The return of the Curse of Flutie
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Dec 10, 2008
Ed. note: The Cold, Hard Football Facts put the Curse of Flutie on the cultural map a few years ago and wrote a lenghty update last year. Then suddenly this week, it seems everybody was talking about the Curse again.
- Joe Starkey asked about the Curse Saturday out of the blue, during our appearance on ESPN Radio in Pittsburgh.
- On Monday, our pal and high-powered political blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic.com suddenly brought it up, again out of nowhere.
- Then, in the wake of both the Bills and Cowboys losing on Sunday, we got a few emails about it this week, too. If the Cowboys miss the playoffs following Buffalo's late-season flame-out, wrote one emailer, Greg Nichols, "I'll know why: the Curse of Flutie."
Apparently, the pigskin public is on to the curse and turns to CHFF for answers. So, without further adon't ... here is the updated story of the Curse of Flutie.
By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts cursing guard
You might have noticed that late-season snowflakes have begun to lend their cinematic effect to NFL games in northern cities like Green Bay, Pittsburgh and Buffalo. In certain local supermarkets, meanwhile, you might have noticed that Flutie Flakes have returned to the cereal aisle this season.
And if you follow pro football closely, you might have noticed a few flakes who continue to doubt the Curse of Doug Flutie.
In fact, if you didn't believe in the Curse before, this is a good time to grab an oboe or a sousaphone and hop on the bandwagon. After all, the Curse of Flutie is alive and well and stronger than ever, casting its web of painful defeat around the Bills and around teams that employ the architect of the Curse, Wade Phillips, who currently coaches the Cowboys.
Just look at the state of both teams today.
As recently as Week 7, the Bills were 5-1 and alone in first place in the AFC East. Just seven weeks later, they're a dismal 6-7, alone in last place in the AFC East, and have scored a miserly 3 points in each of their last two games. The season looks like it will end in disappointment yet again.
Philips and his Cowboys, meanwhile, entered the season as preseason favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. But with just three games to go, they're a disappointing 8-5, fresh off a bad loss to the Steelers, and might not even reach the playoffs – let alone reach the Super Bowl. The season looks like it will end in disappointment yet again.
Both teams have fallen painfully from lofty perches earlier this season. Like ghastly buboes during the Black Plague of Pigskin, these shocking falls from grace are the defining symptoms of teams stricken by the Curse of Flutie.
Here's the complete, sordid history.
The Birth of the Curse
The Curse of Flutie was born back in the 1999 playoffs when, as Buffalo's head coach, Phillips poured all the ingredients for this pigskin pestilence into his steaming brew kettle of bad decisions.
Phillips benched Flutie, Buffalo's starting quarterback, just before the last game of the season, allegedly to give back-up Rob Johnson some reps. But then Phillips gave Johnson the starting nod over Flutie n a wildcard playoff game against Tennessee, too, despite the fact that the pint-sized passer had led the Bills to a 10-5 record.
The Curse of Flutie wasted no time casting its tragic web of humiliating defeat upon Buffalo and anyone associated with Phillips.
The Bills held a late 16-15 lead over Tennessee. But you know how it ended: the Titans used some controversial razzle-dazzle to score the game-winning TD on a kick return with no time left, in a play so unfathomable it's known only as "The Music City Miracle."
(Contrary to pop-culture convention, Johnson did not play particularly well that day: he completed just 10 of 22 passes for 131 yards with 0 TD, 0 INT and a 64.8 passer rating.)
The Bills have never been back to the playoffs. In fact, they've never matched the 10 wins Flutie produced for the team back in 1999. The 2008 season will be no different: Buffalo's 16-3 loss last week to Miami dropped the Bills to 6-7 and confirms that they'll fail to reach 10 wins for the ninth straight season since Flutie last lifted them to double-digit victories.
And here's the statistical signature from the Gridiron Gods to affirm the Curse: In Flutie's last game in a Bills uniform in 2000, he pitched the proverbial perfect game, completing 20 of 25 passes (80%) for 366 yards, 14.6 YPA, 3 TD, 0 INT, and a perfect 158.3 passer rating.
No Buffalo passer in the eight seasons since has reproduced Flutie's perfect game of 2000.
But the Bills were just the first team to suffer.
The Continuation of the Curse
The Chargers made the mistake of employing Phillips as their defensive coordinator from 2004 to 2006 – and they suffered a pair of stunning falls from grace during that time. Twice the Chargers entered the playoffs as big home favorites. Twice they failed to win even a single playoff game, with painful defeats at home to inferior foes both times.
In the 2004 wildcard playoffs, Chargers kicker Nick Kaeding missed an easy 39-yard field goal in overtime, allowing the underdog Jets to pull out a shocking 20-17 victory in San Diego.
In the 2006 divisional playoffs, the Chargers were 14-2, the AFC's No. 1 seed and undefeated at home when they suffered an improbable 24-21 loss to a 12-4 New England team that did everything in its power to lose (including three picks thrown by Tom Brady).
But the Curse was kind to San Diego and lifted itself as soon as the organization emerged from the shadow cast by Phillips and his poor decision of 1999. Last year, with Phillips gone, the Chargers won their first two playoff games in more than a decade before suffering a hard-fought loss to the undefeated Patriots in the AFC championship game.
The Current State of the Curse
Dallas, meanwhile, made the mistake of hiring Phillips as its head coach last year – unknowingly placing the organization at the mercy of a force more powerful than Jerry Jones: the Curse of Flutie.
Naturally, painful, unexpected defeat immediately scarred the organization.
They 2007 Cowboys ruled the NFC from wire to wire and entered the playoffs as the senior circuit's No. 1 seed. Along the way, they matched a franchise record with 13 regular-season victories. But they, too, failed to win a single playoff game, suffering a home loss to the No. 5 seed Giants, a team that Dallas beat twice in the regular season.
Since the NFL went to a 12-team playoff format in 1990, the NFC's No. 1 seed had never lost a divisional playoff game – an awesome streak of 17 straight victories. But the Curse of Flutie quickly ended that historic stretch of dominance by the NFC's No. 1 seeds.
It was the second year in a row that Phillips worked for a team that entered the playoffs as a No. 1 seed and failed to win a single postseason game.
But great regular seasons and lousy postseasons are nothing new for the architect of the Curse. Phillips has won 69 of 120 career games as a head coach, for a winning percentage of .575 which makes him one of the 30 most successful coaches in the history of the NFL (min. 100 games). Among those 30 most successful coaches in history, all but one can claim at least a single postseason victory on their resume. You guessed it: only Phillips has failed to win a single playoff game as a head coach (0-4).
We don't know if the coach's legacy would have been different if he had done the right thing and played Flutie during that Tennessee game back in 1999.
But we do know this: anyone who continues to doubt the Curse of Flutie must be a little, well, flaky.
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