Curse of the Bills’ Goats earns shame game handoff
Buffalo’s misery runs deep and success of Cubs, Cavs creates punchline void
The Curse is homeless, and it is hungry.
It lost its 108-year lease on the Chicago Cubs last week when that beleaguered team finally smashed enough baseballs over enough walls. It was chased from Cleveland last year when the Cavaliers won the NBA championship. Not so long ago, it was evicted from Fenway Park in Boston and Madison Square Garden in New York.
The Curse must reside somewhere, or sportswriters will have no historic context for our painful metaphors and allusions. We require billy goats and black cats to explain dropped pop flies and fumbled footballs. Simple human error cannot fill enough column inches.
So, where should the Curse relocate? There are a couple of bewitched franchises to consider, for starters. The Indians last won the World Series in 1948. However, that slump may fall more into the category of poetic justice than cruel curse, given the racial caricatures on their caps. The Detroit Lions last captured an NFL title in 1957 and have won only a single playoff game since. The Curse prefers a team that actually flirts with success on occasion, to maximize heartache.
The Curse really needs more than a single, bungling sports franchise. It needs an entire city. And there are now only two nominees to consider: Buffalo and San Diego.
Lake-effect snow, meet cloudless coastline.
The two worst sports cities in America feature surprisingly intertwined histories. Consider that the truly awful Buffalo Braves of the NBA moved in 1978 to San Diego to become the even more terrible Clippers before continuing their futile odyssey to Los Angeles in 1984. Good riddance, to be sure. Buffalo last won a major pro title of any kind in 1965, when Lou Saban’s Bills defeated Sid Gillman’s San Diego Chargers for a second straight year in the American Football League championship game.
Ever since, these two metropolises have come close often, yet somehow always choked or simply fell short. The Curse likes what it sees. Scott Norwood’s wide-right field goal attempt is an invitation to dance.
Together, clubs from San Diego and Buffalo have blown 11 appearances in their leagues’ championship games or series over the past 53 years. The Padres lost two World Series, in 1984 and 1998. The Bills lost four Super Bowls in a row, from 1991 to 1994, a record that will probably never be broken. A year later, the Chargers were routed by the 49ers in the Super Bowl, adding to those two losses to the Bills in the AFL title games. The Sabres dropped two Stanley Cup finals, to the Philadelphia Flyers in 1975 and the Dallas Stars in 1999.
“In 1999, Game 6, third overtime, Brett Hull with his foot inside the crease kicks the puck with his skate and scores past Dominik Hasek,” said Ritch Kepler, a Buffalo native and stalwart fan now living in Maryland. “I’m not ever going to get mellow about it. This is what the lifeblood of a curse is all about.”
Such dismal records would suggest a very close race between these two cities, but actually San Diego would appear to be on the verge of disqualification. It lost its NBA team to L.A. for lack of support, and Tuesday, its residents are fully expected to defeat a referendum to fund a new stadium for the Chargers. This will surely lead to another defection north to L.A., leaving the place with only one lousy team, the Padres.
One team is not enough. In order for the Curse to take root, local fans must actually care about crushing defeats. Clearly, that is not the case in San Diego, where residents are too busy playing golf, visiting the zoo or snorkeling in La Jolla Cove.
So even though San Diego has a two-year edge on Buffalo in the championship-drought department, it would appear Buffalo can claim the Curse for the foreseeable future. And maybe the unforeseeable future. The Bills are already three games behind the New England Patriots, and as of Friday, the Sabres were dead last in the Atlantic Division of the NHL.
It is decided, then. Buffalo is cursed. But to complete the narrative, we still need a genesis story, or stories, for the Curse.
The reason the Bills haven’t been in the playoffs for 16 years has been documented often enough. It is the Curse of Doug Flutie. When Wade Phillips benched his popular starting quarterback against the Titans in a January 2000 wild-card game — known as the Music City Miracle — Phillips clearly doomed the Bills to an eternity of failure.
It is a bit harder to uncover causation for the Sabres’ miseries, or the tribulations of the old Braves. For that, we turn to a website dedicated to this very topic, BuffaloCurse.com. The website believes that Buffalo’s involvement in any major event is doomed because of what happened at the Pan-American Exposition in 1901 — just seven years before the Cubs won their second-to-last World Series.
“This was considered a major na- tional event, and a huge victory for the city to host,” the website reports. “The very first time Buffalo had such a national spotlight, and another huge victory when President William McKinley accepted an invitation to the exposition and arrived for the opening day’s events.”
Unfortunately, we know what happened next. On Sept. 6, 1901, McKinley was shot twice by the assassin Leon Frank Czolgosz at the expo. He died several days later from his wounds.
If Buffalo couldn’t be trusted with such an important task, how can it handle major championship trophies? Instead, the city must be satisfied with its titles from the defunct AFL, from the Buffalo Stampede’s Roller Hockey International Championship in 1994 and from the Buffalo Bandits’ four indoor lacrosse titles.
The Curse can tolerate a few roller hockey and lacrosse championships. It will feast on chicken wings and settle comfortably into a six-foot snowbank. Barring a major upset in San Diego’s stadium referendum Tuesday, Buffalo wins.
You don’t see those two words together very often.
Fans — and maybe QB Rob Johnson (sacked by Jevon Kearse) — wished the Bills had started Doug Flutie in the 1999 wild-card game.
Bills kicker Scott Norwood missed wide right in the 1991 Super Bowl vs. the Giants. The rest is history.
Brett Hull, skate clearly in the blue paint — a no-no — scores in triple OT to crush Sabres in 1999 Cup final.