Halloween is nigh, and one can hear the cursed sigh. Is this the year they leave NFL purgatory, or will the horror never die?
In honor of witches and scary clowns, ghouls and Cleveland Browns, we acknowledge the league's condemned …
Bill Belichick's players: We've read the books, we've listened to Cassius Marsh … and we know you guys are terrified playing for this mystical warlock no matter how many Halloween treats (or Lombardi Trophies) you receive.
The Curse of Paul Brown: Since his unsightly amputation in 1963 from the team he founded, the Cleveland Browns, the franchise has never played in a Super Bowl (it did win the NFL title in 1964). The next team Brown built, the Cincinnati Bengals, has reached Super Sunday twice but couldn't overcome the 49ers' mystique either time.
Browns quarterbacks: There's another corollary to the Cleveland hex, Baker Mayfield. You've probably heard that you're the 30th starting QB since the franchise's reboot in 1999 (no other team in the league has used more in that span), and only one — Derek Anderson (2007) — has a single Pro Bowl invite. Prior to that, the likes of Bernie Kosar and Brian Sipe were merely subject to awful twists of fate in postseason. We're now more than six decades removed from Otto Graham's championship-studded run … with Paul Brown.
USC quarterbacks in the NFL: Take heed, Sam Darnold — and we understand you're also coping with the Joe Namath jinx (more on that later). But no Trojans quarterback has ever started for a Super Bowl winner. Not Carson Palmer, not Mark Sanchez, not Rodney Peete, not Pat Haden, not Rob Johnson and certainly not Todd Marinovich. (Meanwhile, Cal, Stanford and dreaded UCLA all have Lombardi-minted signal callers.) Fight on, buddy.
Chargers quarterbacks: The Hall of Fame is hardly the Ninth Circle of Hell … and Philip Rivers may need to embrace that truism as he could be destined to join Bolts predecessor Dan Fouts on the short list of "best quarterbacks who never played in a Super Bowl." John Hadl didn't get there, either, though he did score a 1963 AFL title ring as Tobin Rote's backup.
Lions, Bengals and Bears, oh my: An intimidating, predatory mascot hardly translates to football fortune. The aforementioned Bengals have those two unsuccessful Super Bowl trips, yet haven't notched a playoff win since 1990, the longest active streak of futility in the league. Detroit is one of four teams (Browns, Jags, Texans) to never advance to the Super Bowl, and the Lions have just one postseason victory (1991) since the merger. (Google "Curse of Bobby Layne," kids.) Chicago has a proud history … though eight of the franchise's nine titles predate the Super Bowl. Though no one will forget the '85 Bears, even their players feel they should've won another two to three rings. More recently, the (supposed) Monsters of the Midway have one playoff berth in the past dozen years.
AFL Super Bowl 'champs': The American Football League sent four entries to battle Big Brother's best in the AFL-NFL World Championship Game — retroactively known as Super Bowls I, II, III and IV since some of our readers like to get very technical on this point — after the 1966, '67, '68 and '69 seasons. The Chiefs and Jets represented the AFL in three of those "Super Bowls," with New York winning a landmark affair by shocking the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, and Kansas City crushing the Vikings the next year. Yet neither the Jets nor Chiefs have ever returned to the Super stage. Namath allegedly made a Faustian bargain to beat the Colts (as yet unproven), while Kansas City's Len Dawson was accused of consorting with gamblers the subsequent season (summarily debunked). But in the spirit of Halloween, there must be something to Namath selling the AFL's soul …
Ditching D.C.: Since they left the District of Columbia for suburban Maryland in '97 — the Redskins reached five Super Bowls and won three while occupying RFK Stadium's cozy confines — Washington's once-proud franchise has totaled two postseason triumphs, both in the wild-card round. Come home, fellas.
The Julio Touch: If you're not familiar with the Midas Touch, look up King Midas — everything he touched would turn to gold, not a plus when you want to eat or change underwear. It would seem Falcons star Julio Jones has somehow contracted football's version of the affliction. Since his spectacular grab in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LI, we've seen his team implode in spectacular fashion — the only one to lose a Super Bowl in overtime, and after fumbling a 25-point lead. Since then, playoffs included, Jones has caught another 159 passes in 25 games yet only reached the end zone four times — and not once this season. He couldn't score on the final play of the divisional round in the 2017 playoffs (Atlanta lost) or the final play of this year's regular-season opener (Atlanta lost). And with his teammates now dropping like flies, we're left to wonder what dread disorder maligns Jones.
Fool's Gold: Speaking of the Midas Touch — or the reverse malady — have you noticed the 49ers haven't struck gold since fleeing San Francisco? Since they moved into Santa Clara's Levi's Stadium in 2014, they've never even had a winning record. The only things anyone remembers happening in their park are Super Bowl 50 — the Broncos beat the Panthers in Peyton Manning's final game as Beyoncé danced — and Colin Kaepernick's protest. And we know Jimmy Garoppolo won't be making any more magic there in 2018.
Negative Nittany: It sure seems Saquon Barkley will finally bring Happy from the Valley to the pros. But think of top-five Penn State draft picks, and you could get a case of the willies after surveying a list of players who failed or were prematurely felled: Ki-Jana Carter, Courtney Brown, Blair Thomas, LaVar Arrington, Curt Warner, Kenny Jackson, Curtis Enis, Levi Brown. Kerry Collins, as uneven as his career was, has been the best of the bunch.
The AFC South: Yikes! Since it was formed in 2002, the division has sent one team, the Indianapolis Colts twice, to the Super Bowl. After winning it once, Manning and Co. fell victim to New Orleans' voodoo during their second visit.
Jimmy Johnson's juju: The former Dallas coach seemed like a mad scientist before emerging from his lab to build three titlists in four years from 1992 to '95, coaching the Super Bowl XXVII and XXVIII winners. But ever since Johnson's acrimonious split from Jerry Jones following the 1993 season — the '95 Cowboys won Super Bowl XXX under Barry Switzer — it's been a big title doughnut (and just three playoff wins) in Big D. And it didn't go much better post-Dallas for Johnson, who never reached the AFC title game in four years with Miami.
Super wallflowers: What do Atlanta, Detroit, Houston, Jacksonville, Minneapolis, San Diego and greater Phoenix have in common? They'e combined to host 16 of 52 Super Bowls (31%) but have never had a championship team to call their own. Always a Frankenstein's bridesmaid …
Follow Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis
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