Behind The ScenesStarting 5

Not quite 22 years in the making, “Cleveland 22” Brings Unusual Discovery to Life for SC Featured

About four years ago, Jeff Ausiello noticed something he thought was interesting while watching the NFL Draft. That discovery gradually built into one of SC Featured’s most unusual and intriguing pieces.

“Cleveland 22” will debut in the 10 a.m. ET edition of SportsCenter on Sunday, July (fittingly) 22nd, the (fittingly) 222nd anniversary of Cleveland’s founding. As viewers will learn, the number 22 has a deep, ominous history with Cleveland sports, and Ausiello, a producer in ESPN Features unit, (appears to have) figured it all out.

It began for Ausiello when the Cleveland Browns draft Johnny Manziel with the 22nd pick in the 2014 draft, He quickly realized the coincidence of the team also drafting quarterbacks Brady Quinn and Brandon Weeden with the 22nd pick. None of the three worked out as the Browns had hoped, adding to the misery of Cleveland sports fans, who until the Cavaliers’ title two years ago had been in a 52-year title drought. (Even that team has a 22 connection.)

His curiosity raised, Ausiello began researching and found many other unhappy coincidences regarding the Browns and “22,” and his idea almost became an ESPN feature for pre-game of a Browns Monday Night Football game.

“It went away and it also went away in my mind until last year when the Indians lost,” he said. “I was driving into work and I heard someone say they had peaked too early when they had their 22-game winning streak.

“And it was almost like ‘The Godfather’ when I felt like I was being pulled back in,” he said. “And then I just started going full bore again, and I expanded the search to everything. And it’s like anything, the more you find, the more you keep looking.”

Ausiello, who grew up in Boston around that city’s own quirky “curse” – that he never believed in – found “22” had affected not only the Browns and Indians but also the Cavaliers and even the former NHL Barons. But what could he do with the information?

“There’s always been the question of how do you present visually what is in essence a long list?” Ausiello said.

After much debate, the idea was spawned to present his findings in the form of a one-act play, with an actor – David Ogle – portraying an “overly-obsessive, diehard, long-suffering Cleveland fan,” Ausiello said. “The key was making a character that people could identify with and carry you through the piece.”

The result is 22 seven minutes of pure entertainment – even for deprived Cleveland sports devotees.

“This lived in my head for four years and I always hoped I’d get an opportunity to do something with it,” he said. “It’s been one of the most fun and unique experiences of my 20-year career at ESPN.”

Cleveland Magazine also spoke with Ausiello for what they call “Cleveland’s Catch-22.”