Sports seem to breed superstition. No one is exactly sure why but it happens. Throughout history, fans, players and owners alike have indulged in odd rituals intended to bring about victory from “playoff beards” to even wilder trends. Manager George Stalling was famous for freezing in place whenever his teams started a rally, no matter how long it took. Michael Jordan always wore his North Carolina shorts under his Bulls trunks. Wade Boggs would only eat chicken on game days. It’s a standard thing as it’s hard pressed to find an athlete who doesn’t indulge in such antics if it means victory.
When said bits don’t work, fans and players alike want to seek a cause. And when it comes to a team that’s been struck by a long period of bad seasons and/or crushing losses, it doesn’t take long before the idea of a curse becomes prominent. Throughout the history of sports, there have been slews of such “curses,” an easy way for fans to blame their team’s failures on something far beyond merely bad playing or coaching.
You try to tell sports fans in Buffalo and Cleveland that there aren't higher forces at work, as to why those cities have long suffered and whose teams always seem to find a way to lose. You try to tell Lions fans that some higher power isn't out to get them after constantly finding themselves screwed over. While it may sound irrational, sometimes it seems fans may have a point when they say their team is cursed.
Some have been beaten over time while others appear to still be strong. Whatever the case, they are a part of sports culture and accepted by all. Here are 15 of the most infamous curses in sports and in some cases, you really can believe something more than natural is going on.
15 The Curse of ‘51
In 1951, Mayo managed to win the Sam Maguire Cup of Irish football, a great victory. Since then, however, the team has come up short time and again in various bids for the championship. It’s soon become accepted that somehow it will take the death of every single member of that 1951 squad before Mayo can win another Cup. The team has even gone so far as to ask Pope Benedict XVI to help provide some divine intervention but still lost the Cup by a single point in 2012 and 2013. There are still a few members of the 1951 squad around so it’ll take time before one sees whether or not this curse can be broken.
14 Curse of the Colonel
In 1985, the long-lowly Hanshin Tigers surprised everyone by reaching the finals of the Japan baseball Series. Fans joyfully cheered along the bridges of Osaka, especially for the team’s American star Randy Bass and somehow, the crowd got it into their heads to grab a statue of Colonel Sanders from a nearby KFC restaurant and toss it into the river where it was lost. For the next 18 years, the Tigers finished last in the league, only one Series appearance since and fans blamed it on the loss of that statue, even trolling the river for it.
It was finally found in 2009 but lacking glasses and a hand and thus fans feel the curse is still intact until the statue is whole again. And you thought KFC’s food could be rough for your health...
13 The Talladega Jinx
Race car drivers all agree: There’s something…off about Talladega. Bobby Isaac left his car on the track in 1973 because he claimed he heard voices shortly after a young driver died several laps earlier. In 1974, multiple cars were found with slashed tires and sand in the tanks and a crewman lost his leg in a freak crash. Bobby Allison was badly wrecked in 1987 and his son died in a helicopter crash in the race track’s field years later.
Accidents that would never happen anywhere else just appear common there with deadly results. Some claim the place was built on a Native burial ground while others say a shaman cursed the area long ago but whatever the case, anyone in NASCAR knows that when you race in Talladega, always expect something odd to occur.
12 Derby County
Here’s a case that makes you think this “curse” stuff may not be all bunk. When Derby County built their stadium in 1895, they had to move a band of gypsies from the area. The gypsies retaliated by putting a full-on curse that Derby would never win the FA Cup. At first, it was laughed at but as time went on, Derby failed to reach that championship, coming up short in the finals three times.
In 1946, as they took on Charlton Athletic, a team representative went to the clan and begged them to lift the curse. With the score tied 1-1, the ball literally burst apart on the field and Derby ended up winning the championship 4-1. Makes you wonder…
11 The Cardinals Curse
In 1925, the Pottsville Maroons situated in Pennsylvania, won the NFL championship in a hard-fought battle with the Chicago Cardinals. However, when the Maroons played an authorized game in their state, commissioner Joseph Carr suspended the team and took the championship away. The people of Pottsville were so irate that they declared a curse upon the Cardinals that would only be lifted when the NFL championship was restored to “the right red team.”
Supposedly, that jinx has followed the Cardinals from Chicago to St. Louis to Arizona as the franchise has the longest championship drought of any NFL team and the most losses and indicates that a long-ago mistake could have consequences today.
10 The Black Sox
In 1920, the Chicago White Sox were in the midst of a heated pennant chase when the word rocked the baseball world that eight White Sox players had conspired with gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series. All eight, including star “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, were banned for life and the Sox took a hard fall, winning only one pennant over the next 85 years.
Some may cite that was due to bad management but the stigma of the “Black Sox” would haunt the South Side for decades before they finally won the World Series in 2005. Many have pointed out how the unique bit of the gap (one decade for each of the eight players) lends a bit more credence to the Curse idea.
9 The Curse of Coogan’s Bluff
For decades, the New York Giants enjoyed success, including several World Series wins, at the Polo Grounds which overlooked Coogan’s Bluff in New York. Included was a plaque honoring Eddie Grant, the first ballplayer killed in World War I. When the Giants left for San Francisco in 1957, fans flooded the Polo Grounds to grab any souvenirs and the Grant plaque was lost.
While the Giants would win three pennants in their new home, they failed to win the World Series, pushing the idea that the plaque was somehow their good luck charm with management refusing to replace it, not wanting a reminder of the team’s New York history. But in 2006, they finally relented and placed a replica plaque at AT&T Park. Since then, the Giants have won three World Series, finally proving themselves in their current home and putting the past behind them in several ways.
8 The Madden Curse
No one knows how it’s gotten accepted but the running joke is that every year, NFL stars send letters to EA Games begging them not to be the cover star of the annual “Madden” video game. When you look at the history of how said cover guys end up suffering bad seasons and/or injuries, you can understand. The very first cover guy in 1999, Garrison Hearst, broke his leg and missed two seasons; Barry Sanders in 2000, retired in training camp; Daunte Culpepper (2002) threw 23 interceptions and a record number of fumbles; Marshall Faulk (2004) saw his career decline; Donovan McNabb (2006) tore his ACL; Shaun Alexander (2007), injured his foot; Peyton Hills (2012) missed half the season due to injuries; and Richard Sherman the past season when the Seahawks lost the Super Bowl. So watch out, Odell Beckham Jr.
7 The Curse of Rocky Colavito
Once upon a time, the Cleveland Indians were a good team, a serious pennant contender with several World Championships under their belt. But in 1960, Indians general manager Frank Lane lived up to his nickname “Trader” (or, as some might prefer, “Traitor”) by giving star Colavito to the Tigers. Since then, the Indians have spent much of their time in the cellar of baseball with various mishaps, managing to get to the World Series in 1995 and 1997 but losing and coming up short numerous times in painful ways. While a lot of sports in Cleveland suffer, the Indians just seem the worst of the bunch and most fans cite the trading of Rocky as the cause.
6 Billy Penn
This one might make even the least superstitious person take notice. The city of Philadelphia had enjoyed success in sports over the years with the likes of the Eagles, Phillies and Flyers but for a long period, the last major championship was when the 76ers swept the Lakers to win the NBA title in 1983. The years afterward saw disappointment across the board and in the mid 1990s, some thought they had found the reason. For years, the city architects had held to a “gentleman’s agreement” that no building in Philadelphia would be higher than the City Hall’s statue of William Penn, the founder of the city. However, in 1987, One Liberty Place opened, standing 400 feet higher than City Hall and afterward, the fates of Philly sports took a downturn.
That might seem like hogwash except for one thing: in 2007, workers at the newly built Comcast Center, the tallest building in Philadelphia, placed a small statue of Penn on the final beam. And the very next year, the Phillies won the World Series, seemingly proving and breaking the curse in one fell swoop.
5 The Honey Bears
The Cubs and the White Sox aren’t the only teams in Chicago to carry curses. While the Chicago Bears hadn’t been that truly successful in the 1970s, they still had a push and, like any other team in the NFL, their own cheerleaders, the Honey Bears, established in 1978. Virginia McCaskey, who took over the team in 1983, wasn’t a fan of them at all despite their popularity and following the 1985 season, she ended the Honey Bears.
That season, of course, was the golden one as the Bears lost only one game that year en route to a dominant Super Bowl victory. Since then, without the Honey Bears, Chicago has only reached the Super Bowl once, with a loss, and it’s more than a little interesting to draw a line between them and the loss of that cheerleading squad.
4 The SI Cover Jinx
Usually, getting the cover of “Sports Illustrated” is a good thing. However, one can’t ignore how so many athletes or teams who gain a cover almost immediately suffer a bad fate. Here are some big examples:
- Ernie Matthews, the very first cover star, breaking his hand
- The 1957 Sooners called “Unbeatable” only to lose the very next game to Notre Dame
- Lee Trevino on a preview of the U.S. Open, failed to make the cut
- The Texas Longhorns appearing just before losing the 1977 Cotton Bowl
- Jack Lambert called “the Man of Steel” and then forced to miss the season due to a foot injury
- The Cleveland Indians called “the Best Team in Baseball” prior to the 1987 season and ended up losing 101 games
- The Giants appearing before losing Super Bowl XXXV
- The Tigers just before being swept in the 2012 World Series
And so many more that it has its own Wikipedia page. A few might be coincidence but so many examples shows why some guys literally beg SI not to put them on the cover.
3 The Curse of the Bambino
It’s lower as it appears to be dead but it still ranks among the most famous jinxes in sports history. When Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919, it set off 86 years of agony for Boston Red Sox fans although it wasn’t until the ‘90’s that the actually “Curse” name came in. It’s still an amazing run of heartbreaks: Slaughter’s Mad Dash, Galehouse, Bob Gibson breaking the Impossible Dream, Bucky Dent, Buckner and Pedro. It was finally shattered in 2004 and the winning of two more World Championships since then has basically put it to bed but that still doesn’t make up for how three generations of Red Sox fans have to endure so much hardship and not surprising they would find a way to blame it on a curse.
2 Layne and the Lions
It’s become more urban legend than real fact but still part of Detroit Lions lore. In 1958, the Lions traded star Bobby Layne to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Layne was a bit miffed at the deal as he had helped Detroit win three NFL titles. Supposedly, Layne declared that the Lions “will not win for 50 years.” Some have said that was a hoax but there’s no denying it has a major effect as from 1959 onward, the Lions gathered the worst winning percentage of any team in the NFL.
The highlight would have to be 2008, the supposed last year of the Curse, when the Lions went 0-16 and would lose three more games before a victory the next year. They have yet to reach the Super Bowl. Throwing more fuel on the fire is that the Steelers won Super Bowl XL at Ford Field and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in Detroit who doesn’t think this team is cursed.
1 The Chicago Cubs - Billy Goat
There are really two facets of the Cubs Curse. The first is the fact that the last time the Cubs won the World Series was in 1908, after Fred Merkle of the New York Giants committed a famous mistake that gave them the pennant. Thus, fans (especially Giants ones) have pushed the idea that as punishment for “stealing” that pennant away, the Cubs were hit with a lack of success as they would reach the World Series seven times between 1910 and 1945 but lose each one, often badly.
Of course, the famous one is the Billy Goat curse. During the 1945 World Series where the Cubs faced the Detroit Tigers, longtime Cubs fan Billy Sianis, owner of the Billy Goat Tavern, came to the game with his pet goat as he’d done all year. However, this time, those around him complained about the goat’s smell and the Wrigley officials asked Sianis to either take the goat away or leave himself. He did and sent a telegram to the Cubs declaring they would never win a World Series again. Since then, the Cubs’ legacy of woe has become legendary, coming close (especially 2003) but never reaching the Series and setting a record for postseason futility that will remain unmatched.