Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Hocus Pocus - December 16, 2008

In the sporting community, failure has been a difficult faction to readily accept; especially persistent failure that extends for year, decades, or even a century. Athletes and fans refuse to accept failure as their own fault, so they look to blame poor management, poor officiating, cheating, and curses. Could there be a more practical explanation for failure other than a curse? Absolutely not!

Let us inquire into some of the most infamous curses in the history of American sporting.

One that we are all familiar with is the Curse of the Bambino. As we know, the Yankees traded for George Herman Ruth in 1919 for $125,000 and a $300,000 loan to the Boston Red Sox; thus, proclaiming the paramountcy of the Yankees over the Red Sox and the rest of baseball. However, the foremost consequence was that the Red Sox would fall into an eighty-five year slump, justified by the Curse of the Bambino. Throughout the eight-five years of struggle, the Red Sox would come remarkably close to championships, but would find themselves devastated at the hands of an athlete with letter B as an initial: Bucky Dent in 1978, Bill Buckner in 1986, and Aaron Boone in 2003. Finally the travesty came to a conclusive end when the Yankees were at the pinnacle of dominance over the Red Sox in the 2004 ALCS. All was good until the Josh Beckett and David Ortiz led the Red Sox to one of the most captivating comebacks ever seen. The curse was reversed as Beckett helped overcome a 3-0 series deficit to the Yankees and propel the Sox to a championship.

Another baseball favorite is the Billy Goat curse. The legend has it that during a 1945 playoff game, the owner of the Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago was asked to leave Wrigley Field because of the odor of his goat, in which he angrily declared that the Cubs would not win another World Series. Since that playoff appearance the Chicago Cubs failed to make another World Series appearance let alone win a championship; however, the Cubs failure to win a World Series dates back to the 1908 season in which they last won a World Series. The curse has been reiterated by events proceeding in 1969, 1984, and 2003 when the Cubs were well on their way to breaking the curse but had encountered some paranormal events.

In 1969, a legendary Cubs team had a nine and a half game lead over the New York Mets in mid-August, until the Cubs started to slump. Then on September 9th, at a game as Shea, the Cubs fate was supposedly decided when a black cat ran around the Cub on-deck circle and then in front of the Cub bench; the Cubs would ultimately fall nine games behind the Mets and miss the playoffs that season.

In 1984, the Cubs attempted to lift the curse by insincerely inviting the owner of the Billy Goat Tavern and his goat to the opening game at Wrigley Field. The Cubs would go on to have an impressive season led by NL MVP, Ryne Sandberg, and NL Cy Young Winner, Sutcliffe; the Cubs would end up making the playoffs and mounting a two game lead over the San Deigo Padres with one game left in the NLDS. Then the Cubs would go on to lose three consecutive games which included late drama in games four in five: Steve Garvey hit a walk-off homerun for San Diego in game four and Leon Durham made a dreadful error at first base in game five allowing the Padres to tie the game and eventually take the lead concealing the unpleasant fate of the Cubs.

Recently in 2003, the Cubs had another opportunity to clinch a World Series birth when the Cubs led the Florida Marlins 3-0 with five outs left. All confidence was stricken when Luis Castillo fouled off a ball down the left field line; Moises Alou ran to make a play on the ball, but a fan, Steve Bartman, made a play on the ball too. Alou was unable to make the catch and the Cubs would go on to lose the game as well as the next one, eliminating themselves from the playoffs and extending the curse for another season.

The Cubs have failed to lift the curse that has haunted their franchise for decades, but the city of Philadelphia found relief in lifting a curse placed on it. For years, Philadelphia had remained a bastion of success in the sporting world until 1987 when One Liberty Place skyscraper was built, which exceeded the height of William Penn's statue which stands atop of the Philadelphia City Hall. The skyscraper would become the first building constructed above the statue of William Penn. In the proceeding year, no Philadelphia team was successful in capturing a major sports title situating the Curse of Billy Penn. In 2007, the Comcast Center was built which became the tallest building in Philadelphia. Cleverly, a construction worker placed a miniature William Penn figure at the top of the building; since, the curse was lifted and the Philadelphia Phillies were able to capture a World Series title this past postseason.

Last but certainly not the least of the sport curses is the Madden Cover Curse which has been interpreted as an injury or poor season for the athlete featured on the cover of the Madden video game box for the successive season. The existence of an actual curse has been argued, for skeptics have argued the extent of the downfall of the victim is unworthy of recognition; however, there has been numerous tragedies explicitly conveying a curse.

It started with Garrison Hearst who became the first player to appear on the Madden Cover; Hearst had an impressive season, but Hearst found himself victim in the playoffs when broke his ankle in the playoffs and missed the entire following season.

The following year, Barry Sanders was supposed to be on the cover, but decided to retire in what would become one of the most controversial retirements in NFL history. Quickly, EA scrambled to replace Sanders with Madden and several rare copies of Dorsey Levens, who had a fair season, but his Packer team failed to make the playoffs and the remained of Levens’ career would be plagued by injuries.

In 2001, Eddie George appeared on the cover who had a fair season, but his Titans would fall one yard short of defeating the St. Louis Rams in the Superbowl (like Levens, the remainder of George’s career would be hampered by injuries).

Daunte Culpepper, the athlete of the 2002 cover, suffered a knee injury after leading his team to a poor four and seven start.

The following year, Marshal Faulk appeared on the cover who was previously known as one of the most exciting players in the NFL and a guarantee to run for 1000 yards; after the cover appearance Faulk would never run for 1000 yards again.

In 2004, Michael Vick appeared on the cover which was followed by Vick breaking his leg in a preseason game and one of the most dramatic cascades from superstardom.

In 2005, Ray Lewis was on the cover in a year that and was quite close to bypassing the curse until he suffered an injury in the second to last game of the season. The 2005 season was also the first one in which Ray Lewis failed to intercept a single pass and the Ravens would miss the playoffs.

Donvan McNabb appeared on the cover in 2006, in a season that was decimated by a sports hernia for McNabb. McNabb’s stats dropped significantly and the Eagles missed the playoffs with a lousy six and ten record.

Most notable in 2007, NFL MVP Shaun Alexander appeared on the cover after recording the most rushing yards in NFL history. Shaun Alexander would break his foot the following season and has failed to reach his previous form since.

Then in 2008 Vince Young appeared on the cover. While Young’s stats were not terrible, he did not suffer an injury, nor did the Titans miss the plays, his touchdown total dropped while his interception total increased. Since Young’s appearance on the Madden cover, he has been in the mist of rumors pertaining to retirement and suicide.

This year EA (producer of Madden) decided to put retired Brett Favre on the cover in a Packers jersey (it is also important to note that Brett Favre is the favorite player of ex-coach and current NFL broadcaster John Madden, the name for which the game has been named for). There has been talk of whether or not Favre could break the curse. Favre started the season with notable stats leading the Jets to the top of the AFC; however, the Jets and Favre have found themselves the victims of some unimpressive performances. From their pinnacle as a leader in the AFC, the Jets have fallen to mere contention with three other teams in their division for a playoff spot. In addition, Favre also leads the NFL in interceptions while entering week 16 of the season.

There is a definite parallel between a player’s success after an appearance on the cover of Madden.

So are curses real? Is there really some sort of supernatural vex restricting a team to failure or is it an enormous conspiracy that connives to mental agitation for players and fans alike? Is there a better explanation for successive disappointment at the most critical moments? Or maybe, just maybe, these jinxes do play an active role in the outcome of events? And if they are real, how can the curses by lift to no longer haunt the culprit.

EDIT: The Madden Curse prevailed as the Favre was plagued by shoulder pain at the end of the season promting the Jets to collapse and miss out on the playoffs. Favre also lead the league in interception. The curse may have affected the Packers as well, who were a promising team at the beginining of the season and finished with a record of 6 and 10.

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