The Chicago Cubs are only five wins away this postseason from exorcising the Curse of the Billy Goat. Each game is more excrutiating to watch for longtime Cubs fans who are hoping, wishing and praying this could finally be the year for a World Series title after a 108-year wait.
Arizona football, 0-4 in the Pac-12 with a game against Stanford next Saturday at Arizona Stadium, must wait yet another season to overcome whatever spell is placed on its program. At least the Cubs have an identifiable curse to make a crusade against much like the Boston Red Sox had with the Curse of the Bambino.
What does Arizona have? The Curse of Tex Oliver? The Curse of Warren Woodson? Nobody knows those curses like they know the curses of the Billy Goat and Bambino.
Some unknown force has cast itself over the program. There must be an explanation why Arizona has not advanced to the Rose Bowl in 38 seasons in the Pac-12. Somewhere an Arizona voodoo doll must have pins it because the Wildcats are now without an outright conference title in 80 years.
Recruiting failures and a high rate of coaching turnover don’t help. Since Oliver coached the Wildcats to their second consecutive Border Intercollegiate Athletic Association title in 1936 — the only two outright championships in school history — Arizona has employed 16 full-time coaches. That’s an average of a new coach every five years for the last 80 seasons. The Curse of No Continuity? That does not work because a lack of continuity is mostly because of bad hires. It’s self inflicted.
Maybe a burro was not allowed near old Arizona Stadium some time after 1936? The Cubs’ Curse of the Billy Goat has been in effect since 1945 when Billy Goat Tavern owner Billy Sianis was asked to leave Game 4 of the World Series against the Detroit Tigers at Wrigley Field because the odor of his pet goat named Murphy was bothering other fans.
Sianis was outraged and allegedly declared “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more,” which has been interpreted to mean that there would never be another World Series game won at Wrigley Field. The Cubs have not played in the World Series since 1945.
The Curse of the Bambino was a superstition evolving from the failure of the Red Sox to win the World Series from 1918 to 2004. This alleged curse began after the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth, The Bambino, to the New York Yankees in the off-season of 1919–1920. Before that, the Red Sox were one of the most successful franchises, winning five World Series titles. After the sale of The Bambino, the Red Sox went without a title until former Arizona standout Terry Francona managed them to the World Series title in 2004.
Arizona has come close to winning outright conference titles five times since 1936. Four times they finished tied for first — 1941 (Border Conference), 1964 and 1973 (Western Athletic Conference) and 1993 (Pac-10). The Wildcats captured the Pac-12 South title in 2014 under Rich Rodriguez but lost the conference championship game to Oregon, 51-13.
The 1993 team that featured the “Desert Swarm” defense tied UCLA for the regular-season title but the Bruins earned the right to play in the Rose Bowl with their 37-17 victory over the Wildcats.
The 1973 team was a WAC co-champion with ASU but the Sun Devils advanced to the Fiesta Bowl with their 55-19 win over the Wildcats.
The 1964 team finished in a three-way for the WAC title with New Mexico and Utah with a 3-1 record. The Wildcats did not play the Utes and lost to the Lobos, Conference officials determined that Jim LaRue’s team deserved part of the crown because a deciding game between Arizona and Utah was not played that season.
The 1941 team finished tied for the Border Conference crown despite having a 5-0 record while co-champion Hardin-Simmons was 3-0 under Woodson (before he was hired at Arizona). In those days, records were not deciding factors for a conference title. Border Conference officials voted for league champions based on performances because some teams played three conference games while others played five. They determined a co-championship between Arizona and Hardin-Simmons was best because the schools were 7-3 and 7-3-1 overall, respectively, and they did not play each other that season.
What happened the day after that regular season ended could be a reason of the curse for Arizona. That is one of a few possible superstitions that are potentially keeping Arizona from being an undisputed conference champion over the last 80 years:
NO THANKS CURSE
Miles Casteel’s 1941 team was invited by Border Conference officials to be the host team of the Sun Bowl against Tulsa because of its five league victories. Arizona’s players voted overwhelmingly against the invitation 41-2 citing the school’s policy at the time against participating in postseason games. One day before the vote, The Arizona Republic published an article that read “several of the players have been reported opposed to participation and desirous of ending training” after a 10-game schedule.
In a thanks-but-no-thanks letter to Sun Bowl officials, Arizona’s chairman of the athletic council wrote: “In view of an almost unanimous vote of our football squad against extending the 1941 season to an 11th game, the committee feels it would not be desirable to depart from its long-established policy against post-season games and regrets to find it necessary to decline your invitation.”
Arizona to that point played in only one postseason game — the 1921 East-West Christmas Classic in San Diego. Twenty years without a bowl apparently did not matter to the apathetic Wildcats. Texas Tech was next on the Border Conference’s list, not Hardin-Simmons, because the Red Raiders were 9-1 overall but not in contention for the conference title with only a 2-0 record. A conference team was required to play at least three league opponents to be voted on for the conference title. Texas Tech played Tulsa instead in the Sun Bowl on New Year’s Day.
Not only could Arizona’s conference championship curse be a result of this development, its lopsided series with Texas Tech might also come into play with the Football Gods. Arizona is a horrendous 4-25-2 against Texas Tech, including 3-21-1 after the 1941 Sun Bowl snub.
The Wildcats accepted their next bowl invitation in 1948 to the Salad Bowl in Phoenix against Drake but only reluctantly. The players were incensed by an Arizona Republic article that mentioned they would accept the invitation only if each player was paid $175. Retaliating against that article, Arizona said it would play in the game if $10,000 went to the Kiwanis crippled children’s fund.
The university’s athletic committee wrote a letter to the Salad Bowl stating: “We do not play football for hire … We have just finished a very hard 10-game schedule (6-4 record). Due to the fact we need to devote more time now to our scholastic endeavors, and due to the fact that many of us have wives and children and family commitments, it would be somewhat of a hardship upon us to accept your bid to play in the Salad Bowl. However, it is our understanding the proceeds from this game are to be donated to charitable purposes, more particularly to benefiting underprivileged children.”
Admirable, but geez, just accept the bid already.
The Football Gods might have looked at Arizona and said (similar to the Billy Goat owner): “If it’s this hard to get you to play in a bowl, you ain’t gonna be in no Rose Bowl.”
Next in the series: A look at the potential “Tex Oliver Curse”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.