Sports Curses: Inadequate Playing Or Reality?

In sports, it is a common practice for teams to have a “curse” put on them which attribute to their poor playing or inability to reach high-standing championship positions. Some are more well-known than others. Some seem silly and all in the fun while others can make you believe that they hold some water. Nothing is safe when it comes to these curses: players, video games, animals, stadiums/arenas, and even fast-food chains have all been used as a reason why teams can’t win. But one question always remains. Are the curses real or are the team’s failures simply due to their own inadequate playing?

Babe Ruth

The Curse of the Bambino– On January 5, 1920 slugger George “Babe” Ruth was traded by the Boston Red Sox to their rivals the New York Yankees. Before the trade, the Red Sox were one of the most successful teams in baseball. Babe Ruth left and their success came to a screeching halt. The Yankees would win their first championship in 1923 and become one of the most dominating franchises in sports with nineteen AL East Division titles, forty AL Pennants, and a whopping twenty-seven World Series titles. But hey, who’s counting? Thus, “The Curse of the Bambino” was born. While Ruth’s departure from the Red Sox has long been seen as the beginning of the team’s decline and many fans felt that it was jinxed. The specific “Curse of the Bambino” didn’t pick up steam until Boston sportswriter Dan Shaughnessy wrote a book using that as the title in 1990. Many Red Sox would do what they could to “break the curse”. Some fans attempted to find and rescue an old piano of Ruth’s submerged in a pond on his former property and many took part in various ceremonies with witches. But all efforts no matter how big were futile. Many Red Sox fans believe the curse was finally broken when a teenage fan, who lived in Ruth’s old house, had his two front teeth knocked out by Manny Ramirez’s foul ball in August 2004. The Yankees suffered their worst defeat in team history that day and the Red Sox went on to overcome a 3-0 series deficit against the Yankees in the ALCS several weeks later. So, that poor teenager had to lose his teeth for ya’ll to get your curse broken? Typical. In 2004, the Red Sox won the World Series title, ending their eighty-six-year drought. Did trading Babe ever really bring a curse on the Red Sox or was it just years of inadequate playing on Boston’s end?

John Madden

The Madden Curse- “The Madden Curse”, also known as the “Madden Cover Jinx” has been around for over twenty years and is one of the most well-known curses in NFL history. John Madden himself seemed to be immune to the curse that bears his name but it’s a whole different story for the players. The curse claims that any player that graces the cover will either have a poor season that year or sustain an injury. As someone who has lived through it, I can agree that this claim holds up pretty well. Madden is a video game that’s been around since 1988. It was first released as John Madden Football and John Madden Football II. In 1993 they started adding the year to the title (Example: John Madden Football ‘93). In 1994 the name simply became Madden followed by the year (Example: Madden ‘94). In 1995 It became Madden NFL including the year (Example: Madden NFL ‘95) and the rest is history. From the invention of the game to 1998 John Madden appeared on the cover. In 1999 the focus of the covers shifted to NFL players and the first lucky guy to be picked that year was the 49er’s running back, Garrison Hearst. What a lucky dude, being the first person on the cover of one of the most successful video games ever, right? Wrong. Hearst broke records and was destined for the NFL Hall of Fame. But after being honored with the cover, he led the 49ers into the playoffs, where he broke his ankle. The break was so severe he missed two full seasons and never played the same again. The Madden Curse was born. As the years passed players such as Marshall Faulk, Dante Culpepper, Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb, Shaun Alexander, and Vince Young have all suffered injuries, had subpar seasons, or chaos in their personal lives; the same season they appeared on the cover. In total twenty-three players have appeared on the cover and always suffered the same or similar fate as their predecessors. Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes became the first players to bless the cover twice. Brady appeared on the Madden ‘18 cover. While Mahomes appeared on the Madden ‘20 cover, and both players appeared together on the Madden ‘22 cover. While the curse doesn’t always make itself clear in the eyes of the public, it’s still very much around and claiming victims. The Madden ‘23 cover will go back to its roots, featuring John Madden. A fitting tribute to the namesake of the game; who passed away on December 28, 2021.

They aren’t upset about their team, are they?

The Curse of Dave Keon- There are no players in professional sports more superstitious than hockey players (baseball players are a very close second). If a player wears a pair of underwear during a game and scores a hat trick you bet your ass that will wear that same pair of crusty underwear for the rest of the games they play during their career. If they have a mustache during the Stanley Cup playoffs and win the cup that year, they might never shave it off again. Chances are these guys take curses very, very seriously. I like the Toronto Maple Leafs; I like them because they have a cute leaf on their sweaters. I like them because their colors are nice. And I like them because they play filthy. The last time a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup was in 1993 when the Montreal Canadians got to hoist the trophy high above their heads. The last time the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup was in 1967. To put that into perspective for you my mom was six years old and my dad was ten going on eleven. I’m now thirty-three years old. So, yeah, it’s been a long time for Toronto. In 1967, Toronto center Leonard “Red” Kelly retired, Dave Keon won the Conn Smythe Trophy, and the Leafs stood for one last time as Stanley Cup victors after a hard-fought battle against the Montreal Canadians. The following year, Maples Leaf’s superstar Frank Mahovlich was traded to the Detroit Red Wings, coach Punch Imlach was fired by the team’s owner, Stafford Smythe, and defenseman Tim Horton (I love his coffee. I’m not joking he opened the first Tim Hortons) stated, “if the team doesn’t want Imlach, I guess it doesn’t want me.” Losing those four men put a curse on the team, one that’s still hanging around. “The Curse of Dave Keon” also known as “The Leafs Curse” is also connected with the death of the son of Conn Smyth in 1971. The following decades saw the deconstruction of the Maple Leaf’s dynasty at the hands of Harold Ballard. The curse is blamed for the mystery surrounding Maple Leaf Bill Barilko, who disappeared in a plane near Timmins, Ontario a few months after scoring the game-winning goal that earned Toronto their fourth Stanley Cup in five years. It has also been blamed for the questionable tactics of both Harold Ballard and Stafford Smythe in the 1960s and early ‘70s. The curse has been talked about surrounding other player’s deaths and the crumbling of the team. The Maple Leafs manage to snag a spot in the playoffs year after year and have even won the division more than once but if they make it to the Stanley Cup finals they always fall to their opponent. The curse pushes on and there’s no telling when it will end.

Murphy and William Sianis

The Curse of the Billy Goat- In 1945 Billy Goat Tavern owner William Sianis and his pet goat, Murphy went to Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs play in game four of the World Series. Can you imagine watching a baseball game and you look over, and see someone with a damn goat sitting there? Murphy began bothering other patrons watching the game. Walking around, trying to eat stuff, and making noise. On top of all that some people claimed that Murphy’s stench was so bad, they wanted to move seats. Subsequently, the pair were asked to leave the stadium. Sianis was outraged and as he was leaving declared, “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.” This has been interpreted to mean that the Cubs would never win another National League Pennant. The Cubs went on to lose the 1945 World Series to the Detroit Tigers. Before this incident, the Cub’s last World Series win was in 1908 and after Murphy and Sianis were kicked out of Wrigley the Cubs didn’t play in the World Series for the next seventy-one years. Before his death on October 22, 1970, William Sianis attempted to lift the curse he placed on the team. He failed. Sianis’ nephew, Sam, has gone to Wrigley field numerous times with a goat in an attempt to break the curse. He went on opening day in 1984 and again in 1989, the Cubs won their division both of those years. In 1994, Sam went back to Wrigley with a goat in hopes to stop a home game losing streak and in 1998 he was there for the Wild Card tie-breaker game, which the Cubs won. In 2003 (the Chinese zodiac’s Year of the Goat), a group of Cubs fans made their way to Houston with a billy goat named “Virgil Homer” and attempted to gain entrance to Minute Maid Park, home of the Astros. After they were denied entrance, they unrolled a scroll, read a verse from it, and proclaimed they were “reversing the curse”. The Cubs won the division that year but fell short of making it to the World Series game. The Astros earned their first World Series berth two years later and their crosstown rival the Chicago White Sox won the series, adding salt to the festering wound. In 2008, a Greek Orthodox priest sought to end the curse during the playoffs by spraying holy water in and around the Cubs dugout. This of course did not work. After many other failed attempts to reverse the curse which included, more goats, restaurants going meat-free, and eating a forty-pound bag of tacos, the Chicago Cubs finally won the World Series in 2016, ending their 108-year drought.

Aaron Ramsey

The Ramsey Curse- Aaron Ramsey is one of my boyfriends and I really don’t want to speak ill of him. But I will. I will do it for journalism. Aaron, I love you and I’m sorry. If you’re a well-known celebrity/ notable person you might want to have Aaron Ramsey’s schedule on your refrigerator and every time, he plays you might want to cover yourself in bubble wrap and sit tight for the duration of whatever match he’s in and three days after. An astounding twenty-three celebrity deaths have been linked to a goal or goals that Ramsey has scored. The deaths occur within three days of the documented goal. The curse was first recognized in 2009 when Ted Kennedy passed away on August 25th, three days after Ramsey scored against Portsmouth. Although, the curse didn’t blow up on social media until 2018 when fans started going back through Ramsey’s career, putting two and two together. The curse has been recognized for several years, with people going back and changing its impact as more and more fall victim to it. I’ll go back through some of the more notable people that have passed away due to the curse. Osama Bin Laden “was killed” on May 2, 2011, one day after Ramsey scored a goal against Manchester United. Steve Jobs died on October 5, 2011, three days after Ramsey scored against Tottenham. Muammar Gaddafi was assassinated on October 20, 2011, one day after Ramsey scored against Marseille. Whitney Houston died on February 11, 2012, one day after Ramsey scored against Sunderland. Paul Walker died on November 30, 2013; the same day Ramsey scored against Cardiff. Robin Williams committed suicide on August 11, 2014, one day after Ramsey scored against Manchester City. David Bowie died on January 10, 2016, one day after Ramsey scored against Sunderland. Alan Rickman died on January 14, 2016. One day after Ramsey scored against Liverpool. Roger Moore died on May 23, 2017, two days after Ramsey scored a goal against Everton. Need I go on? The death of actress June Brown in April of this year is the most recent one to be linked to the curse. When asked how Aaron Ramsey felt about all this; he stated, “I don’t know how or why it started but it’s been following me about for some time. But it doesn’t bother me now. People pass away every day — there isn’t a day when they don’t. I’m sure if you dig about you could find somebody has died every time Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi score, so it’s ridiculous really. It seemed to snowball after the Bin Laden death. But now a 94-year-old woman dies in America and, through social media, it is somehow linked with me. It’s just become so ludicrous it’s no longer an issue.” That’s right boo, don’t let the haters get you down.

Colonel Sanders

The Curse of the Colonel- There’s no way Colonel Sanders cursed a sports team. Not the guy that made chicken finger-lickin’ good. Say it ain’t so. This curse dates back to 1985 when the “Curse of the Colonel” was placed on the Japanese Hanshin Tigers baseball team by the ghost of KFC founder Colonel Sanders. The Colonel was mad over the treatment of one of his store-front statues, which had been thrown into the Dotonbori River by celebrating Hanshin fans when their team won the 1985 Japan Championship Series. This curse was used to explain the team’s subsequent eighteen-year losing streak. After the Tigers appeared in the Japan Championship Series in 2003 and 2005 but weren’t able to obtain a victory, fans thought the team would never win another Japan Series until the statue had been recovered. The statue of the Colonel was finally pulled from the Dotonbori River on March 10, 2009. Divers first thought the statue was a large barrel, then a human corpse, but Hanshin fans on the scene were quick to identify it as the upper body of the long-lost Colonel statue. The next day the right hand and lower body were found. The statue’s left hand and glasses are still missing. Fans believe the curse will remain until the two missing pieces are recovered. The statue was finally given a replacement left hand and a pair of glasses. Since the KFC the statue originally belonged to no longer exists, it was placed in a branch near Koshien Stadium, home of the Hanshin Tigers. The Tigers made it to the 2014 Japan Championship but fell to the Softbank Hawks in five games. Does the Curse of the Colonel live on?

There ya have it. Some curses that have plagued sports teams and their players. Wasn’t that fun. If you aren’t a superstitious person chances are you take these things with a grain of salt, and if you are somebody who is superstitious and believes in curses chances are you take these seriously. Either way, they are fun stories and folklore that can be passed down over the years. It gives people something to talk about. The next time you have a string of terrible lucky stop and wonder if you have wronged someone lately. You never know what you might have to try and undo.


“Sports-related curses” – Wikipedia

“7 Bizarre Sports Curses” – History

“The Best and Worst Curses in Sports” – Bleacher Report

“The Eeriest Curses In Sporting History” – Culture Trip



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