10 Sports Teams That Just Might Be Cursed

Zac WassinkFeatured ColumnistMay 5, 2016

10 Sports Teams That Just Might Be Cursed

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    The Chicago Cubs continued to be haunted as of October 2015
    The Chicago Cubs continued to be haunted as of October 2015Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Curses aren't real, right? 

    Can we rational and mature adults all agree that curses do not actually exist?

    This is particularly applicable as it pertains to the sports world. No, a sports team that has failed to achieve greatness and win a championship for a lengthy period of time is not cursed. That organization may be unlucky, sure, but there is no hex hovering over that team that prevents the club from ascending to the mountaintop of its sport. 

    Right? 

    Try telling that to fans of Cleveland professional sports teams. The Indians, Browns and Cavaliers have seemingly found bizarre ways to turn massive victories into heartbreaking defeats over the years, and the Cavs could be on the verge of once again coming up short in their pursuit of an NBA championship. 

    The supposed curse that affects the Chicago Cubs to this day has its own name. Supporters of Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur could not be blamed for believing that Spurs are jinxed. Some sort of bad vibe apparently struck down the Los Angeles Clippers during the opening round of the 2016 NBA playoffs. 

    Why do we believe that a sports team could be cursed? Part of it has to do with the assumption that any club should be able to luck into and maybe even accidentally fall into a good run of form and a championship at least once.

    Maybe that will happen for each of the teams featured in this piece, and thus suggestions that these entities are cursed will cease to exist. 

    Breaking a sports curse, as you'll see, is not so easy. 

Detroit Lions

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    Unlike with what is said about Cleveland and Buffalo, the city of Detroit has never suffered from a broad sports curse.

    The Red Wings have won the Stanley Cup a total of 11 times, most recently in 2008. While the Tigers haven't won the World Series since 1984, they have been playoff mainstays over the past four Major League Baseball seasons. 

    This curse apparently only affects the Detroit Lions. 

    The Lions were one of the best franchises in pro football during the 1950s, winning three championships between 1952 and 1957. That 1957 victory, it would turn out, would be the last championship won by the Lions to date. 

    Detroit fans point to the "Curse of Bobby Layne" for why the Lions haven't won a championship since 1957. The Lions traded the quarterback to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Layne supposedly claimed that the Lions wouldn't win another title for 50 years. 

    The legitimacy of this curse has been questioned in the past, but it cannot be denied that the Lions have never played in a single Super Bowl game. Detroit's last playoff victory occurred in 1992, when the Lions defeated the Dallas Cowboys

    The Lions were featured in sports headlines this past March when Calvin Johnson, one of the best wide receivers in the NFL when healthy, announced that he was retiring at 30 years old. It does not look like Detroit will be breaking this alleged curse anytime soon. 

Cleveland Cavaliers

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    For decades, the Cleveland Cavaliers were footnotes in what has become referred to as the "Cleveland sports curse."

    Yes, it stunned fans of the Cavs when Michael Jordan drained "The Shot" to propel the Chicago Bulls to a postseason series victory over Cleveland in Game 5 of a 1989 series. Jordan is arguably the greatest player in NBA history, and it was his basketball destiny to make that shot and then lead the Bulls to six total championships. 

    The Cavs were meant to be just a part of Jordan's story. 

    Even LeBron James failing to lead the Cavs to a championship during his first stint with the club was not because of any curse. The Cavs, simply stated, did not do enough to provide James with the necessary weapons to compete against and defeat the San Antonio Spurs and other elite NBA teams of the time.

    James' pursuit of a championship, not any curse, was to blame for "The Decision" and James taking his talents to the Miami Heat in the summer of 2010. 

    The dark clouds that accompany the Cleveland curse may have descended on the Cavs beginning in the spring of 2015. Just when it seemed as if the Cavs were on the cusp of making a run to a NBA title, forward Kevin Love dislocated his shoulder following an incident involving Kelly Olynyk during Game 4 of an opening-round playoff series against the Boston Celtics.

    That injury ended Love's season, and it was just the start of Cleveland's bad luck during the postseason. 

    The Cavs did not need Love to cruise through the Eastern Conference playoffs and clinch a showdown with the Golden State Warriors in the 2015 NBA Finals. Disaster struck the Cavs in overtime of Game 1 of the Finals, however, when guard Kyrie Irving was lost to a serious knee injury. James was heroic throughout the series but could not prevent the Warriors from defeating the Cavs in six games. 

    James, Love, Irving and the rest of the Cavs are back at it in May 2016. What, if anything other than the Warriors' being an all-time great team, will prevent James and Company from winning it all this time around? 

Toronto Maple Leafs

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    A curse is as good an explanation as any for what has happened to the once-proud Toronto Maple Leafs. 

    Toronto was NHL royalty 50 years ago. The franchise had won the Stanley Cup on 13 occasions as of 1967. Only the Montreal Canadiens have notched more Stanley Cup victories to date (23). 

    Not only have the Leafs not won the Stanley Cup in 50 years, but 1967 was the last time Toronto made it to a Final. 

    Perhaps the beginning of Toronto's downfall was the "Hillman Hex" that was placed on the Maple Leafs by Larry Hillman, a defenseman who won the Stanley Cup with the Leafs on three occasions in the 1960s. Damien Cox of TheStar.com recalled earlier in 2016 how Hillman had hoped for a pay increase from the Leafs before the start of the 1968 season:

    After that season, (Hillman) hoped to parlay that into an increase on his $15,000 salary. In his own mind, he set a bottom line of $20,000. Hillman knew others were making a lot more, and knew Bobby Baun, who hadn’t played much in the ’67 final, had signed with the expansion Oakland outfit for $35,000 a season.

    GM Punch Imlach, however, offered $19,000. Captain George Armstrong suggested that he sign for that amount and other players would chip in $100 each. But Hillman stood fast on principle, even after Imlach increased his offer to $19,500.

    That offer, however, also came with the promise to reduce Hillman’s salary by $100 for every day he didn’t sign. Imlach even called up Al Arbour and Duane Rupp from the minors to put extra pressure on the stubborn blueliner. For 24 days the stalemate went on, costing Hillman $2,400 before he agreed to re-join the team.

    It was a frustrating, humbling experience. He played 55 games for the Leafs that season before moving on to the Minnesota North Stars the next summer, but not before he laid down the Hillman Hex, vowing the team wouldn’t win another Cup after the way they’d treated him.

    “I’ve left it on because they didn’t pay me the $2,400, with interest,” he said. “It would have been a lot cheaper to pay that than signing all those million-dollar players.”

    Don't believe in hexes? Explain all that the Leafs have been through over the past decade before voicing that take. Toronto has been to the playoffs just once since the 2005-06 season, and the Leafs won only 29 of 82 games this campaign.

    Fans of the Leafs will be hoping that things have begun to turn around for the club. Toronto won the 2016 NHL draft lottery on the last day of April. 

    But the question has to be asked: Does prospect Auston Matthews, who should be taken with the first pick of the upcoming NHL draft, believe in curses?

Buffalo Bills

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    If Cleveland is the most cursed sports city in all of the United States, Buffalo has to be a strong contender for second place. There is even a satirical website, BuffaloCurse.com, dedicated to all that has gone wrong for Buffalo pro sports throughout history. 

    Fans of the Bills have been emotionally tortured in multiple ways. The Bills remain the only team in NFL history to lose four straight Super Bowl contests. Worst of those losses was the defeat to the New York Giants at Super Bowl XXV, and not just because of the last meaningful play of that game. 

    The Bills, per OddsShark.com, were 7.5-point favorites to beat the Giants and win Super Bowl XXV, but the Giants did well to execute a game plan that involved holding possession of the football for over 40 minutes of play. Buffalo was nevertheless in a position to notch a victory late in the fourth quarter, but kicker Scott Norwood pushed what would have been a game-winning kick "wide right." 

    Buffalo lost the other three Super Bowls by double digits, and the Bills have not been back to the Super Bowl since those "Boy, I Love Losing the Super Bowl" teams of the early 1990s. 

    Recent history has not been any kinder to Buffalo football fans. The Bills have gone 16 seasons without playing a single playoff game, a mark that is good for the longest active postseason drought in the NFL, per FoxSports.com). 

    One winning season since 2005? A playoff drought that runs even longer than that belonging to the lowly Cleveland Browns? No wonder fans of the Bills might assume their team is cursed. 

Cleveland Indians

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    No, the "Curse of Rocky Colavito" is not the reason the Cleveland Indians have failed to win a championship for nearly seven decades.

    The Indians traded Colavito, a slugger who was beloved by Cleveland fans, in April 1960, 12 years after the Indians last won a World Series and six years after Willy Mays made his famous catch in Game 1 of the 1954 Fall Classic. That Mays catch began a sequence of events that resulted in the New York Giants sweeping the Indians. 

    The Tribe's bad luck had already been rolling before a Colavito trade was ever suggested. 

    Following the World Series loss to the Giants, it would be another 41 years before the Tribe was again in the World Series.

    The Indians were the lesser side against the Atlanta Braves and lost the 1995 World Series in six games. Cleveland was three outs away from winning the World Series in 1997, but closer Jose Mesa was unable to earn the save in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 against the Florida Marlins. The Marlins rallied and won the game and the series in extra innings. 

    Cleveland's last big baseball torment occurred during the 2007 American League Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox. The Indians had a 3-1 series lead and Cy Young Award winner CC Sabathia ready to start Game 5 at home, but Sabathia was unable to match Boston starter Josh Beckett. The Tribe dropped Game 5 and then lost the final two games in Boston. 

    What is it that keeps on crushing the dreams of baseball fans in Cleveland if not the Colavito curse?

    Peter Pattakos of Cleveland Scene suggested in April 2012 that the Indians' continuing to feature the controversial Chief Wahoo mascot is the reason the club is cursed: 

    The symbol first appeared in 1947, the creation of Walter Goldbach, a 17-year-old draftsman hired by Indians owner Bill Veeck to design a mascot that "would convey a spirit of pure joy and unbridled enthusiasm." Goldbach's version had yellow skin and a phallically prominent nose. By 1951, the figure made its debut on Indians uniforms, updated with fire-engine-red skin and a more giddy, less imbecilic grin. Sportswriters provided the name "Chief Wahoo."

    The Indians have never won a World Series while the current version of Chief Wahoo has been associated with the club. 

Los Angeles Clippers

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    The Los Angeles Clippers are cursed. 

    We're just coming right out and saying it. 

    This is hardly a new take. Eric Neel once chronicled "The Clippers Curse" for ESPN.com, and Neel's piece about a team that has never once qualified for the NBA Finals is downright depressing, especially for local fans of the Clippers who have had to deal with the Los Angeles Lakers over the past 35 years.

    According to Rowan Kavner of NBA.com, Blake Griffin even spoke about this supposed curse in May 2015 after the Clippers were eliminated from the postseason:

    The Clipper curse when I first got here was No. 1 picks getting hurt, not working out; their draft picks not working out, not making the playoffs, not having winning seasons. No one talked about not getting past the second round. Not a single soul talked about that, but now, that’s what everybody talks about. Just like the last one, we’re going to bust through this one.

    Maybe Griffin was tempting fate with those words. 

    Both Griffin and Chris Paul suffered noteworthy injuries that removed them from a playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers this past April. If that was not enough to make you believe in the curse, remember that Los Angeles point guard Austin Rivers required 11 stitches after he took a nasty elbow to the face during the series against Portland. Shooting guard J.J. Redick was also on the team injury list, as he played through heel pain. 

    "Somehow, the Clipper curse has gotten worse," wrote Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times after Griffin and Paul were lost for the season. Plaschke might be right, if only because the end of this curse is nowhere in sight. 

Buffalo Sabres

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    What may be the most frustrating aspect of the Buffalo Sabres as it pertains to this piece is that the Sabres have never really been laughingstocks of the NHL.

    Yes, the Sabres recently failed to reach the postseason for the fifth consecutive season. That, according to Hockey-Reference.com, is the longest playoff drought in the history of the franchise since the Sabres debuted in 1970. 

    But the Sabres make the list because they have been in sports purgatory for the majority of their history.

    Buffalo has made two appearances in Stanley Cup Finals. The Sabres lost to the Philadelphia Flyers in 1975 and were downed by the Dallas Stars in 1999. That loss in 1999 stung a little extra for Buffalo fans because they believed the series-deciding goal that was scored by Dallas star Brett Hull should not have counted per NHL rules of the time, due to Hull's skate being in the crease when he scored. 

    According to The Canadian Press (h/t Hockey News), however, those Buffalo fans were incorrect: 

    Hull's foot was in the crease as he fired a rebound past Buffalo's Dominik Hasek in triple overtime of Game 6. Many thought that was a no-no, unaware the league had circulated a private memo earlier that season clarifying a skate could be in the crease if the player was in control of the puck.

    As a result, the goal stood. Some fans of the Sabres still believe it shouldn't have.

    Currently, the Sabres are tied with the Vancouver Canucks for the third-longest active Stanley Cup drought, per PunkReport.com

    Buffalo's 2015-16 season provided fans with reasons to be hopeful about the club's future. The Sabres won 35 games and finished with the team's best record since the beginning of its current playoff drought.

    Buffalo took positive steps in 2015-16, but the Sabres still have a long journey ahead of them if they are to be able to hang with the likes of the Washington Capitals, New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, Tampa Bay Lightning and other playoff sides. 

Tottenham Hotspur

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    There are admittedly a plethora of English clubs who have recently struggled far more than Tottenham Hotspur.

    While Spurs last won a meaningful trophy, the League Cup, in 2007-08, the Premier League side has been a mainstay in European competitions throughout the current decade. Tottenham will enjoy a return to the Champions League next season. 

    With all of that said, Tottenham have been victims of some strange bad luck over the past decade. 

    There is the "Lasagna-Gate" story of 2006, when Tottenham players came down with food poisoning the night before the final game of the season when a victory would have resulted in Spurs earning Champions League football, according to the Telegraph. Spurs lost the last game of the campaign, and north London rivals Arsenal grabbed what was supposed to be Tottenham's Champions League berth. 

    Tottenham had their best Premier League season to date in 2012-13, earning a club-record 72 points. That was not enough for Spurs to earn a Champions League spot, however, as Tottenham finished fifth in the league table and a point behind...you guessed it, Arsenal. 

    The 2015-16 season has been particularly harsh on Tottenham. Following a slow start to the campaign, a young Spurs side found its form underneath manager Mauricio Pochettino and climbed up the league table. Tottenham sit on 70 points, three points ahead of Arsenal, and have a league-best goal difference of plus-39 heading into the final two weekends of the season. 

    There is just one problem: Leicester City, believed back in August to be relegation candidates, went on a once-in-history run en route to winning the Premier League title. That is the same Leicester who were, as has been routinely mentioned in sports stories, 5,000-to-1 odds to win the league at the start of the season. 

    Tottenham fans have a word for such a phenomenon. That word, as explained by the Men in Blazers program, is "Spursy." 

Cleveland Browns

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    The Cleveland Browns are not responsible for the longest pro sports title drought in Northeast Ohio. That distinction belongs to the Cleveland Indians, a club that last won the World Series in 1948.

    But while the Browns won the NFL Championship back in 1964, the team has become the symbol for the Cleveland sports curse that has been documented in articles and television specials. 

    Passionate Cleveland fans know the names of the events that have sunk the Browns over the past 40 years. The "Red Right 88" play call resulted in the Browns giving away a playoff victory over the Oakland Raiders in January 1981, although Terry Pluto of Cleveland.com has argued that the Browns were right to run that play. "The Drive" and "The Fumble" are two reasons why Cleveland fans have hated the Denver Broncos for nearly 30 years.

    And team owner Art Modell shocked and horrified Cleveland fans in the fall of 1995 when he announced that he was moving the Browns to Baltimore. Say whatever you will about losses suffered by the Indians and Cleveland Cavaliers; at least those franchises haven't left town. 

    The Browns returning to Cleveland and to the NFL in 1999 has only provided additional heartbreak for Cleveland fans. Those fans haven't seen the so-called "new Browns" win a single playoff game in 17 years. The Browns haven't registered a winning season since 2007, and the team has been searching for a franchise QB since '99. 

    We have bad news for those among the Cleveland faithful hoping that the Browns may turn things around this year: According to John Breech of CBSSports.com, the Browns are currently not favored to win a single game during the 2016 NFL regular season.  

Chicago Cubs

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    You are a rare breed of sports fan if you made it all the way to this portion of the piece without having any knowledge of the sad stats associated with the Chicago Cubs for over a century. 

    The Cubs won back-to-back World Series titles in 1907 and 1908. That brief run is as good as things have ever been for them. Chicago has not only failed to win a World Series since 1908 but also has gone 0-7 in editions of the Fall Classic from 1910 through 1945. 

    Current fans of the Cubs have lived through multiple gut punches during the current century. It was back in 2003 when the infamous incident involving Chicago fan Steve Bartman fly-ball interference during Game 6 of the National League Championship Series played a role in the Cubs losing the game and ultimately the series to the Florida Marlins.

    The Cubs defeated longtime rivals the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Divisional Series in 2015, only to then encounter the runaway freight train that was that year's New York Mets. The Mets swept the Cubs in the NLCS. 

    According to a well-known baseball legend, the Cubs are legitimately cursed.

    As Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post explained in October 2015, the "Curse of the Billy Goat" was born in the fall of 1945 when the Cubs were leading the Detroit Tigers in the World Series. Chicago fan Bill Sianis wanted to bring his goat to Wrigley Field for a game, but club owner P. K. Wrigley refused to allow the animal onto the ground.

    Sianis offered the following warning to Wrigley: “The Cubs ain’t gonna win no more. The Cubs will never win a World Series so long as the goat is not allowed in Wrigley Field.”

    The rest is history. 

    Diehard fans of the Cubs can look at the miracle that was Leicester City during the 2015-16 Premier League season for hope and inspiration. Leicester, a 5,000-to-1 underdog, won England's top-flight title.

    Perhaps 2016 will be the year the Cubs do the seemingly impossible and win the World Series.