OK, sports gods, what exactly did Cincinnati do to anger you?
There’s feeling cursed, and then there’s being subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. Losing is one thing, but to lose in the most improbable and heart-wrenching ways possible is another. We seemingly have entered a new realm of sports-related devastation in this town and it’s not an easy pill to swallow.
This has become more than the normal woe-is-us situation. We know we like to whine about and dwell over our sports sadness. We still curse the name Kimo von Oehlhoffen. We know the exact amount of time Joe Montana left on the clock – 34 seconds – in Super Bowl XXIII after ripping the Bengals’ hearts out. We will never stop the what-ifs regarding Kenyon Martin’s broken leg (in fact, it’s not even a what if: UC would have won a national championship). And then there’s Pete Rose and the Hall of Fame. Sigh.
But 2016 seems to be setting a new standard for Queen City sports misery. It’s gone beyond the agony of defeat to more of the sports equivalent of a "Saw" movie.
Fans on both sides of the Crosstown Shootout have a new debate – not which school is better, but rather which group is more in need of therapy after last weekend’s events.
UC was already reeling from a four-overtime loss in its conference tournament, complete with an 80-foot prayer by UConn at the end of one of those extra frames to keep the game going. A berth in the Big Dance felt good, and Bearcats fans had to think, in the immortal words of Howard Jones, things can only get better.
A hard-fought, well-played game that saw Jacob Evans and Coreontae DeBerry put up career performances ended in a unique and soul-crushing way.
Octavius Ellis’ emphatic dunk appeared to send the game against St. Joseph to overtime. Oh, but wait. After Zapruder film-like analysis, Ellis had his fingers still on the ball mere hundredths of a second after the horn sounded. No basket. Back to the Spokane airport, Bearcats.
UC has found a lot of interesting ways to lose over the years. (West Virginia’s Jarrod West banking in a deflected three-pointer buzzer beater in the 1998 Sweet 16 comes to mind for me, mainly because I was so mad during that game I went out and washed my car rather than subjecting myself to the heartache. I chose wisely and the Saturn Coupe never looked better.) But one would be hard-pressed to find a game that’s ever ended like Friday’s.
Surely some Xavier fans chuckled as they watched a devastated Ellis in tears on the floor. Could karma come back to haunt them? Yes, and it did, big time.
An easy first-round win against Weber State was a nice start. A back-and-forth battle with Wisconsin began to look good for Musketeers fans with a few minutes left as Xavier built a small lead. But Wisconsin wouldn’t die and when Edmond Sumner was called for an offensive foul in the closing seconds, it left enough time for one more Badger shot. Bronson Koenig made them pay with a ridiculously tough three from the corner that hit nothing but net.
Even with Ghostbuster Peter Venkman himself in attendance, Xavier couldn’t exorcise Cincinnati’s sports demons.
And what about poor fans of either team who are also Bengals fans? Only months earlier they endured one of the NFL’s all-time meltdowns when Jeremy Hill fumbled and Vontaze Burfict decided to relocate Antonio Brown’s head to Serpentine Wall to give the hated Steelers one last chance to knock them out of the playoffs. No need to go into more detail than that, as Who-Dey Nation probably experiences shell shock at the mere mention of that debacle.
So, sports gods, what gives? This isn’t normal. It feels like we now have the Brady Bunch’s Hawaiian tiki statue and our teams are like Alice blowing her hip out in a hula dance. (Much like the Bengals blew out Bo Jackson's hip back in the day. Hmm, interesting parallel and possible genesis of the curse.)
We’re a city that needs TLC. We suffer from a bit of an inferiority complex in regards to other cities. It causes us to get giddy over Emilio Estevez saying he likes Over-the-Rhine, for goodness sake. So we would like to think our teams are on the same level as other major cities’. But if we have to keep taking these sort of kick-to-the-groin defeats, it’s hard to even hang our hats on that.
So please, have mercy, sports gods. Don’t make Joey Votto get run over by Gapper driving an ATV while on a home run trot. Don’t make the Bengals forfeit their first draft pick due to a clerical error. And please don’t have A.J. Green suffer an injury in a tragic juggling accident. Haven’t we suffered enough already?