By Brian Tuohy
You're not superstitious, are you? Of course not. You're an adult, and have put such childish ideas behind you no matter what those Bud Light commercials say. The idea of a curse is something out of folklore or pop-culture, seen in books like Stephen King's Thinner or on the big screen in Sam Raimi's Drag Me to Hell. They don't really exist.
In the sports world, many such "curses" are familiar. The "Madden Curse" -- based on the theory that whoever graces the cover of the wildly popular EA Sports video game is doomed to injury or a career downturn -- seems well-documented. Of the 17 players featured, 14 have suffered from the curse in some way. However, the game's very namesake, one John Madden, whose image regularly appeared on the game box, never suffered such an ill fate.
In baseball, there's the "Curse of the Bambino," which doomed the Boston Red Sox for more than 80 years after the day the team sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees for $125,000. The Chicago Cubs have several supposed curses against them -- the billy goat, the black cat, the unfortunately-seated Steve Bartman -- but are these true curses, or merely excuses for decades of bad baseball?
While you can easily poke holes in the mythology around those "curses," there is one long-standing sports curse that has yet to succumb. That is the Super Bowl curse; or more aptly written, the strange "coincidence" in which no host city has seen their hometown team play in the Super Bowl in their own stadium. Had I written this in 1977, you might not think this was even worth mentioning. But this is 2013, and as Super Bowl XLVIII (translated: 48) approaches, it appears as if New York/New Jersey won't see either the 0-4 Giants or the 2-2 Jets manage to break this long, strange streak that has persisted for nearly five decades.
Now, granted, prior to this season, only 15 cities have ever been awarded a Super Bowl. Of those, two -- the Rose Bowl (hosted five times) and Stanford Stadium (hosted once) -- weren't even NFL venues. Both New Orleans and Miami have held 10 Super Bowls apiece, and until recently, the Saints were never a threat to reach the playoffs, much less win a championship. The rest of the games were sprinkled throughout the Southern United States, with two Northern dome cities -- Detroit (twice) and Minneapolis (once) -- getting a rare shot at hosting duties. That being the case, many teams have never had a crack at breaking this supposed "curse" simply due to matters of geography and venue. If, for example, Pittsburgh was deemed suitable to host the big game in the 1970s, or if it had gone to Candlestick Park in the 1980s, we might not even be having this conversation.
The NFL's reasoning behind such venue choices was to prevent inclement weather from affecting the outcome of their biggest game of the season. With a record much better than the Farmer's Almanac, they've been nearly totally accurate thus far (one exception being the rain on Peyton Manning's win over the Bears in Miami in 2009), an oddity in and of itself.
But it's never really been about having the game at a neutral site. If it were, the NFL could have played each Super Bowl in Hawaii as they used to do with the Pro Bowl, or since there's not currently a Los Angeles-based team, chosen an unused stadium there. Heck, even certain gargantuan Texas high school stadiums could play host. But today the league is adamant that the game be played on an NFL field.
So have the NFL and each host city -- which benefits from having fans from two other cities pour into town to spend gobs of money on Super Bowl-related festivities -- just been lucky?
It seems like it's more than just good fortune, because the Super Bowl is determined well ahead of time. The 2014 Super Bowl is set for Arizona -- a decision made in 2011 -- and it was announced yesterday that the 2015 Super Bowl will be held in the soon-to-open Levi's Stadium, future home of the 49ers. Who's to say neither the Cardinals nor the 49ers have a shot at the title during their hosting season?
The curse, that's who.
There have been just two close calls to a home team Super Bowl. The first came in Super Bowl XIV, held at the Rose Bowl in 1979. While the home field of the then-Los Angeles Rams was just a hop, skip, and jump away from Pasadena, it was the Pittsburgh Steelers who dominated, 31-19. Five years later, Stanford Stadium was granted its one and only chance at hosting the Super Bowl, pitting the Dolphins against the 49ers. Miami traveled approximately 2,600 miles to make the game; the 49ers 30 miles. They trounced the Dan Marino-led Dolphins 38-16.
Other than that, the NFL has dodged bullets Neo-style. San Diego lost the Super Bowl in 1994, then hosted in 1997. The Atlanta Falcons were walloped in 1998 by the Broncos, one year before the game came to Georgia. Tampa Bay hosted in 2000, and then saw the Buccaneers win their one and only title three seasons later. Arizona welcomed the Super Bowl to their new home stadium in 2007, and followed that with a surprise run to the big game in 2008. The Saints beat the Colts in the 2009 Super Bowl, and soon after, each team played host: Indianpolis in 2011, New Orleans in 2012. Finally, the Giants won the Lombardi Trophy just two years ago and twice in the last five years, and now the much-debated New York/New Jersey Super Bowl looms at the end of this season.
Is this all the result of some massive, game-fixing conspiracy? Or is the NFL merely Kreskin-like, able to prognosticate which team will be bad the season they host the Super Bowl? Perhaps it's a bit of column A, with a hint of column B mixed in.
Don't believe me? Then riddle me this.
The most recent Super Bowl -- the famed "blackout" game -- was played in New Orleans. While the Saints went 13-3 the year before, last season was marred by "Bountygate" and the team stumbled to a 7-9 record. Stepping back a season, the 2011 Super Bowl was played in Indianapolis. The Peyton Manning-led Colts went 10-6 and reached the playoffs in 2010. Come their hosting season, Manning was out for the year with a neck injury and the team tumbled to a 2-14 record (with an Andrew Luck-shaped carrot dangling in front of them all the while).
"Coincidence," you say. Okay. Let's take a few more steps backwards.
The 2010 Super Bowl was played in JerryWorld, that is, the new mega-stadium in Dallas. The Cowboys reached the 2009 playoffs on the back of an 11-5 record, and then promptly followed that up with a 1-7 start in 2010. Head coach Wade Phillips was fired, and the team limped to a 6-10 finish. Their predecessor in terms of playing host was the Miami Dolphins, who in 2008 went 11-5 and reached the playoffs with Chad Pennington at the helm. In 2009, Pennington started 0-3, was injured (and only threw two more passes in his career), and then watched as his team fell to 7-9. Next in line were the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who in 2007 made the playoffs with a 9-7 season, but come their hosting season -- Jon Gruden's last as an NFL head coach -- they were on the outside looking in with the same 9-7 record.
In the last 20 NFL seasons, teams have had an overall record of 131-189 (a winning percentage of 41 percent) in the year they host the Super Bowl. Only three host teams out of the last 20 have even reached the playoffs: the Buccaneers in 2000, and the Dolphins in both 1998 and 1994. The season prior to hosting, teams have had an overall record of 170-150 and reached the playoffs nine out of 20 times. Host teams even rebound (slightly) in their post-Super Bowl season, going 134-174 (43 percent) with six of 20 teams playoff-bound. And as the Saints continue to rack up wins this year, that number will only rise.
Will any of this console Giants fans this year? Will it allow Jets fans to forget about the Mark Sanchez era? Not if I know New York. No conspiracy theory or curse-talk will stop them from calling for heads to roll.
Honestly, though, all is not yet lost, even for the Giants. While only one 0-4 team has ever made the playoffs, it has happened (though it didn't end well for the 1992 Chargers, who started 0-4, yet finished with a 11-5 record -- only to get lambasted 31-0 by the Dolphins in the Divisional Round).
But with the way this season has started off, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting on either the Jets or Giants to break the curse.
Brian Tuohy has been called America's leading sports conspiracy theorist, but really he's just highly skeptical when it comes to what the sports leagues tell their fans. He's also one of the few writers brave enough to tackle the topic of game fixing in sports, detailing evidence of it in his books Larceny Games: Sports Gambling, Game Fixing and the FBI and The Fix Is In: The Showbiz Manipulations of the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and NASCAR. He also runs the semi-popular website thefixisin.net.