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The Cardinal Curse

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Superstition can be an athlete's best friend or worst enemy. But it can get inside your head and we humans talk freely of its power. We even devote one night in October to a ritual steeped in ghosts and goblins and few schoolchildren are not introduced to the headless horseman and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." For eighty-six years Boston Red Sox fans spoke openly of the Curse of the Bambino. Athletes and athletic organizations wrestle with superstition and as a hedge against the probability that there just might be something to it they pay homage to it. They grow beards during winning streaks, don't change socks or other parts of their uniforms, they refuse to clean their helmets, they wear lucky jewelry, every player has a lucky pair of shoes, and so on.

There probably is nothing to it, but then again, why take the chance. Thus, although Sunday's thrilling Super Bowl game was truly super, the Cardinals' organization was doomed from the start. It was not the Pittsburgh Steelers as much as it was the Pottsville Maroons or rather the ghosts of the 1925 team that have for eighty-four years been denied their rightful claim to the NFL championship that triumphed Sunday evening. And to those who believe that the 'Cardinal Curse' still prevents this organization from achieving only one championship over that period of time (1947), Sunday night was a vindication of superstitious justice.

You see, the Bidwell family, which has owned the Cardinals since 1933 and has taken the team from Chicago to Saint Louis to Arizona has played a role in unfairly denying Pottsville its justly deserved crown. And until they relinquish their bogus claim to the 1925 championship the curse will continue.

On December 7, 1925 the 9-2 Maroons beat the 9-1-1 Chicago Cardinals 21-7 in what was unambiguously declared by newspapers to be the NFL Championship game. The Chicago Tribune headline read "Cardinals Play Pottville For Pro Title Today," and wrote, "A victory for either team carried the national title." However, due to financial troubles experienced by what would certainly in today's parlance qualify as a small-market team (Pottsville), they had agreed to play the preeminent football team of the day, Notre Dame in Philadelphia the following week. Miscommunication, confusion, and internal political intrigue all conspired to lead the NFL commissioner to suspend the Maroons because of their involvement in this game.

According to David Fleming, author of Breaker Boys: The NFL's Greatest Team and the Stolen 1925 Championship, while their victory legitimized the NFL, it also destroyed the team and the town that made it possible. And thus, the Cardinal Curse was born.

Now this, of course, is taking nothing away from the magnificent performance by the team in Super Bowl XLIII. They distinguished themselves and but for a few unlucky breaks, particularly the 100 yard interception return to close the first half, could have and should have prevailed. But that infernal curse, it may or may not have played a role, but why chance it. If I were a Cardinals fan I would demand that Mr. Bidwell do everything he can to lift the curse and that means putting to rest the travesty that has haunted the rugged town of Pottsville, Pennsylvania since the Roaring Twenties'. But of course it is only a silly superstition, right?