Sunday, May 25, 2008

Curses of the Sports World

curse (n.) : the expression of a wish that misfortune, evil, or doom befall a person or a group.
Whether you believe in superstitions or not, a great many organizations and players (not to mention game personnel) have endured a curse long enough that this doom encapsulates their very being. Observe the course of sports history and how curses have affected its timeline.

5. 1940!

Upon winning the Stanley Cup to cap the 1939-1940 season, the New York Rangers would fail to hoist the Cup again for a record 54 years thereafter. As is customary for winners of Lord Stanley's trophy, various players, coaches, and personnel within the organization toted the the prize to numerous hot spots within the city, only to have it stolen, marking the first and only time this has happened in the Cup's history (mind you, the Cup has been used as an ashtray, a champagne flute, and has been dinged up countless times; the Cup itself annually goes through more cosmetic maintenance than the King of Pop). During one sixteen year stretch starting in 1951, the squad would fail to make the playoffs twelve times. The Rangers even lost a contest in the mid-1940's by a score of 15-0 and even started a goaltender who maintained an unheard of 6.20 goals-against-average. Everywhere the Rangers went (especially Nassau Coliseum, where the rival Islanders play), the team was chided with the abhorrent chant of "1940!" Under the helm of Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Mike Richter and coach Mike Keenan, the Rangers would outlast the Vancouver Canucks in seven games to win the Stanley Cup in 1994, a moment in New York sports to recall forever. Curse ended, a miracle 54 years in the making.

4. The Madden Curse

Every August brings the promise of the monumental release of Madden, a title that has redefined sports role-playing on gaming consoles across the nation. Unfortunately, athletes appearing on the cover of these annual installments have either endured a serious injury or failed to live up to expectations. For some, the 'Madden Curse' has seemingly destroyed careers. Here is the list of the players who have been eerily victimized by the publicity stunt: Daunte Culpepper (banished to the Oakland Raider bench), Marshall Faulk (the one-time answer to Barry Sanders who now calls games on the laughable NFL Network), Shaun Alexander (one of the NFL's most prolific MVP's who has sustained a decline ever since the cover appearance) Donovan McNabb (does the man even have a functioning lower half to his body?), and the notorious Michael Vick (Atlanta's one time Messiah; he ended up breaking his leg in the 2004 preseason and endured, you know, that whole dog-fighting scandal, for which he is serving three-years' jail time). The men listed here weren't mere NFL mortals; they were bonafide superstars. Luckily, the next cover athlete (Brett Favre) has retired, so the curse cannot wholly affect him...unless his ego goes the way of Roger Clemens.

3. The Sports Illustrated Cover Curse

Unless your name is Muhammad Ali or Michael Jordan, who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated a combined 86 times, countless teams and individuals have succumbed to the dreaded SI Cover Curse. The upstart 2005 Cleveland Indians were 15.5 games behind the Chicago White Sox in the standings in July, battling to within 1.5 games in September. Sports Illustrated opted to cover the resurgence prior to the 2005 playoffs. The Indians would then go on to lose six of their next seven games and miss the playoffs by a mere two games in the standings. Need more proof? The 2008 NCAA championship season: March Madness. North Carolina forward Tyler Hansbrough was featured on the cover TWICE during the Tarheels' prospective championship run. North Carolina, arguably the deepest and most talented team in the tourney, would lose an ugly contest in the Final Four to eventual champion Kansas, a loss that prompted the exodus of countless stars. Hansbrough, the epitome of dignity, has opted to stay at Chapel Hill for his senior season, but would later be shown on Sportscenter jumping off a frat house roof into a pool. If your team is in the midst of a hot streak, let us hope they don't make a doom-impending cover of Sports Illustrated to foil it all.

2. The Chicago Cubs and the Curse of the Goat
During Game 4 of the 1945 World Series, Cub fan Billy Sianis purchased two tickets: one for himself and one for his goat. By the fourth inning, after proudly parading his goat around the park, Sianis was personally ejected by owner P.K. Wrigley in lieu of the foul odor emanating from the farm animal. Upon leaving, Sianis infamously remarked,"The Cubs ain't gonna win no more." Ever since, the Cubs have not appeared in a single World Series. This may not explain the Cubs' prior futility (after all, they hadn't won a World Series since 1908 to that point), but the Cubs have been terrible ever since 1945, even despite having rosters amassed with the likes of Ernie Banks, Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson, Sammy Sosa, Ron Santo, and Mark Grace. And if that doesn't grind your gears, Cub fans, Chicago's 2008 season was commemorated with a Sports Illustrated cover featuring Kosuke Fukudome. How's that for celebrating 100 years since your last World Series victory?

1. The Curse of the Bambino
In the 1919 season, Red Sox ownership was fed up with star pitcher George Herman Ruth, who openly requested that the team double his salary. In need of a way to finance a potential Broadway smash entitled No, No Nanette (which would not grace the stage until 1925), Sox owner Harry Frazee, after turning down the tempting offer to bring Shoeless Joe Jackson to Fenway, sold Ruth's contract to the New York Yankees for a whopping $100,000. Ruth's homerun prowess emphatically ended the Dead Ball era (he hit 60 homeruns in 1927), gave the Yankees their first championship (1923, the same year Yankee Stadium,"The House that Ruth Built," was constructed) and singlehandedly made fans forget about the Black Sox Scandal of 1919 as baseball entered the high times of the Roaring Twenties. Although Nanette was a success (more so in the the way of a London production than the New York production), Frazee and the Sox would endure 86 years of futility. For every Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Carlton Fisk, and Wade Boggs that went through the organization, the Sox were thwarted by the likes of their own (Bill Buckner) and the likes of the Yankees (Bucky Dent, Aaron Boone, and Mariano Rivera). Never has a single transaction in the sports world done so much for the respective success (Yankees) and failure (Red Sox) of two organizations. The mantra of the 2004 Red Sox may have been 'Reverse the Curse,' but not before the Yankees would win 26 championships of their own since the trade of Ruth to the Bombers.

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