Athletic Aesthetic

Averse to a Curse?

the Vikings’ improbable Divisional playoff victory could signal the end of their long history of misfortune – or not

Luc Anthony |

What happened in a football stadium 90 minutes west of here on the evening of Jan. 14 brought a most-vexing sports question to the fore: Can a team be cursed?

If you have read more than a handful of these columns, you know my NFL allegiance: I’m a Vikings fan. Therefore, you also know that when important / shocking / memorable football moments happen, the Vikes are usually fill the negative role of that moment; the other team is celebrating. I need not list the numerous examples of heartbreak and disaster for the franchise; if you are not familiar, Google “Vikings heartbreak losses.”

For that game on the 14th, I steeled myself for the outcome. A title was not on the line; nevertheless, I knew how this team tends to lose. I actually told my wife I would be happy if they lost in a normal manner – say, by 10 points.

Never before had an NFL playoff game ended in regulation time with a walk-off touchdown – and the Vikings were the first to accomplish the feat. These things don’t happen to cursed teams.

The Vikings went up by 17, followed by the game flipping to the Saints in the second half. The latest tragic loss was pending: one of the largest blown leads in NFL playoff history. Of course the Vikings would do that. They’re cursed. The last play started and – wait, what? They SCORED? A TOUCHDOWN?!?!? YESSSSSSSS!!1!!!1!!!! (Luc goes berserk in his living room)

Never before had an NFL playoff game ended in regulation time with a walk-off touchdown – and the Vikings were the first to accomplish the feat. These things don’t happen to cursed teams.

There have been legendary examples of “cursed” franchises: the classics from baseball, the Red Sox and Cubs; other pigskin notables, like the Bills and Browns; two from D.C., baseball’s Nationals and hockey’s Capitals, great in the regular season and flaming out before the semifinals. There are explanations for some curses – especially with the Cubbies and Sox – but others seem to come out of nowhere. Who or what would have cursed the Vikes?

Is any team truly cursed? I believe God has bigger concerns than keeping one bunch of athletes from scoring more points than another bunch of athletes. If the question is placing a hex, why would people that may have spell-casting power choose to train their focus on sports? Meanwhile, consider teams that have never won a championship but never really broke your heart in the process, like the Brewers or Badger football. We never talk of curses for them – they simply have yet to get the job done.

Could the notion of a curse get into the heads of personnel for a given franchise (or a “cursed” individual, like golfer Greg Norman)? Possibly: Perception can become reality. A curse is operationally valid if fans believe in it, freeze-up in the stands, and stop cheering in shaky moments during a critical game. Sports is tricky from a psychological standpoint – a “curse” is merely a few tough losses away from any team.

Perhaps the Packers are in a curse right now. Take away Super Bowl XLV, and they have a track record of sickening losses over the past two decades. Without that title seven years ago, would we be lamenting the “curse” of Brett Favre stemming from his dramatic 2008 departure? Would Packers fans be celebrating Ted Thompson’s reassignment from being general manager as an exorcising of the demons at 1265 Lombardi Ave., rather than just a change in team philosophy? Even since that last championship, the Pack has tallied some acute gut-punches, none worse than the 267 events that had to go wrong to lose the 2014 NFC Championship Game. Those are the things that happen to “cursed” teams.

Alas, the Minneapolis Miracle was not an immediate franchise-altering moment in terms of playoff success: The following week, the Vikes laid an egg in the Eagles’ nest in Philadelphia. Maybe they won’t win the Super Bowl for the foreseeable future. Yet I still no longer fear the curse; there is proof that improbable athletic outcomes can happen to my team. And as hard as it is to remember after a difficult loss – for Packers and Vikings fans alike – this is merely football. A sport. Our entertainment. Perhaps the only curse is that we care too much.