There's this incredible story in the Australian sports history archives. Australia's national soccer team, known as The Socceroos (soccer+kangaroos=genius), played a World Cup qualifier against Rhodesia in Mozambique in 1970. A player from that squad admitted that days before the game, a few team members consulted a witch doctor to curse Australia's opponents and see the Socceroos through to the World Cup. The witch doctor named a price then placed the curse. The Socceroos won. The curse, seemingly, was a success. Then the Socceroos left town without paying. The witch doctor, obviously annoyed by this, placed a counter curse on the stingy Socceroos. As unlikely as it is that black magic exists, the Socceroos failed to even score in the world cup tournament the witch doctor helped them get to. They crashed out of the group stage, winless. Following that, they failed to qualify for the next seven world cups over the next 30 years, sometimes in bazaar circumstances. Coincidence?
Enter John Safran.
John Safran, Australian, is a kind of gonzo journalist/satirist/radio announcer that got his start as a contestant on Race around the World back in the 90's. He's made several television series since and has authored a few books. All are topical. His voice is high pitched with a recognizable lisp and a constantly ironic tone. In 2004, Safran made an eight part television show where he went traveled the world to experience humanity's many religions first hand. One episode saw him focus on black magic and for many, this is where they first heard of the aforementioned curse (we all just thought the Socceroos were awful for more sporty reasons like bad coaching, player development and a national lack of interest in the world game). Safran visited Mozambique to follow the story and with the original witch doctor long dead, consulted a new one. Safran and the new witch doctor went to the very same stadium with a player from the 1970 squad and took part in a black magic ceremony, involving chicken sacrifice, to hopefully remove the curse of the Socceroos. More importantly, he paid the fee. The new witch doctor assured Safran that the Socceroos would return to the realm of the winners. The next time the Socceroos played a world Cup qualifier was in 2006 against Uruguay. The game went to penalties and the Socceroos won in spectacular fashion. The curse was lifted! Even the announcer on the national broadcast thanked John Safran seconds after the final goal was scored. Australia then went on to even win games in the 2006 World Cup and have qualified for every World Cup since. Coincidence again?
Long story short, even the most logical human can be convinced a team is cursed. While no witch doctors were involved, with 108 years passing and no World Series pennant for the Chicago Cubs, surely a higher power was working against them. 108 years. It's an astonishing amount of time. Think of it this way. The last time the Cubs won the World Series, the Titanic had not only not even sunk yet, they hadn't even started construction of it. There were cubs fans born in the 1920s that lived long healthy lives and died of old age without seeing a Cubs pennant. You can imagine that would be very frustrating. But 2016 was proving to be an oddity of a sporting year. Underdogs were taking championships around the globe in all types of sporting codes. Leicester City were the unthinkable champions of the Premier League, the Cleveland Cavaliers were NBA kings and Portugal took the Euro Cup. There was a sense of "maybe this time.." in the air as the cubs went into the World Championship against the Cleveland Indians. Falling 3 games to 1 down in a best of seven series, all looked lost, but the Cubs clawed their way back and it went to game seven to be played at Cleveland's Progressive Field. With New York being a the type of city that people from all over the world move to for work, there was a community of Chicagoans. Many gathered in an East Village bar to watch the game.
I arrived in the fourth inning and Chicago was up. A rowdy crowd spilled out of the bar and onto the sidewalk, with people craning their necks to see the screens broadcasting the game inside. It was packed but I needed to get in. I announced myself and the jovial punters made a path for me to make my way in. Spirits were high and I was welcomed with gusto. This was an historic moment and we'd better let Reuters get the best spot to capture it.
Once in, I climbed over the bar. Most screens were situated right above it so all eyes were at me. Any time any Cub did anything that advanced their team, the crowd erupted. I'm far from being a baseball fan but it was impossible not to get caught up in it. I was excited for them. Yet behind the smiles, I could see it. The anguish. The game was far from over and the famously superstitious Cubs fans were waiting for their curse to hit, just as it had for over a century. They dared not believe.
By the seventh inning the cubs were up 6-3, a comfortable but not insurmountable lead. But it came. Cleveland scored three runs in the eighth and the Cubs were rattled. Scores were level. Then rain fell on Cleveland and the game was halted with all players leaving the field. It was too much time to contemplate for the crowd. Minds started to race. The Anxiety levels soared. People that had welcomed me only an hour before were suddenly withdrawing from me. No one wanted to be the face of defeat on a major news wire. Some even blamed me for the swing in momentum. "We were doing fine until that photographer arrived." In their eyes, I was the curse. Then it dawned on me. I had the best position for the win, but with a loss, I was trapped. The crowd completely surround the bar and with that, surrounded me. I didn't want to be the scapegoat in this situation. I needed the Cubs to win.
Play resumed and the Cubs returned seemingly stabilized. With scores tied it went to extra innings but the Cubs scored quickly at the top of the tenth and were up by two. Cleveland came to bat. Three batters between the Chicago and the win. Then two. Then one. It seemed to happen in slow motion. A grounder hit, a steady throw to first base, a catch, a final out, then an eruption. Cubs win. The entire bar seemed to lift five feet off the ground as players celebrated on the T.V screens. It rained beer as I shot a sea of Blue and Red crashing over itself. The greatest relief you can imagine. Tears. Embraces. Champagne. I wasn't the curse.