Travel Writing by Cory Hanson

The Cubs Break a Curse

The Chicago Cubs, after more than a century of close calls, almost-theres, goats, ghosts, and an unfortunate man in a green turtleneck and even more unfortunate headphones, have won the 2016 World Series. In doing so, they have broken one of the oldest and most famous American sports curses. Like the Curse of the Bambino in Boston (1918–2004) and the Curse of the Black Sox afflicting the cross-town Chicago White Sox (1920–2005), the Cubbies’ Curse of the Billy Goat plagued the team and its loyal fans not just for decades, but for generations.

A Dejected Hotdog

A typical sad Cubs fan pre-2016

The north-side story dates to 1945 — the Cubs were perfectly able to keep themselves out of the championship from 1908 until the last year of World War II without any supernatural assistance — when a local bar-owner was kicked out of a Cubs home game for trying to bring a live goat through the turnstiles. “The Cubs ain’t gonna win no more!” he is remembered to have said to the angry stadium ushers, and his jinx on the team took immediate — and devastating — effect.

Through the years, the curse has been the focus of unknown column-inches (and online bits and bytes), with several high-profile incidents in notable Cubs games attributed to black magic and just as many ill-fated (and often tasteless) attempts to reverse the bad energy: The 1969 black cat dashing in front of the Cubs’ dugout; the 2003 Steve Bartman Incident; the ceremonial destruction of the Bartman ball — and the serving of the ball’s remains in restaurant patrons in a batch of special spaghetti sauce; and countless goats needlessly slaughtered and/or blessed by medicine men and/or brought into the stadium to serve some kind of sick penance — carrying Madame Zeroni to the top of the mountain.

But, in November 2016, break the curse the Cubs finally did, not with some cooked-up cure, not with a staff of mediums and magicians who finally found the counter-jinx, not even with angels in the outfield, but with a team of talented young players assembled and managed by some of baseball’s best minds. Finally, Cubs fans can rejoice and start working on their stories to tell their future children and grandchildren where they were and what they were doing the last time the World Series was won by their beloved team — with Facebook and Twitter archives to back up their tall tales.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, another team — and another fanbase — suffered another heartbreaking loss thanks to their own decades-long curse, which has a more finite, but much darker, resolution than did those in Boston and Chicago.

In 1951, six years after a certain goat was denied entry to a certain stadium, the men’s Gaelic football team from County Mayo in Western Ireland hoisted the championship cup in the All-Ireland senior final at Croke Park in Dublin. Out west in Mayo, every town and village rejoiced their team’s victory, huddling around radios to hear the final seconds called (in Irish) on Ireland’s national broadcaster. The victorious team hopped aboard a bus and headed back home for a rousing welcome reception.

And so they got it as they passed through their home county, shouting and waving and drinking through Mayo with red-and-green flags flying and championship cup held high. All went well until they arrived in a tiny village mourning the loss of one of their community. The lads arrived just as the funeral procession was passing through town en route to the cemetery and, thinking that the townsfolk could do with some cheering up, kept up their chanting and shouting and beery singing. Horrified, the local priest held out his hand and proclaimed that the Mayo football team would not win another All-Ireland championship so long as any of the ’51 team lives.

Sure enough, the boys in red and green have had shot after shot at the title in the sixty-five years since, reaching the final again and again, only to fall short. In September 2016, they played arch-rivals Dublin to a tie in the first match of the championship before losing a heartbreaking squeaker in the rematch two weeks later, while the surviving two members of the cursed 1951 team watched on in what could only have been a state of resigned guilt. The curse, initiated by their youthful (and, let’s be fair, understandable) loutishness, continued for at least another year.

So what will it take to break the Mayo curse? Will those in Westport and Cong and Ballinrobe and Achill Island really have to wait for two more men to attend their own funerals before the local team can once again bring home the hardware? Or will it be a talented young team, inspired by love of their football-crazy county and led by a savvy coaching staff that finally puts an end to the misery of two generations of dedicated fans?

In the meantime, the people of Mayo can look west, to another long-cursed team (with a much less specific expiration date on their own malediction: “…ain’t gonna win no more!”) that overcame their demons and brought about a state of euphoria to a long-waiting city with nothing more than clutch pitching, stellar defense, and bats that came to life at just the right time. And they can even borrow the Cubs’ old motto, goodness knows they don’t need it anymore: “There’s always next year!”

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