The Curse of the Super Bowl Host City

2 Feb

The good news: your city is going to host the biggest game on Earth.  The bad news: your team is going to suck.

Super Bowl week.  Time for 20,000 stories about the big game. Make that  20,001.  However, this story isn’t about the Giants or Pats or what kind of food is king in Indianapolis.  No, this is about a curse.  One almost as feared as the Madden Curse or Chunky Soup Curse. I’m talking about the Curse of the Super Bowl Host City.

You see not only has no team ever won a Super Bowl in its own stadium, no team has even played in the big game on its home field.

There are a couple of asterisks to the above statement.  The 1984 San Francisco 49ers won Super Bowl XIX at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto which is located a mere 27 miles from the Niners’ real home, Candlestick Park.  And in 1979, the  Los Angeles Rams lost to the Steelers in Super Bowl XIV, which was played at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, a 17 mile drive through freeway madness from the Los Angeles Coliseum.

Pasadena and Stanford are the exceptions and most likely will never host again. While there is no official rule about playing the Super Bowl in non-NFL facilities, the stadium issue has gotten so complex these days the NFL is inclined to award the Super Bowl  to a worthy  football stadium with an NFL tenant..

But back to the curse. 

Cities try their hardest to lure the Super Bowl.  And why not, it brings millions to the local economy, not to mention the fact it’s  the center of the sporting universe for a week.  However, there is hidden cost.  That cost is losing. So as the host city, you are happy for the cash but depressed that your team could very likely end up in toilet.

Think this curse is a crock?  Take a look at these figures the Chamber of Commerce doesn’t want to publicize:

The cumulative record of host cities’ teams during their Bowl-hosting season is 324-416-5 (including three seasons when Pasadena hosted and L.A. had two teams).  That averages out to 6.6 wins against 8.4 losses a season. (If this math seems odd, you need to remember the NFL played a 14-game schedule until 1978.)

Only ten teams from the 46 years of the Super Bowl (plus three extra seasons for the second L.A. team)  have qualified for the playoffs.  That’s only about 20% of the time and it includes cities where the game wasn’t actually played in NFL stadiums (like the above-mentioned Pasadena and Palo Alto).  Take those games out and it leaves you with only six teams that made it to playoffs in stadiums that hosted the big game that year.

Conversely, 12 teams from host cities finished last in their division.  Four had the worst record in the league including this year’s host, Indianapolis.  Another three were tied for second worst record.  Two tied for third worst record.

You don’t to be an M.I.T. grad to figure out your team has a better chance of finishing last than making the playoffs if its city hosts the Super Bowl.

New Century, Bigger Curse

The curse has actually been a lot worse this century. No SB host city has made the postseason since Tampa Bay did it following the 2000 season.  In recent years, the host team has been disaster.  Just this past season the Colts, with a missing Peyton Manning, won just two games.  Consequently the owner fired the entire front office and coaching staff.  Of course now Indy can draft the much-heralded Andrew Luck but we need to wait five years before Colt fans decide whether hosting the Super Bowl and getting Luck was worth such a putrid display of football on the field.

In 2010, Jerry Jones thought his Cowboys would become the first team in Super Bowl history to ever play in their own new mega-stadium.  Alas, QB Tony Romo and his teammates started out 1-5 before Romo was gone for the year.  A 6-10 season was the conclusion and the Cowboy players had to watch the game on the giant obnoxious video screens that hang above the field.

In 2009, the host Dolphins lost their starting quarterback, Chad Pennington, for the season in week three.  The Fins finished with a losing record.  Miami also hosted three years earlier and that season was also a mess for the Dolphins.  Picked by some as a preseason favorite to make the Super Bowl, the Dolphins ended up in the cellar with a 6-10 record. It was so bad head coach Nick Saban opted out of the high life of South Beach and moved to Alabama.

At one point in the 2008 season it looked like Tampa Bay had a real shot of playing the Super Bowl in its own stadium.  The defending NFC South champs were rolling with a 9-3 record but then the season came crashing like a broken roller coaster train. The Bucs lost their last four including a humiliating loss in week 17 at home with the playoffs on the line.  Tampa blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead and a mediocre Raider team scored 17 unanswered points to win.  Head coach Jon Gruden was given his walking papers which he happily threw in the recycling bin at his new ESPN office.

There’s some happiness to hosting the Super Bowl and a lot of misery. It’s sports bipolarity at its finest. 

Being a Seahawks fan, I am not too worried about the Curse. The NFL doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to award the game to Seattle.  I think it’s because the owners keep trying in vain to find Seattle on a map of South Alaska.

However, for you Saints fans: brace yourselves.  Your cursed season could come next year.  Giants and Jets the following season. Of course, Jets fans feel every year has been cursed for them since Namath left the Big Apple.

A Bitter Championship Sunday

25 Jan

Championship Sunday.  Despite what marketing people and  Joe The Less-Than-Casual NFL Fan  think, Super Bowl Sunday isn’t the key day in the NFL.  Rather it is the Sunday two weeks preceding it that is most important for NFL fans.  Championship Sunday is two games instead of one and often these games are a lot more exciting than the actual Super Bowl.  Plus they are played in front  real home crowds, not the corporate tent denizens who populate the stands at the Super Bowl, a game where even the hash marks seem to be sponsored.

This past Championship Sunday won’t be remembered for the successes as much as the failures.  A missed field goal by the Ravens sent the Patriots to the big game in Indy.  In San Francisco, two botched plays by the Niner back-up punt returner gift-wrapped a victory for the Giants.

As fans, we want games to be won, not lost.  Sure, you have to have a loser in order to have a winner but we expect victory to be earned.  The way the Pats and G-Men won was just flukey, hollow, and dare I say it, a little cheap.

Face it, all the teams stunk on Sunday

It’s not I thought the Ravens and Niners should have won those games.   The Ravens moved the ball on New England (and actually out-gained them).  But twice they had the ball inside the red zone and had to settle for field goals before their fateful last trip which resulted in the missed field goal.  The Forty Niners were horrible at converting third downs.  1 of 13.  A mere 7% conversion rate.  That’s certainly not championship-quality.  But the Giants were equally bad on offense.  Look at their second half possessions: punt, punt, punt, punt, recovered fumble leads to a touchdown, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, recovered fumble leads to game-winning field goal.  That’s not the stuff of champions either.  Meanwhile, Tom Brady threw two interceptions and no touchdowns.  When was the last time he won a game with those kind of stats?

I feel for  Niner and Raven fans.  Despite their offensive futility, their teams were in the game.  Both fanbases were teased into thinking they really could be going to the Super Bowl.  For a split second, the Ravens thought they were Super Bowl bound when Lee Evans looked liked he caught the game-winning touchdown only to have to the ball smacked out of his hands.  The Niners appeared to have recovered a fumble by Ahmad Bradshaw at the New York 22 with just over two minutes left only to have officials prematurely blow the whistle and thus nullify  what was clearly a fumble. (BTW, can we stop with the whistle exceptions and allow every play to be challenged?  What’s the point of instant replay if it can’t eradicate all officiating injustices?)

Sports are far from equal when handing out championships

Think of  the losing cities.  San Francisco and Baltimore are both hungry for a championship.  Sure, the Giants of San Fran won the World Series two seasons ago, but other than that, the Bay Area has been starving for a winner. Baltimore won a Super Bowl eleven years ago but their beloved Orioles have been a disaster  for decades.  And neither city has sniffed title success in the NBA since the seventies or in the NHL since…ever.

So now it’s New York and Boston, again.  I doubt most of  America is really tickled for these cities’ good fortune.  No one outside the Northeast is excited for a Patriot team which was second-to-last in total defense.  Or a Giant squad that finished 9-7 and lost twice to the Redskins.

But America will watch the Super Bowl.  We always do.

Here’s what I would like to see:  In the waning moments of a tie game, the Giants’ punt returner fumbles the ball deep in his own territory.  The Patriots attempt the game-winning field goal and miss it.  This ironic turn of events sends the Super Bowl into overtime for the first time in history.  Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth  then spend the next twenty minutes explaining the new postseason overtime rules.  It causes Joe The Less-Than-Casual Fan to fall asleep in a bowl of half-eaten nachos .  For the record, the nachos are sponsored by Doritos.

Who wins Super Bowl XLVI?  Joe The Less-Than-Casual-Fan says the Red Sox.

Flags, blocks and Skittles Defined the Hawks in 2011

20 Jan

NOTE: This story was originally published in the Seattle Times.

Was it the Year of the Block? Or the Year of the Skittles?  Or the Year of Two Halves?   Actually, it was all of the above.

When it came to blocked kicks, 2011 was exceptional.  Red Bryant blocked three field goals (to tie Joe Nash’s team record for a season) and an extra point. Plus, the special teams unit blocked two punts that led to touchdowns. There hadn’t been that much rejection in the Seattle sports scene since Shawn Kemp was swatting lay-ups at the KeyArena.

Then there were the Skittles..  After Marshawn Lynch was caught on camera wolfing (or was it beasting?) down the multi-colored candies, he sparked a confection craze at CenturyLink Field.  Suddenly the end zones rained the fruit-flavored sweets from the 12th Man.  Skittles had become the new octopus.

It was also a tale of two halves to 2011.  In the first eight games, the Seahawks looked like a rebuilding team that didn’t have an offseason to get all its new players acquainted with a new offensive coordinator and new schemes.  No points scored in the first half until week three and a 2-6 record. Some members of the 12th Man were already talking about Andrew Luck.

In the season’s second half, the Hawks started to gell and looked rebuilt.  OL coach Tom Cable did a miraculous job with an offensive line that didn’t feature a single starter to play all 16 games.   A 5-3 record kept the team in the playoff hunt until Christmas.  Talk  about Luck stops.  Instead, the 12th Man  from Anchorage to Boise starts pleading with the Snohomish-raised Cable to stick around next year.

There were highlights and history. 

The Seahawks recorded their first win in New Jersey since Reagan’s initial term.  Brandon Browner’s 94-yard interception returned for a TD not only sealed the win but was also the longest pick in team history.

In November, the Seahawks shocked the world when they beat the Ravens. Credit the Hawk offense killing the last 5:52 to prevent a Baltimore comeback. My favorite part of the drive was Lynch faking Ray Lewis out of his shoes and into the injury report.

When the Hawks beat up the “Dream Team” Eagles in early December, it was first time Seattle was victorious on a Thursday night. (Granted, this was only the third time they’ve played on a Thursday night.)  You had to like it when Lynch went into Beast Mode and tore through the Eagles mega millions defense for a buck 48, much to the chagrin of all of the NFL Network’s pre-game talking heads which predicted a Philly victory.

Another Monday Night Football victory.  This time against the Rams. Which team has the best winning percentage on this venerable television series?  That would be your Seattle Seahawks.

In Chicago, the Hawks outscored the Bears 31-0 in the second half, thus setting a record for most unanswered points in a second half in team history.  Plus, Red Bryant’s interception return for a TD  made him only one shy of his father-in-law Jacob Green in that department.

Doug Baldwin. Undrafted. Unknown.   Unsung no more as the team’s leading receiver.  The last unknown, unsung rookie wide receiver lead the Hawks in receptions was a guy named Largent.

Tarvaris Jackson may not be the long-term QB solution  but you have to give the guy props for toughness. Playing through a strained pectoral muscle on his throwing side was nothing short of courageous.

There were lowlights and history.

In Cleveland,  the Hawks and Browns played in the lowest scoring game in Seattle history.  An ugly 6-3 loss that would have been a win if the officials didn’t unjustly take away Leon Washington’s spectacular punt return for a TD when one of the Browns flopped like John Stockton with Gary Payton guarding him.  Sonic fans saw that way too often. So did Payton.  (Sorry. That’s two SuperSonic references in a story about the Seahawks.  I miss my Supes.)

The shame of losing to the Bengals at home was only softened by the fact Cincinnati inexplicably made it into the postseason.

The heartbreaking loss to the Skins was a killer. I blame the Fox announcers who noted the Hawks had not blown a fourth quarter lead in 26 games.

There was one team record the Seahawks should not be proud to have broken: most penalties ever.  A whopping 137.  Only the Raiders (naturally) were more proficient at collecting flags.  The third most common thing heard at CenturyLink Field this season behind only the inaudible screams at opposing offenses and “get out the Skittles” was “Oh, another flag. Shocker.”

It is unfortunate the Seahawks finished the season by losing the last two games. However, it was by combined five points.  A far cry from the 2009 & 2010 seasons when the Hawks lost by an average of 19 points a game. (Yeah, I’m a glass half-full kind of a guy.)

Moving forward

There will be no playoff run this year. No BeastQuake.   However, John Schneider, Pete Carroll and the rest of the staff have something special happening in SoDo.  The team was able to remain competitive despite losing seven starters to injury reserve.  That’s the mark of a good organization. Not coincidentally, it is trademark of Schneider’s former team, the Packers.

 So how does a 12th Man survive the next eight months until training camp opens at the VMAC?  Eat plenty of Skittles.

Yes, Sports Really Make You Bipolar

6 Jan

There is a side effect to sports that  fans worldwide do not want talk about, much less acknowledge: sports make you bipolar.  A cold, hard truth that is as much a part of the games as the wins and losses columns.

We look to sports events to provide entertainment and excitement. Yet, it often leads to heartbreak and despair.  Single games can provide one with incredible highs only to later crush us with a metaphorical foot to the groin.  Tell me this: while watching your favorite NFL team have you been happy one minute, completely depressed the next?  Well, you might be a redneck…oops, wrong schtick…..you might be bipolar.

 A Bipolar World Series

Let’s take a look at a tale of two teams from last October’s World Series.  On one weekend, Texas dominated St. Louis. The Rangers won two of three games against the Cardinals to take a 3-2 series lead.  Only one victory separated the state of Texas from its first World Series trophy.

Flash forward to the next weekend,  the Cardinals were World Champs, beating the Rangers the last two games.

Game six  was not only one of the greatest games in Series history but it also provided the ultimate in sports bipolarity.  Imagine being a Cardinals fan. Twice, your team is down to its last strike. You are sickened by your team’s errors and  resigned to losing the Series. The dream is dead.  But suddenly miraculous hits tie and then win the game.  You have been pulled from the whirlpool of defeat to play game seven which of course the Cards won.

Now imagine being a Rangers fan.  Twice your team is one strike away from winning its first world championship, only to be denied by miraculous Cardinal rallies and eventually lose the World Series.  Fans such as those who follow the Red Sox know the sting of needing only one strike and losing a Series. It happened to them in 1986 and the pain for many wasn’t erased until the BoSox won it all in 2004.  However, no team before the Rangers had ever been one strike away from a Series championship twice.

Sports are cruel.  And too bad many of us fans are addicted to them.

Fans: Fantasy & Frustration

Sure, every player and coach has bipolar feelings too but rarely are they fans who have a lifetime of emotional investment with a team.  Plus, professional players and coaches get paid.  The only compensation for the fan is the euphoria following victory.  Crushing heartbreak in defeat. Try taking those to the bank.

How about antidepressants?  Would Prozac help the average sports fan?  Is Prozac  a lineman who can sack the quarterback with ease?  Zoloft?  Isn’t that the Russian center with the Red Wings?  Paxil?  He’s that great three point shooter with the Blazers, right?  We’re helpless.

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