Last week after the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup people talked about how the city of Washington got the monkey off their backs. It was the first time in 27 years the Nation’s Capital saw a championship won (1991 Redskins).
So it led me to think about putting a blog up on the cursed sports cities in America. I originally was going to do it as one blog, but realized that there are a lot of sports cities that are cursed or believe they are cursed and have numerous reasons why. So I opted to make it a weekly blog of cities that have been plagued by having heartbreaking moments, lack of a championship resume, stinging events, and disastrous roster moves among them as well as moving of teams out of that city. And there has to be at least 2 professional teams among the city to happen (meaning MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLS though I know some don’t count it yet).
I’m starting with the city I’m most familiarized with in part because I live in the vicinity: Atlanta, Georgia.
Not counting Florida, Atlanta is the largest city in the Southeast region of the country. It’s famous for having CNN, TBS, and TNT come out of it. Coca Cola originated here and is pretty much Atlanta culture. This is where Martin Luther King, Jr. was born and raised. Urban lifestyle meshes with country. The city also hosted the 1996 Olympics, as a growth of industry and population boom kicked in (also the last time the United States hosted the Summer Olympics) And a population of nearly 6 million in the metro area, which is 9th in the nation. Which means it has sports galore, both college and pro. But the sports scene has been maligned in a few ways as with the population boom the fans had previous loyalties to their previous teams (mostly teams from northern cities as people moved to the Atlanta area). If the Atlanta teams are winning, the places are packed. If the Atlanta teams are losing, the places are empty or filled with the opposing team’s fans. So this gives Atlanta the label of being “Bandwagon Town, USA” thanks in part to the inability to sell out home playoff games for the Braves, Hawks, and even the Thrashers. Though to be fair, go anywhere in the nation and you have that same problem where fans don’t show up when the teams lose and opposing teams fans raid the local venues (save maybe for the playoff issue). Anyway, but Atlanta gets thrown at the forefront of it.
THE TEAMS OF ATLANTA (PAST & PRESENT): ATLANTA BRAVES, ATLANTA FALCONS, ATLANTA HAWKS, ATLANTA UNITED, ATLANTA FLAMES & THRASHERS
CURSED RESUME: 1 combined World Championship (Braves-1995), Championship drought of 23 years. Two teams relocating from the city (Flames to Calgary, Thrashers to Winnipeg).
ATLANTA BRAVES (MLB, 1966-PRESENT, 1 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP, DROUGHT OF 23 YEARS): The Braves came to Atlanta from Milwaukee in 1966, and up until 1991 had mixed results in the town. The Braves had a couple of future Hall of Famers in Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews to get fans excited. But Mathews was traded after 1966 as his career was nearing an end (and possibly the first sign of any curse was when Mathews won a World Series ring with the Detroit Tigers in 1968 though he was nearly a zero factor for the Tigers in 67 or 68). The Braves won the NL West in 69 but lost to the famed Miracle Mets in the NLCS that year and again in 1982 to the eventual world champion Cardinals. In between those years and up until 1991 the Braves were a middle-of-the-road/near the bottom of the baseball team despite having players who could launch them out of Fulton County Stadium (nicknamed the Launching Pad) such as Aaron, Rico Carty, Darrell Evans, Bob Horner, Dale Murphy, Chris Chambliss, etc.
Of course, where the Braves came into the golden years was from 1991-2005 as 14 straight division titles happened, but in those 14 division titles, only 1 had the World Series title attached to it and it was 1995, and many believe it was somewhat of an * because it was coming off after the 1994 Players Strike. Even in Atlanta, that year isn’t as widely talked about as it was in 1991 and 1992 when the Braves would get to the World Series after being dead last the year before and the famed Sid Bream slide that would get Atlanta into the World Series in 1992. After 1995 championship, there were gut-punches to the Braves, from blowing a World Series lead to the Yankees in 1996 (highlighted by a game-tying home run from Jim Leyritz that will live in Atlanta infamy), to Livan Hernandez’s pitching performance in the NLCS which umpire Eric Gregg had a strike zone the size of the planet Jupiter that day, to unexplainable series losses to San Diego (98), San Francisco (02), etc. And Chris Burke’s walk-off home run in the NLDS losing to Houston in 05. Atlanta lost its grip on the division to the Mets, Phillies, and Nationals after 05, but fielded good teams from 09-13, but an early round exit in 10 to the Giants, blowing an 8.5 game lead on the Wild Card in September in 2011 and being eliminated on the last day of the season to the Cardinals, losing to the Cardinals in the Wild Card game notably after a poor call by umpire Sam Holbrook, calling an infield fly rule after the ball dropped in the middle of the outfield, thus negating what would have been a Braves rally. And then an NLDS loss to the Dodgers where Juan Uribe hit a late-inning game-winning 2-run home run. Since then until this season, Atlanta had pretty much went on fire sale mode, trading their stars for prospects, which admittedly has worked well.
CURSED MOVES: It seemed like the Braves in the glory years couldn’t have done any wrong. They made great signings & trades such as getting Greg Maddux, Fred McGriff, Denny Neagle, Andres Galarraga, etc. to keep the train rolling, but there were other moves that really hurt the Braves. The first one was trading World Series hero David Justice and All-Star centerfielder Marquis Grissom to Cleveland for Kenny Lofton and Alan Embree. Justice did great in Cleveland while Lofton was one-and-done and never fit in to the Braves clubhouse all. Another stinging move was trading away Adam Wainwright to get JD Drew. Drew stayed in Atlanta after one season before moving to the Dodgers and then Boston where he won a World Series ring in 2007. Wainwright became a major fixture in the Cardinals rotation, being their ace and having Cy Young caliber seasons from 2008-2014. And then the Braves practically traded the farm in 2007 to get Mark Teixeira from Texas. Included in that deal was Elvis Andrus (who has become an All-Star), Neftali Feliz (who was more than a serviceable reliever for a few years), Matt Harrison (who didn’t pan out), and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (who had a lot of hype to him early on, but has been more of a backup catcher for most of his carer). Teixeira only lasted one year in Atlanta before being traded to the Angels for Casey Kotchman (and only Casey Kotchman).
DEFINING CURSED MOMENT: Jim Leyritz smashing a game-tying home run off Mark Wohlers in Game 4 of the 1996 World Series. The Braves (and maybe Atlanta itself) has never been the same.
CURSED RATING ON THE BRAVES: 4/5 (Pretty cursed).
ATLANTA FALCONS (1966-PRESENT; NO SUPER BOWLS, 2 SUPER BOWL APPEARANCES): From 1966 to really 2008, the Falcons were considered more of a joke in the NFL. Yeah, there were years the Falcons had that were memorable (Grits Blitz in the 70’s, the 2 Legit 2 Quit Falcons defense in the early 90’s, the Dirty Birds in the late 90’s, the Vick-led Falcons in the mid-2000’s) and great players (Deion Sanders, Andre Rison, Michael Vick etc.) but Atlanta never strung consecutive winning seasons at all. Most of the time Atlanta served as San Francisco’s punching bag in the NFC West (alongside New Orleans). And the great players they had were tired of losing. Deion Sanders, tired of being on losing seasons for the Falcons, left for San Francisco (and won a Super Bowl) and then Dallas (won a Super Bowl there). Andre Rison, having outside issues plague him, left after 94, and won a Super Bowl in Green Bay 2 years later. The Falcons had a miraculous season in 1998, going 14-2 with the Dirty Birds bit and stunned everybody by bringing down the high-powered Minnesota Vikings in the 1998 NFC Championship, but after all-pro safety Eugene Robinson was arrested the night before the Super Bowl soliciting a prostitute and then had a horrible Super Bowl performance where Denver stomped on Atlanta (the score was closer than the actual game; 34-19). 3 years later the Falcons drafted a dynamic star in Michael Vick, who could scramble unlike any other and was supposed to be Atlanta’s future. However, inconsistencies, injuries, and off-field troubles hindered his career in Atlanta, including a 2 year prison trip due to dog-fighting, gambling, and animal cruelty. At the same time when Vick was in prison, Atlanta hired Bobby Petrino to coach them, only to quit midway through the season after players did not like his style and then lying to his owner saying he would stay on for the remainder of the year (though I believe it was a blessing in disguise for the Falcons).
Atlanta’s fortunes changed in 2008 when they put new front office heads in Thomas Dimitroff notably while drafting Matt Ryan and later on Julio Jones. The Falcons strung together winning seasons from 08-12 and being a threat in the NFC. However, gut-punches along the way as the Falcons failed to win any playoff game in 08, 10, and 11 including an embarrassing 48-20 loss to the Packers at the Georgia Dome in 2010. The biggest gut-punch came in 2012 when the Falcons blew a 17-point lead in the NFC Championship to San Francisco at home and was stopped 5 yards short of going to the Super Bowl. Worse, Ryan was starting to become a divided topic by Atlanta fans, some thinking he cannot win the big one and others still believing Vick should have never lost his job when he was sent away. When 2016 arrived, things looked for the better as the Falcons had a young athletic defense who really took the playoffs by storm, embarrassing both Russell Wilson in the Divisional and Aaron Rodgers in the NFC Championship. And for the first half of the Super Bowl, Tom Brady. And then they played the 2nd half…..(and I’m not even going to mention 1st and goal against Philadelphia in the Divisional)
CURSED MOVES: Save for Deion, Ryan, and Julio, and until the last few years of the Quinn era, the Falcons hadn’t drafted that well. But the biggest trade move was the Falcons trading Brett Favre to Green Bay after the 1991 season. Um, oops.
DEFINING CURSED MOMENT: 28-3. Unless or until the Falcons ever win the Super Bowl, this will be a deep scar for Falcons fans. I’m not elaborating on it.
CURSED RATING: 5/5 (VERY Cursed)
ATLANTA HAWKS (1968-PRESENT; NO WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS IN ATLANTA; NO NBA FINALS APPEARANCES IN ATLANTA): The Hawks moved from St. Louis after the 1967-68 season, but really hadn’t been a major factor in the NBA until the mid 80’s when Atlanta put out some great teams led by the Human Highlight Reel of Dominique Wilkins and the likes of Kevin Willis, Doc Rivers, Spud Webb, etc. as the Hawks were in the mix of the rough & tumble East alongside Detroit, Chicago, Boston, and Milwaukee. Wilkins was an NBA superstar, right up there with the likes of Jordan, Bird, Isiah, Magic, etc. He won Slam Dunk contests that are still memorable to this day and put on a show with Jordan in one of the Slam Dunk contests. And in games, he could put up points like no other. He had a classic playoff duel with Larry Bird in 1988 in the Eastern Conference semis. However, Wilkins finished second to Jordan in that classic dunk contest and Boston beat Atlanta in that war with Larry Bird and the Hawks missed their window in that time as Boston ruled followed by Detroit and Chicago. After Jordan retired in 1993, the East was wide open and the Hawks swooped in and was one of the hottest teams in the league for most of 1993-1994. And then the trade deadline approached…and then they traded Wilkins to the Clippers for Danny Manning, who like Lofton with the Braves, didn’t fit in and didn’t want to be in Atlanta. After a near 1st round elimination as a #1 seed, Atlanta couldn’t find any scoring against Indiana in the 2nd round and was bounced.
However, after a few years the Hawks revamped into more of a team game with the likes of Mookie Blaylock, Steve Smith, Dikembe Mutombo, and were in the thick of the East with New York, Orlando, and Miami, but could never escape out of the first or second rounds. Tired of a slow pace, Atlanta went for more of an up-tempo game when Philips Arena was built and traded the steady shooting Smith to Portland for Jim Jackson & JR Rider and signed Lorenzen Wright to a big deal. It was a complete mess as Rider was a malcontent who never made it past a full season in Atlanta, quarreling with Mutombo. It would take 8 years before the Hawks were a playoff team. And much like most years after, the Hawks were a first or second round casualty. Their biggest moment was the 2014-2015 season when they had the top seed and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time, but only to get swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers. After two failed playoff runs despite trying to get fans excited of bringing Atlanta native Dwight Howard back (with mostly mixed-to-negative reviews), Atlanta blew up the roster and are starting from scratch.
CURSED MOVES: I mentioned the Smith-for-Jackson/Rider trade set the Hawks back for years. I mentioned the issues with Rider and Jackson, who had been somewhat labeled as a malcontent for the first portion of his career, notably in Dallas, Philadelphia, and Golden State, notably being unhappy with his role or being on losing teams (yes, kiddos, the Warriors were a losing franchise for a LONG TIME actually). Jackson was unhappy with the Hawks being a losing franchise in his second year with the team.
But the key cursed move that I think still has a lingering effect to this town was the Wilkins trade. He was Atlanta’s guy, a Georgia graduate, and a superstar. Yes, the Hawks didn’t sell out even with Wilkins there, but he still created abuzz. After that move, the fans just could not relate to team anymore and if you were near the Omni on a weeknight when the Hawks were in town there had been rumors, they gave away free tickets because the place was nearly empty. Even when the Hawks have been good, the Omni or Philips Arena has been pretty much been a cavernous place.
DEFINING CURSED MOMENT: I still think it is the Wilkins trade. I don’t remember a team who was sitting near the top of the NBA, that traded their superstar player at the deadline. This is a cardinal sin in the NBA, or really any major sport, and the Hawks violated it.
CURSED LEVEL: 5/5 (VERY Cursed)
ATLANTA UNITED (2017-PRESENT; 1 PLAYOFF APPEARANCE): Well, honestly it is beyond too early to tell, but the United doesn’t seem to be plagued by the curses that the other Atlanta teams have or had. One year in and they are a playoff team. Two years in and they are the best team in the League (having the most points) so maybe this breaks the chains. However, their playoff exit, many Atlanta fans view it as “a loss in the most Atlanta way possible” as really the United dominated their game but lost on a shootout to Columbus.
CURSED MOVES: None yet.
DEFINING CURSED MOMENT: So far just the playoff loss to Columbus, but honestly, is it really a curse that you get to the playoffs in your first year?
CURSED RATING: N/A (way too early to tell, but I’d say a 0 at this point)
ATLANTA FLAMES/THRASHERS (1972-1980-Flames, 1999-2011-Thrashers; 1 Division Title-Thrashers 2007): NHL will probably never come back to Atlanta after two failed stints. The Flames had a decent run in Atlanta after their dud of an expansion year, having 5 winning seasons and making the playoffs 6 of the 8 years. But the Flames could never escape the first round nor finished higher than 3rd place in the old Patrick Division. However, given the playoff woes and playing in a quickly outdated Omni, which lacked luxury suites as well, the Flames were relocated to Calgary (who would win a Cup in 1989).
As for the Thrashers, I already talked about their woes. If you want more detail, read it here.
However, I’ll sum it up for you: near the bottom of the NHL for the first 3 years, failing to make the playoffs for the first 8 years, get swept in lone playoff appearance, have one of your rising superstars get into a major accident while having your teammate and good friend get killed, have another superstar reject a major contract extension and then trade him away, poor trades, and promoting the GM who was as inept as they come to president, well, yeah, you’re cursed.
CURSED MOVES: Can’t speak on behalf of the Flames, but when it came to the Thrashers, take your pick. Yes, the draft woes Atlanta had can’t go unnoticed, but the trades were equally as damning. There are a lot from trading Donald Audette as his stock was high for a prospect named Kamil Piros who did nothing. Trading your star Dany Heatley for Marian Hossa, and then trading Hossa to Pittsburgh for a package headed Colby Armstrong and Erik Christensen (who were both gone in 2 years). Trading Ilya Kovalchuk to New Jersey for Johnny Oduya, Nicholas Bergfors, and Patrice Cormier (as the first two were traded out of Atlanta before the Thrashers moved to Winnipeg a year later and Cormier never amounted to anything). But to me, the worst move ever was trading up-and-coming defenseman Braydon Coburn to Philadelphia for Alexei Zhitnik, a player well past his prime and did nothing for the Thrashers. Coburn has enjoyed a nice NHL career with an All-Star to his credit. Zhitnik was bought out by the Thrashers after the 2008 season.
DEFINING CURSED MOMENT: Unfortunately the Dany Heatley car accident, which killed teammate Dan Snyder was probably it. Heatley was coming off an amazing 2002-2003 campaign where he showed the world what he could do in the All-Star Game, winning MVP honors and nearly gave the Thrashers a late push for a playoff spot. On top of that, Atlanta was the team everybody was expecting to be on the upswing in the NHL. Then Heatley gets into an accident with Snyder, thus shaking his foundation and being in the Atlanta area haunted him from it. And it also just took the wind out of the sails of the Thrashers fans and Atlanta fans in general.
CURSED RATING SCALE: 5/5 (VERY Cursed).
Overall, people still point to the likes of Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Minnesota as being the most cursed sports cities in America, but to me if Atlanta isn’t THE Cursed Sports City then they are definitely top 3. Of course, other fans will gripe saying that Atlanta fans don’t care therefore it isn’t that cursed. Given how Atlanta is labeled as a Bandwagon Town by the nation, they have that looming over their heads as well. So overall, it is going to be hard to convince me that another city is more cursed.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat