-League training session at Gosch's Paddock on May 12, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia. Melbourne Victory will play Sydney FC in the A-League grand final in Melbourne on Sunday. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - MAY 12: Jordan Eberle (L) of Canada scores his team's opening goal over Bernhard Starkbaum (R), goaltender of Austria during the IIHF World Championship group A match between Canada and Austria at o2 Arena on May 12, 2015 in Prague, Czech Republic. (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 11: Scott Van Slyke #33 of the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrates with Enrique Hernandez #14 and Justin Turner #10 after hitting a walk off three run home run at the bottom of the ninth inning during a game against the Miami Marlins at Dodger Stadium on May 11, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)
SINGAPORE - MAY 14: General view of trackwork from Kranji Racecourse on May 14, 2015 in Singapore. (Photo by Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - MAY 15: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland tees off on the first hole during round two at the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club on May 15, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
NEWPORT, RI - MAY 17: In this handout image provided by the Volvo Ocean Race, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing during the start of Leg 7 from Newport to Lisbon on May 17, 2015 in Newport, Rhode Island. The Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15 is the 12th running of this ocean marathon. Starting from Alicante in Spain on October 04, 2014, the route, spanning some 39,379 nautical miles, visits 11 ports in eleven countries (Spain, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, China, New Zealand, Brazil, United States, Portugal, France, The Netherlands and Sweden) over nine months. The Volvo Ocean Race is the world's premier ocean yacht race for professional racing crews. (Photo by Ainhoa Sanchez / Volvo Ocean Race via Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - MAY 17: Elite men enter the water during Ironman 70.3 on May 17, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images for Ironman)
ST POLTEN, AUSTRIA - MAY 17: Participants await the start of the race during the Ironman 70.3: St. Polten on May 17, 2015 in St Polten, Austria. (Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images for Ironman)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 16: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning stretches before the start of the third period in Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals against the New York Rangers during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on May 16, 2015 in New York City. The Rangers defeated the Lighting 2-1. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 16: Horses race prior to the 140th running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on May 16, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
BATH, ENGLAND - MAY 16: Steph Reynolds (L) of Gloucester is pursued by Matt Banahan of Bath during the Aviva Premiership match between Bath Rugby and Gloucester Rugby at the Recreation Ground on May 16, 2015 in Bath, England. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 16: Michael Walker rides Tips And Beers through a shaft of light in race 9, the Charter KC & BSP Lawyers Plate during Taralye Race Day at Caulfield Racecourse on May 16, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 16: Leon Osman (2nd L) of Everton scores his team's first goal past Adrian of West Ham during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Everton at Boleyn Ground on May 16, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
SINGAPORE - MAY 16: Sunrise over Kranji Racecourse, Singapore, on May 16, 2015 in Singapore. (Photo by Neville Hopwood/Getty Images)
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AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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