Superstitions are as common in the sports world as hamburgers at a drive-through restaurant. Some of the most famous lasted for decades before finally being snapped in recent years. The Curse of the Bambino plagued the Boston Red Sox after they sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1919. The Chicago Cubs toiled with disappointment after disappointment based on legend by the Curse of the Billy Goat, who they forced to leave the stadium with his owner in 1945.
The Red Sox finally broke the curse with a World Series title in 2004, and the Cubs got their first championship in 2016 after 108 years of falling short.
In football, the Detroit Lions were saddled with a curse for trading Bobby Layne to the Pittsburgh Steelers when the quarterback himself put a spell on them by declaring they wouldn’t win for 50 years after trading him. While the curse's timeline ended in 2007, the Lions are still a struggling franchise and have the worst record in football since Layne cast his curse.
A lesser publicized curse has played out for more than 30 years. Here it is, and we get to test it again when the National Football League opens the 2021 playoffs on Saturday.
The Cincinnati Bengals were one of the more successful franchises in the 1980’s. They had advanced to the postseason four times, when playoff teams were a more exclusive group, and twice advanced to the Super Bowl. In 1990, the Bengals opened their playoffs with a win over the Houston Oilers, 41-14. The following week, in Los Angeles, Cincinnati was locked in a tight game against the Raiders when Los Angeles faced a second-and-ten from the 20-yard-line and two sports star Bo Jackson took a handoff and headed up the right sideline.
The Bengals defenders converged on the multitalented Jackson and pulled him down on a play in which Jackson had his left leg moving forward and caught awkwardly by the tackle. His hip was injured and his professional sports career derailed.
Cincinnati went on to lose that game to the Raiders, 20-10, didn’t return to the postseason for 15 years, and still haven’t won a postseason game since making the tackle that ended Jackson’s brilliant career.
Eight times they have advanced to the playoffs since their tackle on Jackson ended his football career, and seven times they have lost in their first postseason game. Their losses have been suffered twice against the Pittsburgh Steelers, twice against the Houston Texans and once each against the New York Jets, San Diego Chargers and Indianapolis Colts.
On Saturday, they make their eighth attempt to win a postseason game since this whole curse thing started against the Raiders.
Will the curse end another promising year for the Bengals?
It might more significantly be pinned to their youth and inexperience in the playoffs.
The Bengals won the AFC North Division this year and clinched that title with an exciting conquest at home over the Kansas City Chiefs. The victory, which required a come-from-behind effort against Patrick Mahomes and the defending AFC Champions was both a treat for their fans and the very top of the mountain for the young Bengals.
Led by second-year quarterback Joe Burrow and innovative head coach Zac Taylor, the Bengals chalked up key wins this season while twice scoring 41 points in division victories over the Baltimore Ravens and downing the Raiders in their first meeting this season eight weeks ago in Las Vegas, 32-13.
But the young Bengals are also prone to do what a lot of young developing teams do, lose games where their talent would seem to be enough to provide a win. They suffered an early season loss at Soldier Field against the Chicago Bears and were upended on Halloween by the lowly New York Jets, 34-31.
Las Vegas visits the Queen City playing with house money. They have endured a season of controversy and tragedy to advance to the postseason. They are the first team in 60 years to advance to the playoffs while making a midseason coaching change. Jon Gruden was removed after a series of unseamly messages were uncovered that he had authored. Because of serious off-field problems, they were forced to cut ties with both of their 2020 first round draft choices, Henry Ruggs and Damon Arnette.
Still, the Raiders have emerged from the logjam that was the AFC West Division race and come to Cincinnati perfectly poised to reverse the result they suffered at home in November.
The Bo Curse may gain more notoriety after this game, but it is more the makeup and path these two squads have taken this season that will be most responsible for Saturday’s upset in Cincinnati.
Qoxhi Picks: Las Vegas Raiders (+5½) over Cincinnati Bengals