10 Sports Curses That Will Make You Believe in Fate

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A skeptic will point out that a curse is the result of poor decisions or odd coincidences. But that’s little consolation to hardcore fans, and the long strings of bad luck associated with some of these anomalies will make even the most doubtful people raise an eyebrow.

10. The Curse of William Penn

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Until 1987, the tallest structure in Philadelphia was the statue of William Penn atop city hall, at 548 feet. This allowed for plenty of buildings around 30 stories, but city leaders felt they needed a signature skyscraper. So they made plans to build Liberty Place, a complex of two skyscrapers nearly 1000 feet high.

Philadelphia had long been known as a great sports town. It’s one of the cities with at least one team in each of the four major leagues, the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB. In 1974 and 1975 the Flyers won back-to-back Stanley Cups. In 1980 the Phillies won the World Series. And in 1983 the 76ers won the NBA championship. There was plenty to celebrate.

But in 1984, when the decision was made to build Liberty Place, success dried up quickly. There wouldn’t be another championship in the city until the Phillies won the World Series in 2008 — a drought of 25 years, the longest ever for a city with a team in each major league.

The curse didn’t simply go away — 2008 was also the year the Comcast Center was completed, a skyscraper that surpassed One Liberty Place as the tallest building in Philadelphia. At the top of the building they placed a miniature statue of William Penn identical to the one on City Hall, once again putting him at the highest point in the city. The moral? Never mess with a Quaker.

9. Chunky Soup Curse

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Soup isn’t considered a particularly manly meal. Campbell’s sought more male customers by creating its line of Chunky Soups, and who better to endorse these manly soups than pro football players?

The first incident was in the late ’90s, when Denver’s Terrell Davis, who led Denver to back-to-back Super Bowl wins, suffered repeated knee injuries, cutting his career to a very impressive but very short four years. Victor Cruz, Todd Heap and Larry Johnson all suffered a similar fate shortly after their endorsement.

The curse wasn’t limited to on-field injuries. Reggie White, one of the most dominant and respected defensive linemen in NFL history, died of heart problems in 2004 at the age of 43. He had started endorsed Chunky Soup in 1997, shortly before his career ended as well. And just a few months after becoming the youngest starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl, Ben Roethlisberger was involved in a motorcycle accident. He recovered from his injuries, but was described as extremely lucky since he went through another car’s windshield and wasn’t wearing a helmet.

The saddest story is about Brian Urlacher’s mother. Most commercials featured the players and their mother who prepared the meal for them, in a humorous “even big guys need their mommas” kind of way. Brian’s mother appeared with him in one ad, then died a few years later at only 51.

8. The Cleveland Curse

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When the river flowing through your city catches on fire, you know things just aren’t right. Cleveland is a great sports town with very loyal fans who have had nothing to celebrate for generations. They have, however, suffered through many terrible seasons, gut wrenching losses, departures of star players, and even the departure of the teams themselves.

Their beloved Browns have the notoriety of being the only team which has never been to or hosted the Super Bowl. Most of their seasons have been bad, but in the mid-80s they twice came within moments of making it to the Super Bowl, only to be denied by John Elway’s 98 yard drive and Kevin Mack’s goal line fumble. Then in 1995, despite having a loyal fan base, owner Art Modell moved the team to Baltimore, a city which itself lost their beloved team 12 years before. The NFL quickly recognized that Cleveland was a valuable market and their fans had been royally screwed, so they were awarded an expansion franchise after just three seasons. Wiping the slate clean hasn’t helped the new incarnation of the Browns, which has also suffered limited success.

The Indians are one of the oldest teams in baseball but have only managed to win two World Series, and none since 1948. In the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s they were perennial losers best known for the debacle of 10 cent beer night. After building a new stadium they saw a resurgence in the ’90s and twice made it to the World Series. But in 1995 they lost to the Atlanta Braves, a team which went to five World Series in the ’90s and lost four of them. Then in 1997 they lost to the Florida Marlins, a team which has about four fans.

The Cavaliers have been at the bottom of the NBA for most of their existence. However, in the late ’80s and early ’90s they had some good teams that were twice eliminated by Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in the playoffs by heartbreaking buzzer beaters. In 2003 they drafted local superstar LeBron James and had some good seasons, including two trips to the NBA Finals, but he departed for Miami when he became a free agent and won two championships there. LeBron did return to Cleveland after four seasons, so at least there’s hope.

Cleveland was also home to the NHL’s Cleveland Barons. Despite being a northern city with a large hockey community, they were denied an expansion franchise three times. Finally in 1976, the California Golden Seals relocated to Cleveland, but brought their troubles with them and lasted only two seasons before having the notoriety of being the last team in one of the four major leagues to fold.

7. Madden Curse

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Madden NFL has been one of the most popular video games since the early ’90s. The first few versions featured its legendary namesake coach and broadcaster John Madden on the cover. Then in 1999 they began putting a top player on the cover, an honor akin to being on the Wheaties box.

Garrison Hearst appeared on the 1999 cover and promptly broke his ankle, forcing him to miss most of two seasons. Donovan McNabb, Shaun Alexander and Troy Polamalu all suffered similar fates after appearing on the cover. Dorsey Levens appeared on the 2000 cover, and saw his production drop off sharply and his Green Bay Packers have their worst season in a decade. Marshall Faulk and Vince Young and their teams saw similar fates.

Michael Vick appeared on the 2004 cover and not only went on to have his worst season, but would be convicted of leading a dog fighting ring and spend two years in prison. Next was Ray Lewis, who also would have a poor season and be tied to a murder after the 2000 Super Bowl.

6. Curse of Chicago

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Chicago is a great sports town with loyal and patient fans, mainly because they have to be. Each of their five major sports teams is among the oldest in their league, and collectively most of their seasons have been bad.

The White Sox went from 1917 to 2005 without winning the World Series. They brought their curse on themselves with the infamous Black Sox scandal, when eight members of the team conspired with gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series. Each player was banned from the game for life, and it took the team 88 years to recover.

The Bears won eight NFL championships between 1921 and 1963, but that was before the Super Bowl — the NFL was a relatively minor league. The 1985 Bears won the Super Bowl and are considered one of the greatest teams of all time, but the curse of the Honey Bears ended their opportunity for being a dynasty. The Honey Bears were their cheerleading squad until 1985, when team owner Virginia Halas McCaskey disbanded them. The Bears haven’t won a Super Bowl since.

The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010 and 2013. Before that they managed to win only three, and all when there were only six teams in the league. The Bulls have avoided any curse, mainly by getting to draft Michael Jordan as the third pick in the 1984 draft. Let’s just say that worked out nicely.

But the Cubs are the mother of all cursed teams. They won the World Series in 1907 and 1908, before they even started playing in Wrigley Field, and haven’t won another since. They haven’t even been to the World Series since the curse of the Billy goat in 1945. That was when local bar owner Billy Sianis brought his goat mascot to game four of the World Series and was promptly ordered to leave. Sianis declared that the Cubs will “win no more” before exiting the stadium. The Cubs went on to lose the game and the series, and haven’t been back since.

5. Curse of the Super Bowl Host

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In most sports championships are hosted by the participating teams, but the Super Bowl is held at a predetermined location. All but nine, and every one since 1993, has been held at the home stadium of an NFL team. But despite over 40 Super Bowls being in NFL stadiums, the host team has never actually played in the game.

The NFL doesn’t want fans who pay thousands of dollars to come to the game to be cold, so all but five Super Bowls have been in warm weather climates. Four of the five times they’ve been in cold weather cities, the game was played in a dome. So frequent Super Bowl teams, like Pittsburgh, Green Bay, New England, and Denver, have been excluded.

Miami and New Orleans are tied for hosting the most Super Bowls, with 10 each. However, the Miami Dolphins have only been to the game three times, and not since 1985. The Saints have been once, in 2010, when the game was in Miami. Every other city to have hosted more than once has never seen their team play in the big game more than once.

Now, even if every team were to get an opportunity to host, the simple probability of making it to the Super Bowl is 1 in 16, so while it’s a little odd that no team has made the game it’s not improbable. The real curse is that the host team has had a long tradition of having a terrible season the year they host. Only a handful have even made the playoffs, and almost all have made a quick exit. In 2012, Indianapolis was the host city. The Colts had made the playoffs the previous 10 seasons, including two trips to the Super Bowl. However, the year they hosted their superstar quarterback Peyton Manning was out for the season with a neck injury, and the team went 2-14 for the worst record in the league.

New Orleans hosted in 2013. The Saints had won the Super Bowl in 2010. But right before the season began they were implicated in “Bountygate,” where it was revealed their coaching staff had offered bounties to injure opponents. The result was that their head coach, Sean Payton, was suspended for the season. Despite having many players from the Super Bowl championship team still on the roster the Saints finished 7-9 and out of the playoffs.

4. The Andretti Curse

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The Andretti family is one of the most famous in auto racing history. Since the 1960s, three generations have attained success at the top level of racing. Yet all three generations have had notoriously bad luck at the most famous race of all, the Indianapolis 500.

At age 29 Mario Andretti won the 1969 Indy 500, and many felt he was destined to win many more. But throughout the ’70s he suffered a long string of mediocre and forgettable races. In 1981 he finished second to Bobby Unser and was later declared the winner when it was determined Unser had passed under a yellow flag and should’ve been penalized a lap. However, three months later Unser’s win was reinstated on appeal. The next year another driver crashed into him before the race even started. In 1985, while leading the race, he was passed by Danny Sullivan, who promptly spun out but miraculously regained control and passed him again to win. In 1987 he led 170 of the first 177 laps before a valve spring gave out, forcing him to drop out of the race on lap 180. Bobby Unser’s son, Al Unser, Sr., would take the race.

Mario’s son Michael began racing in 1984 and had tremendous success everywhere but Indianapolis. In 1991 he finished second after being passed by Rick Mears with just 12 laps to go. The next year he was leading by more than a lap with just seven laps to go when his fuel pump failed. This time Al Unser, Jr. would go on to win, marking the third time that bad Andretti luck led to good Unser luck.

Michael’s son Marco began racing in 2006 and was poised to become the first true rookie to win the race in over 40 years, but was passed with less than 200 yards to go by Sam Hornish Jr. Marco hasn’t come close to winning since.

Since retiring from driving, Michael Andretti has become a successful team owner and his drivers have won the 500 twice. But both times the drivers, Dan Weldon and Dario Franchitti, promptly left his team for the rival Ganassi team. Both would go one to win other 500s, although Dan Weldon was killed in a crash shortly after winning his second 500 and Franchitti was forced to retire after a serious crash in 2013.

3. The San Diego Curse

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This is the first world problem version of a curse. San Diego is home to the NFL’s Chargers and MLB’s Padres. Both have a relatively short history, with the Chargers having been founded in 1960 and the Padres in 1969. While both have certainly had their bad seasons, they’ve generally been fairly successful franchises. But neither has ever won a championship, despite coming agonizingly close several times. The Chargers made the Super Bowl just once, in 1995, when they were demolished by the San Francisco 49ers, considered one of the greatest teams in NFL history.

San Diego native Junior Seau played eight seasons with the Chargers, including the Super Bowl season. He was traded to the Miami Dolphins late in his career, but was still very popular with San Diego fans. In 2006 he signed with the hated New England Patriots, and in his first season he led them to a playoff win over the Chargers. After he retired he was forgiven and welcomed back to San Diego where he lived with his family, but sadly he took his own life in 2012 after dealing with chronic injuries.

The Padres have made it to the World Series twice. But in 1984 were defeated four games to one by the Detroit Tigers, and in 1998 they were swept by the New York Yankees. Both the ‘84 Tigers and ‘98 Yankees are considered amongst the best teams in the long history of the sport. In other words, three times teams from San Diego have managed to get to the championship, only to run into dominant teams which were heavily favored against anyone they played.

San Diego also has the notoriety of twice losing NBA franchises. The city was awarded an expansion franchise in 1967, but the Rockets stayed in San Diego for only four seasons before departing for Houston. Then in 1978 the Buffalo Braves moved to San Diego, renamed themselves the Clippers, and promptly left for Los Angeles in 1984. There’s no obvious origin for this curse, although many feel it’s just a fair exchange for San Diego having arguably the best weather in America. That would explain why their two outdoor teams are very popular but their indoor teams keep moving away.

2. Sports Illustrated Cover Curse

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Sports Illustrated is the most famous sports magazine of all time. Even today, as print journalism fades, it’s still popular online. However, being on the cover has proven to be both an honor and a curse. The very first issue featured Eddie Mathews of the Milwaukee Braves and  focused on their nine game winning streak. Immediately after the magazine was published the Braves lost and Mathews broke his hand.

There are dozens of examples of appearing on the cover only to have the highlighted accomplishment immediately nullified. There have even been five incidents of the cover star dying in an accident within a few months, or even days, after publication. There are some aversions to the curse, as the four individuals who’ve been on the cover the most are Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Tiger Woods and Magic Johnson, four men who’ve had extremely impressive careers. But Jordan’s father was murdered midway through his career, and he’s been linked to gambling scandals. Ali has Parkinson’s Disease, Tiger Woods was involved in one of the most public sex scandals of all time and hasn’t been the same golfer since, and Magic Johnson was forced to retire after contracting HIV.

This is such a well known curse that Sports Illustrated has even acknowledged it by devoting an entire issue to the curse, which featured a black cat on the cover. Several star players have been hesitant to be on the cover before big games for fear of what could happen!

1. Curse of the Bambino

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It’s the most famous sports curse of them all. Having already won two of the first 10 World Series, the Red Sox signed a budding young star named George Herman “Babe” Ruth in 1914. The Red Sox would go on to establish themselves as the dominant team in baseball, winning the World Series in 1915, 1916 and 1918.

Then, in 1919, team owner Harold Frazee sold the Babe to a perennially mediocre team, the New York Yankees, for $100,000 to finance the play No No Nanette. You’ve seen it right? Exactly. Why no one came up with the phrase “Frazee, are you crazy?” is a mystery to us.

With Babe Ruth the Yankees built the greatest stadium in the league and won four World Series titles. After Ruth retired the Yankees would win 22 more championships before the Red Sox finally broke the curse by winning in 2004, a span of 86 years. Rumor has it that during the winter of 2004-2005 there was a higher than average death rate amongst elderly people in New England, who could finally die happy having seen their beloved Red Sox break the curse.

Want to read about more curses?
We’ve looked at notoriously cursed diamonds. And if you want to learn about cities haunted by more than sports failures, read about the 10 most haunted cities in America.

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4 Comments

  1. The Miami Dolphins have been to five Super Bowls. Also Al Unser Sr. is Bobby Unser’s younger brother, not his son. Apologies for the errors.

    Please elaborate on the curse of Bela Guttmann. Anything with that name sounds intriguing.

  2. Guttmann was a Hungarian soccer coach, who trained the Portuguese club Benfica among others. The story goes that when he and Benfica parted ways in 1962 under rough circumstances (after having won the Europa Cup I twice) he said: ‘Benfica will not win a European tournament (like Champions League/Europa League nowadays) for 100 years’. Since then, Benfica has not won one and lost in all seven of the finals they were in since then, most recently last year in the Europa League versus Sevilla.

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