Brady and the new NFL curse

Sports and superstition — can’t have one without the other.

Michael Jordan wore his University of North Carolina basketball shorts under his Bulls uniform every single game. Detroit Red Wings fans have been throwing octopuses onto the ice since 1952, after the Wings won eight straight games to clinch their fifth Stanley Cup. William Sianis’ infamous billy goat still haunts the Chicago Cubs.

Even sports video games aren’t immune.

The popular Madden video game franchise started featuring NFL players on its cover at the beginning of the millennium. Since then, every player to appear on the cover has gone down with an injury. From broken legs to sports hernias to torn hamstrings, the Madden Curse has consistently taken down the NFL’s biggest stars. Shaun Alexander was forced to justify his endorsement of the 2005 edition by asking, “Do you want to be hurt and on the cover, or just hurt?” The curse received so much attention that San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson turned down thousands of dollars instead of risking an appearance on the 2008 cover.

EA Sports, the makers of Madden, thought they had come up with a foolproof way to end the curse by choosing a retired player, Packers quarterback Brett Favre, for the 2009 edition. After a summer-long soap opera, Favre un-retired and moved to the Jets, EA Sports hastily issued a new downloadable cover and roster update and the Curse laughed triumphantly in victory.

Although the Madden Curse has become legendary in sports circles, it has nothing on me. The Madden Curse requires months of contract negotiations and thousands of dollars before it can strike. I, on the other hand, only need a Yahoo! Fantasy Sports League, an internet connection and a mouse.

For the past five years, every player drafted by me in the first round of the world-famous Plano East Fantasy Football League has gone down in flames. In 2004, I began my ill-fated foray into fantasy football with LaDainian Tomlinson as my team’s headliner. Excluding his rookie year, 2004 was the only season in which the future Hall of Fame running back missed a game, lost more than one fumble and recorded fewer than 1,400 yards rushing. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, my own personal voodoo was starting to come alive.

A quick aside: among my high school friends, fantasy sports — not GPA or the SATs — were the real measure of intelligence. If you made a dumb trade, you became the de facto lunch conversation topic for the rest of the week. If you didn’t set your lineup, you risked losing a coveted position as team owner for future seasons. If you managed to consistently finish last in the standings, you became the resident town dunce (Thomas, I’m looking at you).

I thought I had cemented my genius with first-place finishes in fantasy basketball and baseball. However, after my fantasy football team had thudded to a disappointing eighth place finish, I was seen as a fluke, a faker, a two-season wonder. The 2005 football season was my shot at redemption and my chance for a three-sport fantasy dynasty. It was our last year of high school, and my reputation was on the line. After weeks of painstaking research and an incredibly contentious draft, I ended up with Packers running back Ahman Green as my first-round pick.

He broke my heart.

After only missing three of his first 112 NFL games, Green tore his quadriceps five games into the 2005 season and dragged my team to a ninth place finish.

The next year didn’t end any better. I broke my number one rule in fantasy football — never become invested in players in the same division as your favorite team — and drafted Giants running back Tiki Barber. Although he finished with decent stats (over 2,000 yards from scrimmage with five touchdowns), Barber’s inconsistency was a fantasy nightmare. In addition, three of his five touchdowns came in the last game of the season (read: meaningless for fantasy). The icing on the cake was Tiki’s surprise retirement and next year’s subsequent Giants Super Bowl victory. The curse wasn’t satisfied with just ruining Tiki’s season — it took his career and a Super Bowl ring.

Last year’s draft was my personal favorite. I passed up on Eagles running back Brian Westbrook, partly because he played for the Eagles (go Cowboys!) but mostly because I thought he was too injury prone. Instead, I took Broncos tailback Travis Henry. I should have known better than to trust a man who fathered nine children with nine different women.

Although the fantasy gods would eventually demand their sacrifice, Henry did manage to lead the NFL in rushing after the first four games. In fact, my fantasy team was sitting in first place after the first three weeks of the season, leading me to prematurely write a message on the league board proclaiming the end of the curse and my reemergence to fantasy prominence.

The next week, Henry tested positive for marijuana, lost the trust of head coach Mike Shanahan and ended the year with 258 rushing yards in the last 12 games.

So forget the Madden Curse. I propose a new entrant into the lexicon of sports superstition: the Karan Arakotaram Fantasy Football First Round Flameout.

My 2008 draft pick? Tom Brady.

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