Super Bowl curse
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The Super Bowl curse or Super Bowl hangover is a phrase referring to one of three things that occur in the National Football League (NFL): Super Bowl participants that follow up with lower-than-expected performance the following year; teams that do not repeat as Super Bowl champions; and host teams of the Super Bowl that have never advanced to the title game on their own home fields.
The phrase has been used to explain both why losing teams may post below-average winning percentages in the following year and why Super Bowl champions seldom return to the title game the following year. The term has been used since at least 1992, when The Washington Post commented that "the Super Bowl Curse has thrown everything it's got at the Washington Redskins. The Jinx that has bedeviled defending champs for 15 years has never been in better form". The phenomenon is attributed by football commentator and former NFL manager Charley Casserly to such elements as "a shorter offseason, contract problems, [and] more demand for your players' time". Casserly also notes that "once the season starts, you become the biggest game on everybody's schedule."
The losers' curse
While the first five Super Bowl winners of the 2000s posted above average winning percentages the year following their Super Bowl appearance, the losers of the same games posted below average winning percentages in the follow–up year.
Losing teams mentioned in connection to the curse
Super Bowl losing teams who went on to poor follow–up performance include:
- Cincinnati Bengals (Super Bowl XXIII) – 1988 season: 12–4; 1989 season: 8–8.
- Cincinnati started a long streak of losing with their 1991 season mark and it ended with them making the playoffs in the 2005 season.
- Denver Broncos (Super Bowl XXIV) – 1989 season: 11–5; 1990 season: 5–11.
- The Broncos would rebound to advance to the 1991 AFC Championship Game vs Buffalo.
- Buffalo Bills (Super Bowl XXVIII) – 1993 season: 12–4; 1994 season: 7–9.
- The Bills are 1–4 in playoff games since the 1993 season, with their last playoff win coming in 1995 and playoff appearance in 1999.
- Atlanta Falcons (Super Bowl XXXIII) – 1998 season: 14–2; 1999 season: 5–11.
- New York Giants (Super Bowl XXXV) – 2000 season: 12–4; 2001 season: 7–9.
- St. Louis Rams (Super Bowl XXXVI) – 2001 season: 14–2; 2002 season: 7–9.
- Oakland Raiders (Super Bowl XXXVII) – 2002 season: 11–5; 2003 season: 4–12
- The Raiders did not have a winning season from 2002 to 2015; their best record has been 8–8 in both 2010 and 2011 and they had not had a record greater than 5–11 every other season until their 7–9 record in 2015. The streak was broken in 2016.
- Carolina Panthers (Super Bowl XXXVIII) – 2003 season: 11–5; 2004 season: 7–9.
- Philadelphia Eagles (Super Bowl XXXIX) – 2004 season: 13–3; 2005 season: 6–10.
- Chicago Bears (Super Bowl XLI) – 2006 season: 13–3; 2007 season: 7–9.
- Carolina Panthers (Super Bowl 50) – 2015 season: 15-1; 2016 season: 6–10.
There have been several exceptions since this curse supposedly began in 1977:
- Minnesota Vikings (Super Bowl XI) – 1976 season: 11–2–1.
- Denver Broncos (Super Bowl XII) – 1977 season: 12–2.
- Dallas Cowboys (Super Bowl XIII) – 1978 season: 12–4.
- Los Angeles Rams (Super Bowl XIV) – 1979 season: 9–7.
- Philadelphia Eagles (Super Bowl XV) – 1980 season: 12–4.
- Cincinnati Bengals (Super Bowl XVI) – 1981 season: 12–4.
- Miami Dolphins (Super Bowl XVII) – 1982 season: 7–2.
- Washington Redskins (Super Bowl XVIII) – 1983 season: 14–2.
- Miami Dolphins (Super Bowl XIX) – 1984 season: 14–2.
- New England Patriots (Super Bowl XX) – 1985 season: 11–5.
- Denver Broncos (Super Bowl XXI) – 1986 season: 11–5.
- Buffalo Bills (Super Bowl XXV) – 1990 season: 13–3. In the 1991 season, they went 13–3 again, and made it to Super Bowl XXVI, where they lost to the Washington Redskins. In the 1992 season, the Bills slipped to 11–5, but after what came to be known as The Comeback, they won the AFC Championship, and went on to play in Super Bowl XXVII, where they lost to the Dallas Cowboys. The following season – 1993 – they improved their record to 12–4; and after winning the AFC East division, qualified for their fourth straight Super Bowl appearance in Super Bowl XXVIII, where for the second straight year, they lost to the Dallas Cowboys.
- San Diego Chargers (Super Bowl XXIX) – 1994 season: 11–5. In the 1995 season, they went 9–7; although they made it to the playoffs, they lost 35–20 to the Indianapolis Colts. They would later go through eight consecutive losing seasons, including a 1-15 season in 2000. They would return to the NFL playoffs in the 2004 season, in which they lost 17–20 to the New York Jets. Ever since, they have struggled in the playoffs, going 4-6, most of which divisional round games, in 13 seasons starting in 2004.
- Pittsburgh Steelers (Super Bowl XXX) – 1995 season: 11–5. In the 1996 season, they went 10–6, and won the AFC Central division. However that was only thanks to a weak division & they ended up losing in a blowout against the New England Patriots 3–28 in the divisional playoffs.
- New England Patriots (Super Bowl XXXI) – 1996 season: 11–5. In the 1997 season, they went 10–6, and won the AFC East division. The Patriots ironically lost to the Steelers in the divisional playoffs 6–7
- Green Bay Packers (Super Bowl XXXII) - 1997 season: 13-3. In the 1998 season, the Packers went 11-5, but lost the division title to the 15-1 Vikings, forcing them to settle for the fifth seed in the playoffs. They lost in the wild card to Steve Young and the 49ers on a last-second touchdown to Terrell Owens in what has been dubbed as "The Catch II," a reference to The Catch.
- Tennessee Titans (Super Bowl XXXIV) – 1999 season: 13–3. In the 2000 season, the Titans went 13–3 again, clinching home–field advantage. They lost in the divisional playoffs, however, to the Baltimore Ravens 10–24. (Interestingly enough, the 2008 Tennessee Titans repeated this as they finished 13-3, clinching home-field advantage, and losing to the Ravens in the divisional round.)
- Seattle Seahawks (Super Bowl XL) – 2005 season: 13–3. In the 2006 season, they slipped to 9–7, but won the NFC West division. They lost in the divisional playoffs to the Chicago Bears 24–27 in overtime.
- New England Patriots (Super Bowl XLII) – 2007 season: 16–0. After having the first perfect season since the NFL went to a 16–game schedule in 1978, the Patriots went 11–5 in the 2008 season and missed the playoffs barely by losing tiebreakers with Miami in their division and Baltimore for the wild card. The "Super Bowl curse" took a different road, since their starting quarterback, Tom Brady, suffered a season–ending injury in the opening game of the season.
- Arizona Cardinals (Super Bowl XLIII) – 2008 season: 9–7. In the 2009 season they improved to 10–6 and won the NFC West for the second consecutive season. They lost in the divisional playoffs to the eventual Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints 14–45.
- Indianapolis Colts (Super Bowl XLIV) – 2009 season: 14–2. In the 2010 season they went 10–6 and won the AFC South for the seventh time in eight years; however it was the first time in 9 years that the Colts had finished a season with less than 12 wins. They lost in the wild card playoffs to the New York Jets 16–17. The following season, however, without Peyton Manning, they experienced a significant drop. They started the season 0–13, and finished 2–14, the first time out of the playoffs since 2001.
- Pittsburgh Steelers (Super Bowl XLV) – 2010 season: 12–4. In the 2011 season, they went 12–4 again, but did not win the AFC North division, due to being swept by the Baltimore Ravens. They lost in the wild card round, in overtime, 23–29, to the Denver Broncos.
- New England Patriots (Super Bowl XLVI) – 2011 season: 13–3. In the 2012 season, their record dropped to 12–4, but they still ended up with the number 2 seed in the AFC playoffs. They made it to the AFC Championship Game against the Ravens, but this time they lost, 13–28.
- San Francisco 49ers (Super Bowl XLVII) – 2012 season: 11–4–1. In the 2013 season, they improved to 12–4, but did not win the NFC West division as the divisional rival Seattle Seahawks had a 13–3 record. They made it to the NFC Championship Game, but lost to the Seahawks, 17–23.
- Denver Broncos (Super Bowl XLVIII) – 2013 season: 13–3. In the 2014 season, they dropped to 12–4, and were the number 2 seed in the AFC playoffs. They lost in the divisional playoffs to the Indianapolis Colts, 13–24.
- Seattle Seahawks: (Super Bowl XLIX) – 2014 season: 12–4. In the 2015 season, they dropped to 10–6 and lost the NFC West title to the Cardinals, but they entered the 2016 playoffs as the NFC's sixth seed. The Seahawks defeated the Vikings 10–9 (only due to a missed field goal), but lost 24–31 to the Panthers in the Divisional Round.
The non-repeat curse
Since 1993, few winning teams have followed up their Super Bowl successes with a second Super Bowl appearance (Denver Broncos, Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots won; Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks lost), or even advanced to a conference title game in the subsequent season (Dallas Cowboys, Seattle Seahawks). In the Super Bowl era two teams have lost the Super Bowl, then won it the following season. The first was the Dallas Cowboys, who lost Super Bowl V to the Baltimore Colts, but came back in 1971 and defeated the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VI. The Dolphins repeated the feat in 1972 when they rallied to go a perfect 17-0, capping the season with a win over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII.
Considering the difficulty of winning even one Super Bowl in the 32-team NFL, some wouldn't consider this to be a curse but rather a difficult feat. Indeed, only seven teams have won back-to-back Super Bowl championships, and only one of these seven teams have made more than two consecutive appearances in the Super Bowl, the Miami Dolphins who lost Super Bowl VI and then won Super Bowl VII (as part of a 17-0 perfect season) and defended their title in Super Bowl VIII. The only franchise to reach more than three straight title games was the Buffalo Bills who lost four Super Bowls in a row from 1990–93. This is in contrast to other North American major professional sports leagues (MLB, NBA, NHL) where repeat championships and even "three-peats" are not uncommon.
Since 2005, no incumbent holder has managed to successfully defend their title, in fact between 2006 and 2013 every defending Super Bowl champion would conclude the following season either losing their opening playoff game or failed to qualify for the playoffs. The 2014 Seattle Seahawks opened the playoffs with a win over the Carolina Panthers in the Divisional round, becoming the first defending champion since the 2005 Patriots to win a playoff game the following season.
- As the two-time defending Super Bowl champions, the 1990 San Francisco 49ers were favored to become first NFL team to win three consecutive Super Bowls. Dating back to 1989, the 49ers completed a fifteen-game unbeaten streak in the regular season (5 victories in the last 5 games of 1989 and 10 victories in the first ten games of 1990), en route to compiling the league's best regular season record (14–2) while quarterback Joe Montana was named regular season MVP. Facing the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game, the 49ers defense was able to hold backup quarterback Jeff Hostetler and the Giants without a touchdown, but the tide of the game changed when Montana was sacked by Leonard Marshall while rolling out of the quarterback pocket; a play which injured Montana and forced him to leave the game. With only a few minutes left, 49ers running back Roger Craig fumbled while the 49ers were attempting to score the game clinching touchdown, and the ball was recovered by the Giants' Lawrence Taylor, setting up the drive to kick their fifth field goal of the game with seconds left to win the game 15–13. The words of Pat Summerall "There will be no three-peat!" haunt 49ers fans to this day. The NFC Championship game also turned out to be Montana's next-to-last appearance in a 49er uniform, as elbow injuries cost him the entire 1991 season, and despite his recovery he lost his starting position to Steve Young.
- The Seattle Seahawks were the most recent defending champions to return to the title game the following year, Super Bowl XLIX, where they faced the New England Patriots. The Seahawks built a ten-point lead to end the third quarter 24-14, and until Super Bowl LI (which also featured the Patriots), no team in Super Bowl history had ever overcome a fourth-quarter deficit of more than seven points. The Patriots, however, rallied with two touchdowns to take a 28–24 lead with roughly two minutes left in the game. Seattle threatened to score in the final moments, driving the ball to New England's 1-yard line. With 26 seconds remaining in the game, they decided to pass the ball in a highly scrutinized play that resulted in Patriots rookie Malcolm Butler making a game-saving interception from Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. However, the game was not decided at this point since New England was backed up against its own end zone, so if Patriots quarterback Tom Brady went too far back before kneeling his team would give up two points and have to kick the ball back to the Seahawks, who would simply need to get into field goal position for a chance to win. However, Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett was drawn across line of scrimmage and flagged for encroachment which penalized Seattle five yards and moved the ball to the New England six-yard line, ending Seattle's hope of a comeback.
The home field curse
The home field curse affects the host team of the Super Bowl. From 1966–2011 (excluding the six Super Bowl games held in a stadium without a professional team), the Super Bowl host team had a record of 249–364–2. In those 40 seasons, the host teams had 11 winning seasons, four split seasons, and 25 losing seasons. Mathematically, the probability of that many losing seasons or more occurring by chance (assuming a 50 percent chance of having a losing season (disregarding .500 seasons)) is 7.69 percent. It should be noted, however, that in contrast to the other Big 4 North American major professional sports leagues (Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, and the National Hockey League), whose championship round is co–hosted by the two competing teams that season (which gives a higher probability that both teams will have a winning season, to qualify for the playoffs), the Super Bowl host is selected several years before it is played. The only other major professional sports league in North America using this format is the Canadian Football League, where the Grey Cup host city is selected ahead of time. However, unlike the NFL, there have been multiple teams who have won the Grey Cup at home.
So far no team has yet managed to reach the championship game in their home stadium, or even come close. Only two NFL teams have reached the Super Bowl hosted in their home market: the San Francisco 49ers, who played Super Bowl XIX in Stanford Stadium, rather than Candlestick Park, and the Los Angeles Rams, who played Super Bowl XIV in the Rose Bowl, rather than the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Besides those two, the only other Super Bowl venue that was not the home stadium to an NFL team at the time was Rice Stadium in Houston: the Houston Oilers had played there previously, but moved to the Astrodome several years prior to Super Bowl VIII. The Miami Orange Bowl was the only AFL stadium to host a Super Bowl and the only stadium to host consecutive Super Bowls, hosting Super Bowl II and III. MetLife Stadium, which hosted Super Bowl XLVIII, is the home stadium of two NFL teams: the New York Giants and the New York Jets.
In a way, not having the home team play in the Super Bowl is actually beneficial to the host city as it would receive more out-of-town visitors than if the host team was playing in the Super Bowl. Combined with the increased costs of airfare and hotel during the event, the economy would see a bigger revenue boost as a larger portion of attendees would be local if the host team participated. The host team(s) of a Super Bowl do receive VIP section(s) in the stadium during the game; for instance New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning was in the luxury suite of his team's home MetLife Stadium during Super Bowl XLVIII, which saw the Denver Broncos quarterbacked by his brother Peyton Manning lose 43–8 to the Seattle Seahawks.
- The Atlanta Falcons came off the 1998 season finishing 14–2 season and being losing finalists in Super Bowl XXXIII. Next year, they were the host team of Super Bowl XXXIV but ending up with a 5–11 record and missed the playoffs, in part due to an injury to running back Jamal Anderson who suffered a season–ending knee injury in second game of the 1999 season.
- The Indianapolis Colts were in a rare situation at the end of the 2011 season, becoming the fourth host team of a Super Bowl to have the worst record in the NFL for their particular season. This also happened to the 1973 Houston Oilers (Super Bowl VIII), the 1980 New Orleans Saints (Super Bowl XV), and the 1983 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Super Bowl XVIII).
- The New Orleans Saints, whose home stadium (the Mercedes-Benz Superdome) hosted Super Bowl XLVII, were eliminated from post–season contention in Week 16 and finished 7–9 for the 2012 season. The team had a 13–3 record in the 2009 season following by winning Super Bowl XLIV, a 11–5 record in the 2010 season, and then a 13–3 record in the 2011 season. Some media outlets such as Fox Sports and Sports Illustrated have claimed that the Home Field Curse was in effect in 2012. However, the Saints were affected heavily by the bounty scandal, which resulted in Commissioner Roger Goodell imposing disciplinary action on the team which included the suspension of several coaches and players for the season, particularly head coach Sean Payton and former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams who were banned for the entire year.
- The hosts curse had a wider effect on the Los Angeles Chargers when they played in San Diego. Every time San Diego has hosted the Super Bowl, an AFC West rival has represented the AFC: the Broncos in Super Bowl XXII and XXXII – the Broncos winning the latter – and the Raiders in XXXVII. Besides San Diego, the other instances where a divisional rival of the host has played in the Super Bowl were: Super Bowl III, which the New York Jets won in the Miami Dolphins' Orange Bowl; Super Bowl XXX, which the Dallas Cowboys won in the Arizona Cardinals' Sun Devil Stadium; the St. Louis Rams, who won Super Bowl XXXIV in the Atlanta Falcons' Georgia Dome and lost Super Bowl XXXVI in the New Orleans Saints' Louisiana Superdome; and the Seattle Seahawks, who played in Super Bowl XLIX in the Arizona Cardinals' University of Phoenix Stadium.
- Super Bowl XLVIII had the distinction of having two host teams: the New York Jets, and the New York Giants, as both play their home games at MetLife Stadium. Although it was conceivably possible to make NFL history as the first ever Super Bowl with two host teams playing against each other on the same turf, both teams were eliminated from postseason contention in week 15 of the 2013 regular season. That season the Giants got off to an 0–6 start.
- Super Bowl 50 was held at Levi's Stadium and during the 2015 offseason, the San Francisco 49ers parted ways with highly successful coach Jim Harbaugh as a result of going 8–8 in the 2014 season and a power struggle with general manager Trent Baalke. Under Harbaugh from 2011–14, the team reached the NFC Championship Game three straight times and narrowly lost Super Bowl XLVII, a dramatic improvement as prior to his hiring the 49ers had not had a winning season nor playoff win since 2002. CEO Jed York replaced Harbaugh by promoting defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, a highly criticized hiring motivated by York's desire to have full control of the franchise rather than hiring the best possible candidate for the job. This move subsequently led to many assistant coaches refusing to serve on Tomsula's coaching staff. Furthermore, the 49ers were also affected by the unexpected retirements of Patrick Willis, Chris Borland, and Anthony Davis, who were all in their prime of their careers, the free agent departures of Frank Gore and Mike Iupati, and the release of Aldon Smith after getting arrested again. With an unprecedented roster turnover, the 49ers would struggle to a 5–11 season with Colin Kaepernick ending the season on injured reserve after being benched. The 49ers would ultimately be eliminated from the postseason in Week 14 of the 2015 regular season and Tomsula would be fired after just one season.
- The most recent team to qualify to play in the NFL playoffs in the same season it was scheduled to host the Super Bowl is the 2016 Houston Texans; NRG Stadium, the Texans' home stadium, hosted Super Bowl LI. The Texans defeated the Oakland Raiders 27–14 in the Wild Card round, but lost 34–16 to the New England Patriots in the Divisional round. The Texans are the third Super Bowl host (and first since the 1998 Miami Dolphins) to reach the divisional round.
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