The Dallas Cowboys football team, believed by many to be destined for the Super Bowl, lost early in the playoffs again. I’m not a superstitious person, but with every annual Dallas Cowboys flameout it gets harder to doubt that the Curse is real – the Dallas Cowboys won’t win another Super Bowl until St. Louis gets an NFL football team.
Rumors of the Curse first started circulating in St. Louis a couple of years after the Rams football team relocated to Los Angeles. A drunken comment here, an overheard whisper there. But anytime someone asked directly, the person talking clammed up, as if they feared even uttering the words out loud. As if they feared the wrath of the Curse might somehow turn back on them.
Supposedly it happened the football season after the Rams left. The city had embraced the Rams, made them our own, brought them into our hearts. We had done everything they asked, buying seat licenses to fund the stadium, approving a plan to upgrade the stadium, supporting the team even though it seemed as if the owner was purposely trying force the team to fail. And then our hearts were ripped out, cast aside.
Stan Kroenke, the owner of the Rams, was easy to hate. But it was hard not to think of Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, as the real villain. Jones had bought the Dallas Cowboys in 1989, and from the start it seemed as if Jones was interested more in the greater glory of Jerry than in the sport of football. Early on he won some Super Bowls, but his arrogance drove away his coach and the Super Bowls stopped. It was Jerry that built the first billion-dollar NFL stadium, a glorious, shining palace grander than anything the NFL had ever seen.
Kroenke was promising an even grander stadium, virtually a city built around a football field. The stadium improvements that St. Louis offered would never match up in Jerry’s eyes. And so Jones worked very diligently to convince the other owners to turn their backs on the St. Louis fans, to go against their own relocation guidelines, and vote to allow the Rams to abandon St. Louis. He filled owners’ ears with visions of glorious billion-dollar football palaces across the land. St. Louis never had a chance.
But of course, the billion dollar stadiums aren’t really about football. They have nothing to do with what happens on the field – they are about flattering the owner’s ego. For the people that actually love the sport of football, all they do is jack up ticket prices.
People say it started with Uncle Bill Green, the doorman at the Venice Café, a bar in the City of St. Louis. The Venice is an unusual place, almost church-like. Some walls were covered with relics of the past, others with complex, feverish mosaics. Bill wasn’t all that big, but he manned the door for years. Some people thought of Bill as just a clever ex-drinker with a biting sense of humor. Others saw him as a healer, a Shaman even. When people would gather to raise a glass to a departed friend, he knew just what to say to honor the spirit, to turn sadness into a celebration of life. Some people whispered that he was the world’s most dangerous poet, though nobody would ever say why.
After the Rams left, a dark cloud had settled over St. Louis. We had been betrayed by the National Football League and the Football Gods were angry. Something needed to be done to somehow cleanse the city, to push back against the cloud. Rumors say it started as a plan to get together and burn Rams jerseys and paraphernalia, a ritual to end our connection to the Rams. Late one night, Rams fans gathered at the Cahokia Mounds, the ancient Native America burial grounds. They brought jerseys and hats and pennants, Rams onesies and crop tops. As people added their items to the pile, Bill was there providing comfort, strengthening the resolve of those who were wavering.
It was a cloudless Fall night, with a full moon. It wasn’t cold yet, but there was a biting wind. As the fire was lit, Bill started talking about Manabozho and the devious buzzard, an ancient legend of the Menomini Native American tribe. The buzzard had been a beautiful, vain bird, its head covered with glorious plumage. But the buzzard was also devious. He pretended to be Manabozho’s friend, and so Manabozho climbed on the buzzard’s back so they could soar together.
But instead the buzzard flew to a great height and then caused Manabozho to slip off and fall to earth. As Manabozho nursed himself back to health, he remembered the buzzard’s betrayal. Manabozho lured the buzzard to him, and then punished it for its deceitfulness by ripping the beautiful feathers from the buzzard’s head, leaving the buzzard bald and ugly for eternity, its ugliness there for all to see.
As Bill was telling the story the wind began picking up. He seemed to almost go into a trance and began shouting “With the Football Gods as my witness, I call upon the spirit of Manabozho to right this wrong. I call upon you to bring down upon Jerry Jones the Curse of the Buzzard. Strip him of his plumage, punish him for his hubris. Take from him that which he holds dearest in this world, winning the Super Bowl. Make him pay for his affront to the people of St. Louis and his disrespect of the Football Gods. I call upon you to curse Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys” he shouted. “Let him rot in mediocracy in his gilded palace. Do not let the Cowboys win another Super Bowl until this wrong has been righted.”
People said the wind howled louder and louder, buffeting them but somehow not touching Bill, driving the flames higher. Some people said it seemed as if Bill had walked into the fire itself. And then suddenly there was a deafening thunderclap and the wind ceased. It was dead still, eerily quiet. Nobody was quite sure what they had seen, or what happened.
Bill stood motionless, his eyes closed. He whispered “It’s done”. And then it was almost as if he snapped out a trance, startling himself. “It’s done” he said, more loudly. “Hear my words and know that this is true. Jerry Jones has angered the Football Gods with his hubris, and so from this point forward his life will be marked with shame. The Dallas Cowboys are cursed to never win another Super Bowl until St. Louis gets a new football team.”
Who knows, maybe the curse will end when Jones sells the team. Maybe it will last a hundred years, like the Cubs’ curse. I know it’s petty, but a part of me feels a little puff of joy every time I see Jones on TV talking about his pain and disappointment. It seems only right that the Curse has done to him what he did to football fans in St. Louis.