I came to Cincinnati in 2016 not knowing what to expect from the sports scene here. After two years, I finally understand it and pain is all too familiar to faithful fans here in the Queen City. I come from Washington, D.C. where we have endured excruciating heartbreak from our sports teams, but I totally relate and understand. And after two years, I feel the same pain. If you’re not quite sure what I am talking about, then maybe you should read up about the Cincinnati Sports Curse. It sure feels like the city is cursed.
Cincinnati is a great town that truly loves everything about their identity. Yes, even that chili which is absolutely phenomenal. However, they are deeply passionate about sports here. Even in the two and a half years since I moved here, I have seen the heartbreak first hand and considering I have fallen in love with the city too, I have even felt that same heartbreak.
I wrote an article about the D.C. Sports Curse a while back and I think I encapsulated everything that city went through. While I won’t go into too much detail about Cincinnati, it almost feels like the same thing is happening here. This is truly the most depressed sports town in America. Let’s take a look at why.
This soccer team has taken the city by storm as they are setting attendance records left and right in the United Soccer League. The experience has been great at games, but what has also helped is the product on the field as they have been competitive every season. Having a winning side on the field helps, but seeing how seriously the sport is taken here is just incredible. Yes, getting an expansion to Major League Soccer is great, as that’s probably the best thing that has ever happened in the short history of the club.
In 2016, they arguably had the hottest side going into the playoffs as they nabbed the three seed. They would lose 2-1 and would be eliminated. In 2017, they only nabbed the six seed in the playoffs as they barely snuck in, but once again they would lose, by a score of 3-0, and were subsequently eliminated once again. But what the curse really hurt this club the most was in the U.S. Open Cup in 2017 where they advanced all the way to the semi-finals. They got out to a 2-0 lead against MLS side New York Red Bulls with roughly 15 minutes left in the match and it looked like they were going to compete in the final. However, that quickly changed as New York scored two goals to tie it and then scored another goal in extra time and the cinderella run was over. It was agonizing to watch and they just became another casualty in the curse.
Xavier and University of Cincinnati Basketball
Both of these basketball programs have fallen on hard times the past 20 years. In 1997, in a game that saw UC on the brink of defeating Iowa State in the NCAA Tournament, guard Darnell Burton was called for traveling with 35 seconds left after he had rebounded the ball and one of Iowa State’s players fell on Burton’s legs. Iowa State went on to win that game. UC was seeded number two in their region in 1998, but lost by one point to West Virginia in the second round. In 2000, UC was ranked number one in the nation going into the tournament, but they lost their best player Kenyon Martin due to a broken leg and lost in the second round. Xavier had a great season in 2016 as they earned the number two seed in their region for the NCAA Tournament. It had looked as if they were going to make a big run after having such a great season, but once again for Cincinnati basketball, they fell in the second round. 2018 though was the hardest to swallow for both basketball programs as they each held leads of 20 points or more late in the second half of the second round and they both seemed to crumble out of nowhere and lost, on the same day, especially with Xavier earning the number one seed in their region for the first time in the program’s history. That was probably the harshest thing to ever happen to the city on the same day. It just has to be a curse right? I didn’t even highlight all of it, but this gives a good sense as to how rough it has been as a basketball fan here in the city.
The team that last won a championship for the city back in 1990 has seemingly found a penchant to collapse at the worst moment. In 1999, in what many fans saw as a great season, watched as their team squander a chance of going to the playoffs as they lost 5-1 in a tiebreaker game against the New York Mets who would eventually go on to play all the way to the National League Championship Series. That could have been them. Then after that it took until 2010 to finally have a squad make the playoffs. While they were not the strongest team in the postseason, they showed they were on the brink of breaking out. They would be swept in the first round against the Philadelphia Phillies including getting no-hit by Phillies’ ace Roy Halladay, but in 2012, that’s what hurt them the most.
The 2012 version was a really good team as they were one game short of getting home field advantage in the entire National League and were arguably the best team in the NL. They got out to a 2-0 lead in the Division Series as they were on the brink of advancing to the NLCS, but in game one they lost their ace Johnny Cueto due to an injury, and would lose that lead as the San Francisco Giants won three straight games including Game Five which saw Giants’ catcher Buster Posey hit a grand slam that ultimately decided the game and the series. That Game Five would have been started by Cueto had he not gotten hurt. And in 2013, they would lose in the Wild Card Game against Pittsburgh which saw Cueto get roughed up.
The team is currently in rebuild mode, but the hope is that they can be contenders very soon. Despite a rough start to this 2018 season, they have played well of late and the hope is that they can continue that in the coming years.
If the Reds have had the penchant to collapse at the worst moments, then the Bengals have the penchant to just flat out collapse. During the 1990’s this was a very bad team. It took a while before they became a relevant side, but once they hired Marvin Lewis to be their head coach, a sense of a winning culture was instilled in the squad and progress was immediate as they went from 2-14 in 2002 to 8-8 in both 2003 and 2004. Finally, in 2005, the Bengals had a strong enough team that reached the playoffs. They faced their hated rivals Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round and it looked like they had a chance of even going to the Super Bowl. However, that was very short lived as their quarterback Carson Palmer tore his ACL after being tackled by Steelers defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen. They would go on to lose that game 31-17.
They would not make the playoffs until 2009 where they would lose in the first round once again. However, in 2011, the Bengals established themselves again as a winning club that would sustain that success as they made the playoffs every season from 2011 to 2015. In 2011-14, they would lose in the first round, but there were arguments that they weren’t necessarily the stronger team in their first round matchups. But in 2015, they most certainly did.
In what is probably the most agonizing loss was the one that was most dramatic in the 2015 Playoffs. It was against, of course, the hated Steelers. Earlier in the season, the Bengals lost their quarterback Andy Dalton, but backup AJ McCarron filled in admirably. In this game, they saw themselves down 15-0. However they managed to come back and took a 16-15 lead late in the fourth quarter. They intercepted the ball and it seemed like they were finally going to advance. Then running back Jeremy Hill fumbled the ball and Pittsburgh finally had a chance. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had injured his shoulder earlier in the game and he came back into the game in hopes of making a come back. It was clear that he was not healthy as he could barely throw. Then in an attempt to throw to his best receiver Antonio Brown, Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict hit Brown at his helmet, knocking Brown out, and the Bengals were penalized. Another penalty came in later when cornerback Adam Jones was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. The result of the penalties made it easy for a field goal which the Steelers made and went on to win the game.
I think my article I wrote earlier this year talking about how awesome it was to watch Xavier and UC basketball was this season, would lead to seeing the curse truly upfront. Maybe my praise was the last thing all you Cincinnati sports fans needed. For that, I am sorry. However, as I have seen with my hometown, curses are meant to be broken. I don’t know who will break it, but one day Cincinnati, you will finally have time to rejoice.