The Cubs defeated the Dodgers last night 10-2 to tie up the National League Championship Series at two games a piece. After getting shut out in two straight games, the sky seemed to be falling on the Cubs’ magical season, as they had to win Game 4 in Los Angeles to tie the series. This is usually where the Cubs have fallen apart over the last 108 years since their last championship, so Chicago fans could hardly be blamed for being pessimistic.
However, they came through and crushed the Dodgers behind home runs from Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell. It was a huge performance by a team that has always shrugged off the tortured reputation the franchise holds, and something a weaker team could not have accomplished.
As we’ve seen throughout sports history, a perceived curse can definitely have an effect on a city’s attitude and the play of their team. It was the case with the Red Sox and their fans during their 86-year drought; same thing for the Phillies before they won in 2008. But the most relevant example of success after heartbreak is also the most recent: the curse of the city of Cleveland.
Before this year’s NBA Finals, Cleveland hadn’t won a major sports championship since 1964, when the Browns won the NFL Championship (yes, it had been so long that the Super Bowl was still two years away from its inception). Along the way, Cleveland fans suffered more debilitating losses than any three-sport fanbase: The Drive, The Fumble, The Shot, Game 7 of the 1997 World Series, LeBron’s Decision, etc. Cleveland had such bad luck as a sports city that the term “God Hates Cleveland” became a legitimate online trend.
But then LeBron James led the Cavaliers back from a 3-1 series deficit to the seemingly unbeatable Golden State Warriors, and kicked off the year of Cleveland. As soon as that final buzzer sounded in Game 7 in Oracle Arena, the city of Cleveland let out a collective sigh of relief. Now that barrier has been toppled, and the Indians followed up with a trip to the World Series. The reason that this is comparable to the Cubs is that 50 years of debilitating defeats for three teams is worth just as much karmic pressure, if not more, than 108 years for one team. With the stakes as high as they are, here’s some guidelines for the Cubs and their fans to break the Curse of the Billy Goat:
You have to hit rock bottom before you can rise up.
When the Cavs went down 3-1 to the Warriors, that was rock bottom for Cleveland. They had already lost to the same team in the previous year’s Finals, got their butts handed to them twice by that team in the regular season, and then dug themselves a hole that nobody had ever climbed on that stage. They came back and won.
Rock bottom for the Red Sox was the 3-0 hole to the Yankees in the 2004 ALDS. They came back and won. Sometimes you have to go to the deepest, darkest recesses of your mind, close to insanity, before you can overcome a bad streak. Were the two straight shutouts a deep enough sorrow for the Cubs and their fans? We’ll see.
Have one guy go berserk and lead you to the promised land.
It happened with LeBron James (two straight 41-point games, inhuman block in Game 7). It happened with David Ortiz (countless clutch hits in the 2004 playoffs). So who’s it going to be for the Cubs?
The beautiful thing about this team is that it could be any number of guys. Javier Baez carried them against San Francisco. Jorge Soler has a big bat and could get hot at any time. Ben Zobrist has a proven track record of success. But Rizzo and Kris Bryant are both in the discussion for NL MVP, so I’d place my bet on one of those two. It could also be one of their great pitchers
Get huge performances from your supporting cast.
Someone needs to have the equivalent of Kyrie Irving’s 41-point Game 5 performance against the Warriors, or Curt Schilling’s bloody sock game. Or when Johnny Damon went off against the Yankees in Game 7 in 2004. The rest of the team needs to get inspired by the star, play with confidence, and focus entirely on breaking this curse. Which brings me to…
Embrace the adversity, but in the right way.
Another thing the 2004 Red Sox and 2016 Cavaliers had in common is that they were motivated by their respective curses. They were willing to take the brunt of decades worth of turbulence because they wanted to be known as the ones who finally brought the team out of it. They didn’t underestimate it, nor did they let it eat away at them. Unlike the fans, who were all making plans for another disappointing playoff exit. But…
The fans should live and die with their team.
It’s a necessary part of the formula. When you have all the years of frustration and heartbreak built up, it’s so much sweeter when your boys do finally get it done. And they will… At some point. This team has too much special talent to not win one. If it isn’t this year, it’ll be the next, or the year after that. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t root with all your might for it to be this year.
And, finally, one specific to this Cubs team and fan base. It’s so important that I’m going to put it in all caps:
DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THE FACT THAT CLEVELAND IS THE EXAMPLE YOU’RE ASPIRING TO, AND THAT THEY WOULD BE YOUR WORLD SERIES OPPONENT.
As I mentioned before, Cleveland is on an unprecedented level of karmic momentum. The Cavaliers opened up the floodgates, and the Indians soaked up all of that success. They’ve lost one game in this postseason in which they shut down the fearsome line-ups of the Red Sox and Blue Jays. They have a relief pitcher, Andrew Miller, who was so frighteningly good he won ALCS MVP. And they have a manager who knows a little something about breaking a curse in Terry Francona, of 2004 Red Sox lore.
And, most importantly, they have the motivation of breaking a 68-year championship drought without the hopes of an entire city resting on their shoulders. When the Cavs won, they took the edge off the Indians. Now they’re in a low-risk, high-reward setting, and that’s scary for the team they’re facing.
The Cubs shouldn’t assume they’ll beat Cleveland, especially because that would also be assuming they’ll beat the Dodgers. As we know, the Cubs and their fans can never expect things to go how they want.