A week ago, John Fox was preparing his juggernaut Broncos for another run at the Lombardi Trophy. Today, he's packing his bags for winter in Chicago. A figurative southbound change of course, but nothing compared to the turn of events for future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, who, in a blink of the same black eye, has gone from chasing that elusive second ring to pondering nothing less than his football mortality. Andrew Luck's Colts can take both pride and blame for the Mile High tumult, but make no mistake: Indy's biggest ally was the Curse of S'posta.
(An inattentive speed reader might be wondering what the Miami Heat's head coach has to do with it ... but I said the Curse of S'posta, not Erik Spoelstra.)
Like an abstract pigskin Robin Hood, the Curse of S'posta steals wins from the rich and gives 'em to the poor underdog. It's a discriminating, diabolical supervillain whose power comes from transforming the stadium's pregame electricity into titanic pressure on the highly-seeded, heavily-favored home team that's supposed to win.
You could feel it coming through the TV last Sunday afternoon, even before Denver fans booed their prolific offense for being unprolific: that uneasy, stultifying ennui of the home crowd watching a season designed for Super Bowl glory instead falling apart against the allegedly overmatched visitors.
A couple weeks ago on my podcast, Bucky Brooks -- who, as a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars, went to Denver in January 1997 and took down John Elway's heavily-favored Broncos -- described the Curse of S'posta like this: "All that angst and anxiety fans bring to the stadium ... the longer the game is close, the more anxious you become. That seeps down to the sidelines. You can feel the collective nervous energy ... and moments start feeling bigger. Little things you'd normally laugh off, like a dropped pass, those are magnified because of the pressure of the playoffs. So if I'm on the visiting team, I wanna keep the lead -- keep it close -- for as long as possible, 'cause that pressure just keeps increasing."
This past Sunday, then, must've caused an ugly case of déjà vu for Broncos fans who remember that loss, and who are just 24 months removed from another divisional-round upset. But this transcends the emotional state of the orange-crushed witnesses in Sports Authority Field last week. The Curse of S'posta has a voracious appetite, as proven by its annual takedown of at least one would-be NFL champ, who -- unlike a top-tier NBA, MLB or NHL team -- gets no Game 2 offering a chance at playoff redemption. So far this postseason, it's taken down Denver and almost dropped the 12-4 Cowboysin Round 1. Did you see Tony Romo after he threw the game-winning TD against the visiting Lions? That wasn't euphoria -- it was relief ... relief for surviving a playoff game he was supposed to win.
As much as any player this century, Romo knows the Curse of S'posta delights in preying upon the lofty ambitions of the most highly pedigreed regular-season performers. Last year, we saw Andy Dalton commit three turnovers -- each one worse than the last -- at home in a wild-card matchup against a mediocre Chargers defense. Two years ago, Joe Flacco joined up with S'posta to take down the Patriots in Foxborough a week after that overtime win in Denver. In the 2011 playoffs, the mighty 15-1 Packerscouldn't keep up with the S'posta-aided 9-7 Giants. The year before that, Belichick & Brady lost the tag-team cage match to Rex & the Sanchize, who obviously had S'posta on their side.
Attention, Patriots fans: I suspect you're gonna love the extended conversation I had with three-time champ Willie McGinest and Heath Evans, a key contributor to the 18-1 Pats, about Belichick, Brady & the closest thing the NFL has to a dynasty here in the 21st century. Especially fascinating stuff about the 2003 Divisional Round win over Tennessee and the second Super Bowl loss to the Giants:
WARNING: Do NOT continue reading if you don't want to know the final scores of the Championship Sunday games.
(3-1 last week, 178-85-1 on the season)
Enjoy the title games! I hope your team wins.