Ohio has a rich history of professional sports. There are three cities that have professional sports teams in Ohio, which are spread across the big four American professional leagues. Ohio also features a soccer club in the top tier of American soccer.
When it comes to betting, that gives plenty of opportunities for sports fans in Ohio to find something they enjoy watching. Unfortunately for the people of Cincinnati, one of the city’s championships is also tainted by sports betting. Ohio has a rich sports history that dates back to the 1800s.
There are several professional sports teams in Ohio that are well-known across the country. The state can be proud to have teams in top professional sports leagues in the U.S., such as NBA (Cleveland Cavaliers), NFL (Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals), MLB (Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians), NHL (Columbus Blue Jackets), and MLS (Columbus Crew).
In this article, we will review the top Ohio sports teams, their rich histories, and their legacies.
The Cincinnati Reds are one of the most festive teams in Major League Baseball when it comes to opening a season. The Reds, save for a two-year stoppage due to COVID-19, have held an opening day parade every year since the 1890s. Cincinnati was a charter member of the National League in 1871, and the Reds are the oldest professional baseball team in Ohio.
Cincinnati has also been a more consistent winner than their in-state rivals, the Cleveland Guardians. The Reds have won nine National League pennants and are five-time World Series champions. Unfortunately for Cincinnati, the Reds’ first title, a 5-3 series win over the Chicago White Sox in 1919, was tainted by sports betting.
When Cincinnati won the 1919 World Series, there were several members of the White Sox who were being paid to throw the series. Cincinnati would go on to win the World Series again in 1940, 1975, 1976, and 1990.
However, the Reds would later be embroiled in their own betting scandal. Pete Rose, a Cincinnati native who is MLB’s all-time hits leader and briefly the Reds’ manager, was accused of betting on other baseball teams while he was managing games. He has been barred from Hall of Fame induction as a consequence. Being one of the oldest pro sports teams in Ohio, the Cincinnati Reds are certainly a legendary team that this state can be proud of.
The Cleveland Guardians started in 1894 as the Grand Rapids Rippers. Cleveland would go through several name changes before rebranding as the Indians in 1915. Cleveland won two World Series titles under that banner in 1920 and 1948. The Indians would come to be known for their playoff disappointments.
Cleveland lost in the World Series in 1954, 1995, 1997, and 2016. The team had long been criticized for the “Chief Wahoo” mascot, which people found offensive, and in 2022, they officially changed the name to the Guardians. Whatever the circumstances, the Guardians are no doubt one of the best-known professional sports teams in Ohio.
Anyone betting on how the NFL would grow as a league would always consider sports teams in Ohio integral to the process. However, the NFL would go a long time without having Ohio sports teams in it after the little towns that initially made up the league -- Canton, Dayton, Portsmouth, etc.-- folded up shop as the league grew. The Cleveland Browns, who were coached by Ohio legend Paul Brown, joined the All-American Football Conference in 1946.
The Browns dominated the AAFC during its short life as a league, winning all four championships. Cleveland eventually became the first Ohio team in the NFL in several decades when they joined in 1950. The Browns had immediate success, winning NFL titles in 1950, 1954, 1955, and 1964.
However, Cleveland’s professional sports success proved to be fleeting. Owner Art Modell angered star running back Jim Brown, getting in a contract dispute that drove Brown into acting. Modell then forced Paul Brown, no relation to Jim, out as head coach.
Paul Brown would go on to the rival American Football League and founded the Cincinnati Bengals in 1970. The Bengals have had sustained periods of success but also prolonged periods of failure. Cincinnati has appeared in three Super Bowls but failed to win any of them.
The Cleveland Browns in a long dispute with Modell, ultimately decided to move to Baltimore to become the Ravens. A big push brought the Browns back to Northeast Ohio in 1999. Since Cleveland’s return, anyone who likes sports betting would have a hard time wagering on Cleveland.
The Browns have only made the playoffs twice and won one playoff game. Cleveland’s struggles as a franchise have come from not being able to find a true franchise quarterback. Before the team moved in the 1990s, Bernie Kosar and Brian Sipe had solid seasons in the 1980s but couldn’t get things done.
Since the team was reborn, no quarterback has grabbed the bull by the horns. Baker Mayfield is the only quarterback to lead Cleveland to a playoff win since 1995. Of all the Ohio sports teams, the Browns are one that perhaps struggled for competitive success the most and will definitely look to change that going forward.
When it comes to professional Ohio sports teams in basketball, everyone knows The Cavaliers - a team most tied to the success of a legendary athlete from Akron, Ohio. LeBron James changed the fortunes of the mostly middling franchise when he was taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 NBA draft. Since James arrived, the Cavaliers have won five Eastern Conference championships and won the 2016 NBA championship.
Before James arrived, Cleveland had only won one division championship. The Cavaliers had some good teams in the late 1980s but were undone by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. When Cleveland finally got James, the Cavaliers became one of the best teams in the league. The legacy of LeBron means that the Cavaliers will forever be one of the most famous professional sports teams in Ohio.
There will never be any mistake that Columbus is built around Ohio State University athletics. However, the city has found a way to make several Ohio pro sports teams work. In 1994, Columbus was one of the founding cities when it came to Major League Soccer, bringing one of its teams to Ohio. The Crew was nearly moved to Austin, Texas, a few years ago, but community members fought to keep the team there.
Columbus has found success on the pitch, winning MLS Cups in 2008 and 2020. Their rivalry with in-state foes in FC Cincinnati is known as the “Hell is Real Derby,” named for a famous religious sign located on Interstate 71 halfway between Columbus and Cincinnati.
When it comes to professional hockey, the Columbus Blue Jackets are the only show in town in Ohio. The Blue Jackets have yet to prove they can be major players in the NHL, but they made a splash in 2022 by landing top free agent Johnny Gaudreau, perhaps sparking a new era for Columbus hockey.
Betting on Columbus to go deep in the Stanley Cup playoffs has been a risky affair. The Blue Jackets have never made it past the second round of the playoffs in their six appearances since joining the league in 2000-01, but they did make their one series win count, sweeping the heavily-favored and top-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2019 playoffs.
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