The Curse of the Super Bowl

In the wake of the scandal involving players and coaches of the New Orleans Saints being suspended for all or a portion of the upcoming season, superstitious fans of the National Football League find the timing of these events to be destined. Based on the disastrous seasons of the two most recent teams whose metropolitan areas hosted the Super Bowl, one might conclude that a curse befalls the team with the possibility of playing in the league championship game on its home field. This supposed hex included the starting quarterback missing most of the season in the case of one and every game in the other. If this pattern continues, Drew Brees would be wise to continue his unsigned status through January.

Bolstering the belief in this fated misfortune, none of the teams in the host cities of the eleven most recent Super Bowls qualified for the playoffs. Only twice in that span did the local team in the metro area of the site even finish with a winning record. In fact, in nine of those seasons, the team whose stadium served as the venue for the Super Bowl finished in third or last place in its four-team division.

Going back to 1990, this perceived misfortune has befallen the city hosting the Super Bowl with frightening regularity. During twelve seasons, the host city’s team lost ten or more games. During these twenty-two seasons, the local team managed a winning season a mere five times. In only three seasons did the team from the Super Bowl site advance to the post-season; none of those played in their conference championship games. The most successful result for the supposedly accursed team occurred in Miami when the Dolphins won their division and a first round playoff game before bowing out in the divisional round. Given this litany of results, one could understand why fans would prefer that their team’s stadium not be used to stage this unofficial national holiday.

However, this seemingly pre-determined failure for the team in media market of the Super Bowl has not existed since the inception of this championship game. Despite the mostly appalling finishes of home-town teams in the twenty-two most recent seasons, in sixteen of those forty-five seasons, they did finish with a winning record. Those teams even qualified for the playoffs in 22.2 percent of the first forty-five seasons ending in a Super Bowl. Hosting teams have averaged winning their divisions in one out of every nine seasons. During last four seasons of the 1970s, three teams whose home area hosted the “Big Game” qualified for the playoffs, including one advancing to its conference championship game and another going to the Super Bowl.

Additionally, some fans and media have trumped up this alleged jinx by erroneously stating that no team has ever played as a “home team” in the Super Bowl. Actually, no team has ever played in the stadium in which it plays its home games. In fact, on two occasions teams did participate in the championship game within easy commuting distance of their home stadium. During the 1979 season, the Rams, based in Los Angeles for that season, commuted to the Super Bowl in Pasadena. Five seasons later, the Forty-Niners took the short trek southward to Palo Alto. Also, the Raiders have not had to leave their state for the Super Bowl on two occasions; in 1976 season, they headed south from Oakland to Los Angeles then to San Diego during the 2002 campaign.

What explains this perceived misfortune for the teams whose metropolitan areas have served as the venue for the premier sporting event in the United States? One must regard the correlation between the sites of the Super Bowl and the track record of the teams who call them home. New Orleans, has hosted this event on nine previous occasions, the second most frequent host. New Orleans also endured a wretched franchise, which has managed only eleven winning records in its forty-five seasons. The Super Bowl has been played in Tampa Bay four times; the local team has managed winning seasons in less than a third of its thirty-five seasons. Finally, this ultimate football game has taken place twice in both Houston and Detroit, neither of whose teams have experienced more than modest levels of success; neither has ever managed to play in the Super Bowl. The frequency of the Super Bowl occurring in locales with underachieving franchises helps explain why the hosting cities’ teams fares so poorly in years when they had a chance to play for the championship in their backyard. Therefore, fans around the country need not fret if your city bids to host the Super Bowl or is so fortunate as to land the highest profile sporting event in the United States.