Northwestern's pending NCAA bid puts final nail in the curses coffin

I planted Shamrocks in the back yard this week (true), but not with any hope of producing a four-leaf clover for my favorite, flummoxed, tortured sporting franchise.


The market on jinxes and hexes is, in fact, drying up. I saw a witch doctor on the corner this week holding a sign “Homeless since Cubs won.”

These days, outside of the Cleveland Indians' office, you can’t find a pagan priest not on the dole.

Forget about flowers--where have all the curses gone?

Wednesday night, to the thrill of my journalism colleagues with degrees from the prestigious School of Ann-Medill-Margret, Northwestern basketball defeated Michigan on a last-second basket.

Fans stormed the court in Evanston as fast as Northwestern sportswriters stormed Twitter.

Stewart Mandel, in attendance as an alum and history recorder, penned an excellent story for Fox Sports about the night HIS school finally clinched (likely) its first NCAA Tournament bid.

Mind you, Northwestern hosted the first NCAA Tournament in 1939, but has never played in it...until now.

Official word won’t be delivered until Selection Sunday on March 12. In the bible, Moses delivered the good news from on high. In basketball, it comes from Greg Gumbel.


“It’s really happening,” Mandel wrote. “I wouldn’t believe it, except I saw it with my own eyes.”

This was a glorious night for Northwestern and its band of merry journalism pranksters—Michael Wilbon, Christine Brennan, Andy Bagnato, Tim Kawakami, Helene Elliott, Alan Abrahamson, Brent Musburger, Ben Bolch, Mark Purdy, J.A. Adande, Mark Fanaru-Wada and TMG's very own Herb Gould.

Now what?

In 1999, I went to my bosses at the Los Angeles Times and pitched a story on “curses” in sports.

It was borne of my own belief that my boyhood team, ironically nicknamed “Angels,” was forever haunted by goblins from the netherworld.

This wasn’t just blowing smoke up Gene Autry's cowboy hat. A series of mishaps and tragedies, on and off the field, plagued the franchise to the point General Manager Buzzie Bavasi once ordered a real exorcism to be performed at home plate.

There were hearsay stories that the organization had been condemned for erecting Anaheim Stadium, in 1966, on an old Indian burial ground.

The clincher for me came opening day in 1999 when first baseman Mo Vaughn, in the first inning of his $80-million contract, tumbled into the dugout chasing down a pop fly.

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“Did we look at each other without saying a word?” Tim Mead, the Angels longtime media director, told me at the time. “You better believe it.”

My idea turned into a massive front-page story that, if proposed today, would get laughed out of the Tuesday planning meeting.

Back then, though, it was real. Dan Shaughnessy devoted a 1990 book, “The Curse of the Bambino,” purporting the Boston Red Sox franchise had been punished by baseball's gods for trading Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees.

“It’s a story about baseball’s original sin,” Shaughnessy wrote.

The book noted three retired numbers in franchise history: Ted Williams (9), Joe Cronin (4), Bobby Doerr (1) and Carl Yastrzemski (8).

The numerical sequence (4-1-18) dated the eve of the 1918 World Series—the last series Boston won.


Here’s the thing: almost all of the hexes I wrote about in 1999 have been vanquished.

The Angels won the World Series in 2002, while the Red Sox have won it twice.

I wrote about the hex on the New Orleans Saints, which enjoyed nothing but voodoo luck since returning its first kickoff in history, in 1967, back for a touchdown.

The Saints then won Super Bowl XLIV.

The “Curse of the Black Sox,” which purportedly hung over the Chicago White Sox for the 1919 scandal that rocked baseball, was lifted when they won the World Series in 2005.

With the Cubs winning the World Series this year for the first time since 1908, and Northwestern making plans for its first NCAA Tournament, the city of Chicago has almost been completely liberated from the witch doctor:

To quote the great Dave Seville: "Ting, tang, walla walla bing bang."

I wrote in 1999 about the “Chicken Curse” that plagued the University of South Carolina for more than a century.

“The hex was reportedly cast in the 1880s by U.S. Sen “Pitchfok” Ben Tillman, founder of rival Clemson, so disgusted by the ‘bourbon’ class that controlled the school he put the whammy on the Gamecocks.”

You could argue Clemson, by winning this year’s national title in football, has kept its heel firmly planted on South Carolina’s neck.

In truth, since 1999, the Gamecocks have risen from mediocrity to post three, 11-win seasons under Steve Spurrier.

The San Francisco Giants were given the black magic stink eye for leaving New York’s Polo Grounds. Not anymore, as the Giants have since claimed three World Series banners.

The only hex left from my 1999 hopper is Cleveland’s “Curse of Rocky Colavito,” which punished the Indians for trading their star player to Detroit in 1960.

The Indians made it to extra innings of Game 7 this year before superstitiously relenting way to the Cubs’ “Billy Goat Curse.”

The five-decades championship curse on the city of Cleveland, however, had already been lifted with the Cavaliers winning last year’s NBA title in Game 7.

So what voodoo brew is left to stir?

I'm not buying San Diego not winning any kind of title since the Chargers claimed the AFL crown in 1963. Or even the "bad luck" of losing its Chargers to Los Angeles: "The Curse of Spanos."

I refuse to accept any curse emanating from one of the world’s most temperate climates.

So what are we meaningfully left with...the Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners?

Maybe, like Bobby Knight, we're just all cursed out.

Or, maybe, all our "spooky" was just malarkey.[/membership]