Curses, hexes, jinxes. Are they real, or just some fabrication of the human mind?
In my 12 years of covering fantasy football, I have seen some odd coincidences that the superstitious would use to build their case for the existence of such things. Whether it's the dreaded Madden cover curse, the Sports Illustrated cover curse or the "Curse of 370" for running backs, it's hard to argue against these odd and unexplainable trends. One of the latest curses that has emerged in pro football centers around the Super Bowl. More to the point, it surrounds the losers of the NFL's ultimate event.
Over the past decade, several teams and players that have lost the Super Bowl have taken a hit the following season. Since 1997, the Atlanta Falcons, New York Giants, St. Louis Rams, Oakland Raiders, Carolina Panthers, Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago Bears and New England Patriots have all lost in the NFL's championship and failed to make the playoffs the next season. We've also seen a number of players from the losing teams experience a serious decrease in statistical success, which in turn had a negative fantasy effect.
Super Bowl XLV: Packers 31, Steelers 25
Call it what you will, but the trio of Ben Roethlisberger, Rashard Mendenhall and Mike Wallace all saw their totals fall last season after being on a Super Bowl loser. Big Ben averaged 5.1 fewer fantasy points per game compared to his 2010 totals, Mendenhall scored close to 58 fewer fantasy points total, and Wallace's output dropped more than 18 points. What's more, both Roethlisberger and Mendenhall suffered serious injuries that limited their production. Big Ben played part of the second half of the season with a high ankle sprain, while Mendenhall tore his ACL in the season finale.
Super Bowl XLIII: Steelers 27, Cardinals 23
Kurt Warner and the Cardinals made an improbable run to the big game, but fell short after an amazing touchdown catch by Santonio Holmes. The following season, Warner recorded 830 fewer passing yards and four fewer scores. Larry Fitzgerald didn't see major declines in the reception or touchdown categories, but he did record 339 fewer yards. His teammate at the time, Anquan Boldin, saw similar reception and yardage totals but scored four touchdowns -- that was seven less than in 2008.
Super Bowl XLII: Giants 17, Patriots 14
The unquestioned fantasy MVP in 2007, Tom Brady threw for 4,806 yards and scored 52 total touchdowns. Then came a loss to the Giants that ended what would have been a perfect season. The next time Brady stepped onto a football field in a meaningful game, he suffered a torn ACL and missed the rest of the season. Brady would finish with a mere 11 pass attempts. Randy Moss, whether he was Super Bowl cursed or simply missed Brady, finished with far fewer fantasy points and touchdowns in 2008 compared to his previous season's totals. Laurence Maroney was a superstar in the team's run to Super Bowl XLII, but he was a huge disappointment for fantasy owners the next season. He had 28 carries, 93 yards and no scores before a shoulder ailment landed him on injured reserve.
Super Bowl XL: Steelers 21, Seahawks 10
The Seahawks did reach the playoffs the season after their loss to the Steelers, but a number of their top players didn't come close to their past statistical successes. Matt Hasselbeck missed time with an injured knee and threw for 1,017 fewer yards and six fewer touchdowns compared to the previous year. Shaun Alexander's stock plummeted as well, due to a combination of the Madden and Super Bowl curses. A fantasy star in 2005 with 1,880 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns, Alexander's stock sunk like a stone the following year with a mere 896 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. In fact, he was one of the biggest busts in fantasy leagues.
Super Bowl XXXIX: Patriots 24, Eagles 21
The curse of the Super Bowl loser hammered the Eagles after their defeat at the hands of the Patriots, as Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook and Terrell Owens all saw their numbers fall across the board. McNabb threw for 1,368 fewer yards with 15 fewer touchdowns and missed time due to injuries the year after losing the big game. Westbrook also saw statistical decreases almost across the board. Owens, who was suspended by the team, finished with 47 receptions, 763 yards and six touchdowns. He had 77 receptions, 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2004.
Super Bowl XXXVIII: Patriots 32, Panthers 29
The Panthers came within three points of a win over the Patriots, but their loss might have cursed their most prominent player, Steve Smith. He caught 88 passes for 1,110 yards and seven touchdowns in 2003, but sustained a broken leg in 2004 and missed most of the season. His absence did open the door for Muhsin Muhammad to have a career year, though, as he led all wideouts in fantasy points. DeShaun Foster also saw his numbers fall, as injuries cost him significant playing time.
Super Bowl XXXVII: Buccaneers 48, Raiders 21
Of all the recent Super Bowl losers, the Raiders might have taken the biggest hit from a statistical and fantasy perspective. After losing to the Buccaneers, all of their prominent fantasy players had awful seasons in 2003. In fact, Rich Gannon, Charlie Garner, Jerry Rice, Tim Brown and Jerry Porter all saw their numbers fall across the board. Gannon, who threw for 4,689 yards and 26 touchdown the year the Raiders went to the Super Bowl, missed all but seven games the following season and was an enormous bust. The same held true for Garner -- he went from a solid 2002 stat line of 91 catches, 1,903 scrimmage yards and 11 touchdowns to a mere 48 receptions, 939 scrimmage yards and four touchdowns in 2003.
Super Bowl XXXVI: Patriots 20, Rams 17
Even the Greatest Show on Turf, as it would come to be known, couldn't escape the curse of the Super Bowl loser. Kurt Warner recorded 3,399 fewer yards and 33 fewer touchdowns compared to his 2001 totals, as he missed significant time with an injured finger. Marshall Faulk, who was also an apparent victim of the Madden curse in 2003, saw his numbers crash and burn the season after this Super Bowl defeat as well. The Hall of Famer did score 10 touchdowns in 2002, but he saw a huge decline in total yardage.
So what is the reason for the decrease in numbers for such prominent players after a Super Bowl loss?
Well, at least part of it is the added wear and tear it takes to reach the NFL's ultimate game. In some cases, players endure four more contests on top of their 16 regular-season games. The additional punishment could make players more vulnerable to future injuries, which seemed to happen in several cases. Whatever the cause, the numbers don't lie. That makes this hex notable and even valid as it pertains to fantasy football. Does that mean you should avoid the likes of Brady, Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez after their loss to the Giants?
I wouldn't go that far, but I'm also not that superstitious. Should members of the Patriots fail to duplicate or surpass their 2011 fantasy totals next season, well, you might want to look back at this curse and wonder if it is for real.