Thursday, September 4, 2008

Aztec Football and the San Diego Sports Curse

Where have you gone Marshall Faulk? A nation turns it's lonely eyes to you. Did SDSU really just lose at home to Division I-AA cream puff Cal Poly? For the 2nd time in a row? Yes, they really did. That thud you heard after Cal Poly kicker Andrew Gardner nailed the game winning field goal from 21 yards out as time expired, was the sound of Aztec football hitting rock bottom. SDSU hasn't been to a bowl game or had a winning season for that matter since 1998. They got close in 2003, going 6-6, but two of their wins that year came against Division I-AA schools Eastern Washington and Samford, so they weren't as close as they appeared. Since the beginning of 2004 SDSU has gone a paltry 16-32. And let me remind you that they don't play in the SEC or the Big Ten or even the Big East, no they play in the mediocre Mountain West. So why can't they win? They consistently place players in the NFL, they are 1 of only 3 Division I-A programs in Southern California (an area notoriously rich with high school and junior college football talent), and they have one of the most widely respected athletic directors in the country in Jeff Schemmel. So how can they possibly be this bad?

You could easily point to coaching and blame it on their head coach, Chuck Long. Afterall since Long arrived on campus in 2005 the Aztecs are a pathetic 7-18. Yes his roster is consistently lacking talent but how can you not recruit successfully when your school is located in San Diego, America's undisputed finest city? Add to that the fact that in a preseason college football article in "Sporting News" where they ranked the top 52 coaches from non-BCS Division I-A schools, Chuck Long was ranked number 52. But I'm not sure Long's the problem. He came to SDSU with a distinguished background in assistant coaching stints at Iowa and college football powerhouse Oklahoma. And he was a finalist in 2004 for the Broyles Award, which goes to the nation's top assistant coach. Granted he came in with zero head coaching experience but how can a guy go from top tier assistant coach to bottom ranked head coach in a span of two seasons? It doesn't make any sense.

Maybe it's the scheduling? It seems like every year their 4 non-league opponents include at least one team from both the Big Ten and the Pac Ten. What genius made this decision? Perhaps starting off every season with 2 demoralizing blow-outs at the hands of superior opponents has damaged the team's confidence to the point where they simply can't perform? Had they not lost to Idaho, San Jose State, and Cal Poly (twice) over the span of the last 6 seasons this theory might hold water, but since they did it does not. Besides the non-league shedule was rectified this season with cream puffs Cal Poly, San Jose State, and Idaho. Oh wait, the same teams that beat them over the span of the last 6 seasons. Perhaps they adopted the same mantra as the 08 U.S. Men's Olympic basketballers - the redeem team. After an opening loss against Cal Poly it's time to find a new mantra.

Perhaps it's the University's athletic department itself. Tony Gwynn, first ballot hall of famer and SDSU alumni, has been the head coach of the Aztecs baseball team for the past 5 years. Over that span the team's record is just 142-162 and has zero post season victories. Steve Fisher, national championship head coach at Michigan in 1989, has been the head coach of the Aztec basketball team for the past 9 years. Over that span the team is just 147-130 and has zero victories in the NCAA tournament. Distinguished coaches with undistinguished records at SDSU. Why? Is it the AD, Jeff Schemmel? The same Jeff Schemmel who is largely credited with transforming Kansas State football from perennial Big 12 doormat to perennial Big 12 contender? How could it be his fault? Like I said before it doesn't make any sense.

So why then is Aztec football (and Aztec sports in general) so bad.?  It's the San Diego Sports Curse... what else?

From Wikipedia:

The San Diego Sports Curse is a mythical explanation for the city of San Diego's inability to win a Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Finals, or any other major league sports championship in the United States.

Because of the lack of a championship, and the city's population, San Diego has the dubious distinction of being the largest city in the United States to have never won a major league sports championship.  Furthermore, San Diego has one of longest sports championship droughts in all of the United States, only winning the AFL championship in 1963.  This record surpasses that of Cleveland, another cursed city, whose Browns last won an NFL Championship in 1964. Since then, no other team from that city has won a major professional sports championship.

Unlike other "curses" that seem to strike particular teams (the Boston Red Sox's Curse of the Bambino, the Chicago White Sox's Curse of the Black Sox – both of which seem to have been lifted – and the Chicago Cubs' Curse of the Billy Goat), this evil is said to have struck all professional teams in the city and county of San Diego, much like Philadelphia's Curse of Billy Penn. Neither the San Diego Padres nor the San Diego Chargers have ever won a championship in their current league, nor has any other major sports team that has resided in San Diego (including the Clippers, the Conquistadors and the Rockets). Moreover, the fact that San Diego does not have an NHL or NBA team makes it harder for the city to break the long-running problem of being the largest American city without a championship.

The curse of post-season failure extends even to college sports. The San Diego State Aztecs have never won a game in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, and the football team has not won a bowl game in the past 37 years (0-3 since their 1969 Pasadena Bowl victory).

The cause of the curse, which is theoretically impossible to prove, can be traced to the trade of Chargers wideout Lance Alworth to the Dallas Cowboys in 1970, which is similar to Boston's Curse of the Bambino in that the flip side of the curse was the Cowboys' success after the transaction. Dallas went from being a perennial loser in championship games over the previous five seasons (the Ice Bowl, Super Bowl V) to a team that won the Super Bowl during Alworth's first season there (and has won 5 Super Bowls overall), and gained the distinction of being "America's Team." In stark contrast, the Chargers were sent into a huge championship drought, although this development would fail to explain why all San Diego teams are cursed (the trade of Babe Ruth to the Yankees cursed just the Red Sox and not the Patriots, Celtics, or Bruins, who have all enjoyed dynasties since the start of the Curse of the Bambino).

Another explanation that has been advanced is the exceptional weather and the high quality of life many San Diegans enjoy. This line of thinking argues that the more miserable a place is to live, the more likely that place is to have a winning sports franchise. Of course, this theory is refuted when one looks at Buffalo, New York (a city known for cold, snowy winters and for hosting the Bills, the only NFL team to lose four straight Super Bowls).

Whatever the cause of the curse may be, here's to the Chargers breaking it in Tampa this February. Superbolts baby! Get er done men.

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