Sport has always had a little place for the supernatural. Kris Srikkanth was famous for his glimpses into the sun as he walked out to bat. For a Chennai boy this was risky business, the sun down south blazes unforgiving on most days. The great Tendulkar is famous for always putting on his left pad first before walking out on to the pitch with his trademark grin and mini-squats. Cricket itself abounds with such superstition and quirks. Perhaps the most intriguing one occured on that memorable day when Anil Kumble hauled in ten wickets for the first time in one innings way back in 1999 in New Delhi. That day Sachin Tendulkar insisted on handing over Kumble’s sweater and cap to the umpire before the leg-spinner began an over. Needless to say each time that happened Kumble got a wicket.And when it comes to supersition on the field its not just cricket. Remember Laurent Blanc kissing Fabien Barthez’s shaved head before every match in the 1998 World Cup? France won that one.
But there is a darker side to sport and the supernatural. While they may not be so common in India, the U.S. sports scene abounds with sinister stories and urban legends that have an uncanny rate of success. Or shall we say disaster. Call them coincidences or freak ocurrences, but to the larger american public they will always be ‘Sports Curses’.
On the cover. In deep trouble.
Sports Illustrated is the most popular sports magazine in the U.S. and possibly in the world. Apart from an understandably popular swimsuit edition the magazine is also known for innovative and inventive writing and liberal use of colour photography. It is estimated that one in five male americans read each issue of the magazine. In short SI is one popular and successful magazine.
So that should mean appearing on the cover is a good thing right? Wrong. The ‘Dreaded SI Cover Jinx’ is one of the most popular Sports Curses in the world. And a most notorious one at that.
The baseball player Eddie Mathews who appeared on the first SI cover photo ever injured his hand a week later and missed seven straight games. That was merely a soft start to an alarming sequence of events. The list reads like the plot for a rather special Stephen King page Turner:
In 1955 skier Jill Kinmont smashed into a tree during a practice run and was paralyzed neck down. This was the same week she appeared on the cover.
Pat O’Connor was featured on the cover of SI’s 1958 INdy 500 preview. He was killed in a crash in the first lap of the race.
Following an 86-win season in 1986 the Cleveland Indian baseball team was profiles on the April cover. The headline screamed: “Indian Uprising”. The Indians lost 101 games in the 1987 season.
These are just some of the dozen or so examples of this most notorious sports curse. In 2002 SI came out with a unique cover after football star Kurt Warner refused to pose fearing it would ruin his and his teams NFC championship campaign. The cover featured a plain white theme with a lone black cat.
Kurt and the St. Louis Rams went on to win their next two games in a row and lift the championship.
Curiouser and curiouser
Sometimes you can be cursed even if you offend someone’s statue. Philadelphia has not had a winning team in any form of any sport, professional and college, since 1987. And the reason is attributed to the construction of the ‘One Liberty Place’ skyscraper that was the first building to become taller than a statue of William Penn, the city founder. Till 1987 the statue remained the tallest point in the city and there was a gentleman’s agreement among all developers.
One Liberty Place was constructed after the builder obtained special permission from city authorities. The curse that followed has yet to be broken. And while single-team curses are common William Penn must be one grudging soul for his curse has been the bane of not one but four professional teams from Philadelphia!
There are several other curses that continue to haunt teams in the U.S. sports arena. But to find a most unique curse one must travel across the globe to Dotonbori in Osaka, Japan. This popular tourist destination is also home to what is known as the ‘Curse of the Colonel’. The colonel in this case being none other than Colonel Harland Sanders, founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken. This story takes some explaining.
In 1985 the Osaka-based Hanshin Tigers baseball team won the Japan Championship Series for the first, and only, time. A group of raucous fans assembled at a bridge in Dotonbori in and began to celebrate by shouting out the name of each member of the team and throwing in a fan, who resembled the player, into the canal below. When they found they had no one who looked like the american player Randy Bass they did what then seemed like a smart things to do. They ransacked a nearby KFC and stole a statue of the Colonel. They shouted out Randy Bass’ name and thre the statue into the canal.
Since 1985 the Tigers have never won the championship again. Legend has it that the team will continue to lose till the statue is recovered and restored. However all attempts have failed and the statue remains lost in the murky depths of the Dotonbori canal. Meanwhile the Hanshin Tigers keep losing.
Please don’t Mr. Pele!
The most popular international sports curse, and a living one at that, has to be that attributed to the phenomenal predictive abilities of soccer great Pele. While he remains one of the greatest players of the ‘Great Game’ top have ever lived and a great ambassador for the sport with his colourful personality Pele is not someone you want supporting your team before a World Cup.
The maestro’s predictive abilities are not just innacurate but potentially damning. In 1994 he predicted Colombia to wind the cup. They exited after the first round losing both their opening games. In 2002 the Brazilian tipped Argentina and France to reach the finals. Both dissappeared after the opening group stages. In the same year he famously predicted China to qualify from their group along with Brazil. Chain would have if only they had scored at least one point. Or one goal.
Pele also predicted that an African nation would win the cup before 2000. We are still waiting on that one. And the wait does not look pretty.
So clearly all is not fair when it comes to sports and games. Are there sinister hands at work? Maybe the best man does not win always. At least not if the Colonel, Mr. Penn and Pele have their way.
Closer to home there are few curses we can choose from. Some say anyone picked in place of Sachin in the team is doomed to fail. Others say that as long as Dada is away the boys in blue have no chance. Most of these people are bengalis though.
And no Indian Soccer is not a curse. Oh no. That’s just sheer mismanagement.