January 28, 2010

On Tuesday evening at 10:18, the Kentucky Wildcats men’s basketball team (ranked #1 in both the coaches’ and Associated Press polls) was defeated by the University of South Carolina Gamecocks.  The Wildcats entered the game with a record of 19-0 and had many analysts wondering aloud whether or not this basketball program was capable of pulling off an undefeated season.  And oh, yeah.  The team spent part of Tuesday morning on the phone with none other than President Barack Obama, who called to thank them for organizing a telethon that raised more than $1 million for Haiti.

After the phone call, senior writer Gary Parrish wrote a blog post where he jokingly suggested that, should Kentucky lose at South Carolina, they would be the first victim of what would forever be known as the “President Obama Curse.”  Parrish may have been kidding when he wrote his post; after all, what serious college basketball fan would possibly suggest that Kentucky might lose that game?  But it looks as though Parrish has stumbled upon yet another “curse” that athletes, teams and fans alike must fear.

For years, football fans have agonized over the annual announcement of which star player will grace the cover of the latest Madden NFL video game.  Since 1999 (the year that the game stopped featuring John Madden on its cover), seven of the 12 players chosen to appear on the cover have suffered from a major decline in productivity from the year before*, or worse: a season-ending injury**.  In fact, belief in the Madden curse is so widespread that when LaDainian Tomlinson was initially tapped for the 2008 cover, his fans created to voice their displeasure (Tomlinson, citing contractual obligations, eventually declined the offer).

And what about the Sports Illustrated cover curse?  While this curse does not appear to be as damning as the Madden curse, fans of college and pro teams alike have lamented their favorite player’s placement on the cover before a big game.  In fact, one of my colleagues here at Fast Horse complained just last week when he saw that Brett Favre had been featured on the cover of one version of the Jan. 25 issue of Sports Illustrated.  And while our beloved Vikings did go on to lose, just as Mark Sanchez’s Jets lost after he graced the cover of the other version of SI’s Jan. 25 issue, is it fair to blame these losses on Sports Illustrated?  Is it fair to blame Troy Polamalu’s injury-plagued season on his status of Madden NFL cover boy?  And is it fair to blame Kentucky’s loss Tuesday night on President Obama?

The jury is still out on sports curses.  Are they just another way for fans to avoid placing the blame of an especially heart-wrenching defeat on the shoulders of their favorite player?  Or should college basketball fans start a petition urging their favorite teams to let President Obama’s future calls go straight to voicemail in hopes that the “President Obama Curse” never gains enough traction to join the ranks of the Madden and Sports Illustrated cover curses?  Only time will tell.

* Daunte Culpepper: broke the record for most fumbles in a single season after appearing on the cover in 2002. Marshall Faulk: did not register another 1,000 yard rushing season after appearing on the cover in 2003.  Brett Favre: Appeared on the cover in 2008 and saw his performance in the second half of the season decline in such a dramatic fashion that, even after leading the Jets to a season-opening 8-3 record, he failed to reach the playoffs.

** Michael Vick: appeared on the cover in 2004.  Broke his leg during a preseason game and missed the entire season.  Shaun Alexander missed six starts after breaking his foot in 2007 and appearing on the cover.  Vince Young: sustained a knee injury during the early part of the 2008 season and was replaced by Kerry Collins for the remainder of the season.  He graced the 2008 Madden cover.  Troy Polamalu: sprained his MCL during the season opener, then came back and injured his posterior cruciate ligament during game 6.  He shared the 2009 cover with Larry Fitzgerald.