We may never know if Bigfoot actually exists. We may never find tangible signs of extra terristial life. And for as long as I live, I'll never have any clue exactly what Snow is saying during the verses of Informer. But one thing we can all know for certain is this: curses exist in sports.
I'm hesitant to say they exist in life in general, although if anyone's personal life could be a testament to that, it would be mine. But I'm not here to discuss those things, that's what they make therapists and stuffed animals for. No, today, we're here to discuss the real examples of curses in the sports world.
I'm sure all of you are familiar with perhaps the most famous sports curse, "The Curse of the Bambino." This "supersition" came to life during the 86-year run of short comings the Red Sox had after selling George Herman Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1919. Prior to the sale, Boston was one of the most successful franchises in the sport. They won the very first World Series, then four more after that. Meanwhile, the Yankees' proudest accomplishments were finsishing second a couple seasons, and "coming close" to winning a pennant. After the Babe starting wearing pinestripes, this all changed.
The Red Sox went on a near century-long title drought highlighted by futility and historic collapses, all while the Yankees were stockpiling championships on their way to becoming arguably the most successful franchise in all of professional sports.
One of the lesser talked about curses in sports (lesser talked about because I made it up and have yet to receive the crictical acclaim it deserves) is the Curse of Adam Vinatieri. From 2001-2005, the Patriots won three Super Bowls, each by 3 points, thanks in large part to their kicker, Adam Vinatieri. In their first Super Bowl victory, XXXVI, Vinatieri nailed a 48-yarder with no time left on the clock to seal the victory. In the second one, XXXVIII, it was a 41-yarder with only nine seconds remaining. Their third Super Bowl Victory, Super Bowl XXXIV, they won 24-21, with the deciding factor being, you guessed it, an Adam Vinatieri field goal from midway through the fourth quarter. Since Vinatieri wasn't resigned in 2006, The Patriots have made the Super Bowl just twice, losing to the Giants both times, with some pretty zany things occuring in both games.
In the first matchup, Super Bowl XLII, David Tyree caught a miraculous ball from Eli Manning by pinning it against his helmet, setting up the game winning touchdown, and the Patriots would lose by 3 points. Four years later, with victory all but guaranteed, Tom Brady and Wes Welker couldn't connect on a play that would have essentially ended the game. On the ensuing Giants' possesion, Manning found Mario Manningham along the sidelines for another incredible catch to set up another game winning drive. Vinatieri has since appeared in two Super Bowls, winning one with the Indianapolis Colts, noted rival of the Patriots.
We could go on, and I could lay out numerous other sports curses, but right now, I want to discuss the possibility of the existance of a curse that hits a little closer to home. Are the Memphis Grizzlies cursed? Now before you brush this off as insanity, do two things: one, keep an open mind and two, remember it's the All-Star Break, so there isn't much else to talk about. I'll start off by saying I'm not quite ready to officially say we're in full on curse territory, but I would definitely say we've reached "plague" status. Take a journey with me, won't you?
On February 15, 2011, Rudy Gay exits a game against the Philedelphia 76ers with a shoulder injury. This came just 54 games into a massive 5 year contract extension the Grizzlies star small forward had recently signed. At the time of his injury, Gay was averaging a career best 19.8 points per game, on 49% shooting and a career-best 40% from beyond the 3-point line. Since the injury, his shooting has never been the same, and, well, you know the rest. Now, I can already hear what you're saying, "But Keith, we're better off without Rudy! That doesn't matter, nor should it count as a curse!"
And I get that, but to that I say this: January 1, 2012, Zach Randolph exits a game against the Chicago Bulls with a knee injury. This was a mere four games into a contract extension Randolph had signed during the previous postseason. The injury was characterized as a slight MCL tear, and it would sideline him for the majority of the lockout shortened season. When Randolph returned, he never really found his footing, and despite Memphis making the playoffs as the fourth seed in the West, they were booted in disappointing fashion by the Clippers in the first round. Still not convinced? Let's jump forward again.
December 29, 2012, Quincy Pondexter, the best shooter on the team, bangs knees with Wayne Ellington, the other best shooter on the team, and exits a game against the Denver Nuggets. He is quickly diagnosed with a grade 2 MCL sprain, and would miss about two months. Sound familiar? At the time of Pondexter's injury, he was one of the best 3-point shooters in the league, and the Grizzlies sat at 19-8. In his absence, they were a medicore 12-10, barely averaging 90 points per game, and failing to break 90 points in 11 of the 22 games. Once he returned, he gradually rounded into form, and was the only thing keeping the Grizzlies afloat during the Western Conference Finals against San Antonio. At the beginning of the 2013-2014 season, Pondexter received a four year contract extension, and it was a widespread belief that he would soon be starting at the small forward position over Tayshaun Prince. But on December 7, 2013, 14 games into the contract extension, Pondexter would suffer a foot fracture and be lost for the season, stripping away the Grizzlies' best floor spacer and their only immediate hope to alleviate Tayshaun Prince's presence in the starting line-up. Two MCL injuries in two years is still just a coincidence, so let's jump forward once again.
November 22, 2014, Marc Gasol exits a game against the San Antonio Spurs. He is later diagnosed with a grade 2 MCL strain. Where have I heard that before...? At the time of his injury, Memphis was 7-5, but were coming off an impressive 4-0 West Coast road trip where they beat the Warriors and Clippers and were finally starting to look like the championship caliber team from the year before. In his absence, Memphis went 8-13, and their defense greatly suffered. Since he has returned, the Grizzlies have gone 12-4, and regained their elite defensive form. The problem is, they still find themselves a couple of games outside of the playoff picture, and on the wrong end of the tie-breaker with the team directly ahead of them.
Even still, things were definitely looking up, until Wednesday night. February 12, 2014, Marc Gasol exits a game against the Washington Wizards after a member of the Wizards ran into the same knee that sidelined him for 21 games earlier this season. It looked pretty awful when he originally went down, but both Gasol and other members of the front office are saying it seems much less serious than the first injury to the knee.
So, are the Grizzlies cursed? Again, probably not, but their definitely appears to be a plague on the grindhouse. Three eerily similar injuries to three integral pieces of the Grizzlies rotation in consecutive seasons, not to mention the myriad of other injuries Memphis has had to deal with this season. I'm not suggesting anyone perform any goat-sacrifices or dance naked to appease the NBA gods, but I do believe we have more than enough evidence for it to be just a coincidence, and it's something to keep in mind as we await the results of Marc Gasol's second MRI on the same knee this season.