Curse of the Bills’ Goats earns shame game hand­off

Buf­falo’s mis­ery runs deep and suc­cess of Cubs, Cavs cre­ates punch­line void

Toronto Star - - SPORTS - FILIP BONDY THE NEW YORK TIMES

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.

JEFF HAYNES/GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO

Fans — and maybe QB Rob John­son (sacked by Jevon Kearse) — wished the Bills had started Doug Flu­tie in the 1999 wild-card game.

CHRIS O’MEARA/AP FILE PHOTO

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.

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