Sports superstition: The Art of the Curse

From Taylor Swift to Murphy the goat, sports curses are one of a kind.

What do Drake, a pet goat and an EA Sports video game have in common? According to sports fans worldwide, these symbols and many others represent years of so-called “curses” that plague a team, a player or a city. No matter what sports fandom you ask, everyone can point to at least one example of a curse against a team, athlete or location. While it may seem silly to some, the simple answer of “we must be cursed” is far easier for sports fans to stomach than trying to figure out how their favorite team or athlete collapsed at the worst possible moment. Whether they last for one game or one century, the sports curse is a strange and powerful thing with hundreds of years of history.

If you follow either soccer or football, you’ll likely know a thing or two about the EA Cover Curse. According to legend, the player on the cover of either EA’s Madden or FIFA titles for the year is doomed to suffer a terrible season through poor performance or injury. The curse has supposedly claimed names such as Wayne Rooney, Barry Sanders, Michael Vick, Neymar, Rob Gronkowski, Eden Hazard and Mbappé. Of course, the curse has been broken a few times — at least in Madden — with Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady headlining the list of athletes who have survived the curse. The EA curse also lines up with the Sports Illustrated curse, which states that any athlete who goes on the cover of the illustrious magazine will find themselves jinxed shortly afterward.

If curses involving individual players aren’t your thing, look no further than teams such as the Chicago Cubs. During the 1945 World Series, local tavern owner William Sianis was asked to leave the stadium after Murphy, his pet billy goat, disrupted other fans.

Furious, Sianis declared, “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.” Later, he reportedly wrote a telegram to the Cubs team owner, which read, “You are never going to win a World Series again because you insulted my goat.”

Chicago would lose that 1945 World Series and not make it to the Fall Classic again until 2016. In those 71 years, the Cubs experienced countless heartbreaks, such as the Steve Bartman incident in 2003 and Leon Durham’s error in the 1984 NLCS.

Of course, teams can be cursed by their loyal supporters as well; whether through poor luck, pressure or actual divine intervention. Support from the rapper Drake has caused teams and athletes to collapse on the biggest stage. The curse has claimed Connor McGregor, the Toronto Raptors, Serena Williams, the Phoenix Suns, Ferrari F1 driver Charles Leclerc and many more. However, Drake is not the only singer to cause a curse. After Taylor Swift sold out 16 concerts at the then-Staples center, the stadium raised a banner to commemorate the event. The Los Angeles Kings NHL team struggled immediately following the banner’s introduction. They covered the banner during home games in 2019 and removed it entirely in 2020. Mick Jagger has also reportedly jinxed the England national soccer team in both 2014 and 2018.

Even if teams have the support of their fans, their players could also cause a downfall. A prime example of players sabotaging their teams is the ominous-sounding Curse of ‘51 against the Irish soccer team Mayo GAA. After an excellent game, the team didn’t wait for a funeral procession in the town of Foxford. Reacting to their disrespect, the priest in control of the funeral cursed the team so that the team would never win an All-Ireland Final until all members of the 1951 team were dead. To date, Mayo has been to 11 finals since 1951 and won none. Michael Loftus, a substitute for the team that season, is the last surviving member at 93.

Entire cities have sometimes been rumored to have been cursed. Atlanta, Georgia, saw the Falcons suffer the infamous 28-3 collapse in the Super Bowl, the Hawks never make an NBA final and the Georgia Bulldogs blow a 13-point lead to their rival, the Alabama Crimson Tide. Buffalo, New York, had the Bills go to four consecutive Super Bowls and lose all of them. Cleveland, Ohio, has been one of the most tortured sports cities in the nation. The entire state of Tennessee, despite having three major teams (The Grizzlies, Predators and Titans), has never won a championship. The list goes on.

For many fans, the notion of a player, team, facility or city being “cursed” is a joke. For them, collapses and poor results can be attributed to mistakes, poor performance or the other team’s ability. A curse is nothing more than a piece of trivia spun into a campfire story. It’s easy to doubt the validity of a curse’s existence, especially during the good times. But a San Francisco Giants clubhouse official said it best in 2006: “Baseball fans are so superstitious, and players are too, so you have to take this stuff seriously.” Though he was speaking primarily about baseball, his words echo that of countless others worldwide. Even if it’s a silly superstition, it sometimes serves as an explanation for the unexplainable.