I was hanging out with a few friends last year and we talked lacrosse and sports in general as a few of them don't follow lax. Those who did play and kept in touch with the game got on the topic of the Gary Gait fiasco and team mutiny at University of Maryland. It was explained by someone that the AD at Maryland had misled Gait, the game's greatest male player, who also assisted the Terps to 7 straight women's titles, telling him he'd eventually get the men's coaching job when Dick Edell retired. When Edell left for health reasons before the 2002 season, it was further said, that Gait was snubbed for the job and left the school in disappointment but gracefully.
Gary Gait coaches the 2002 Bayhawks to the MLL Championship
A member of the group, who played baseball and is a huge Boston Red Sox fan, said quite matter-of-factly, "He's the Bambino. You're cursed." addressing me and another at the table who attended the University of Maryland and only a moment earlier were boasting of our week-old national basketball championship.
"What?" We responded together.
"Yeah. It's a textbook case of Bambino Curse." He answered, "This Gait guy was the best ever, right?"
"Yeah." We answered.
"And he was screwed for a few bucks or some political grist or something, right?"
"The House that Gait built!" my buddy chimed in referring to an earlier joke made about the new Basketball arena at Maryland.
"That's an interesting reference. How's the team doing, now?" He asked.
"Worst season in years." I admitted. He just laughed and then the rest of the table followed.
A few days later I looked up the curse on the internet. There are maybe 100 fan pages devoted to just the curse. Apparently, in January of 1920 Red Sox owner and Broadway producer Harry Frazee sold the unwilling slugger, first baseman, outfielder, pitcher and "greatest player ever" Babe Ruth (THE BAMBINO) to the rival New York Yankees for $125,000 in cash and a $300,000 loan collateralized by Fenway Park. Frazee used the money to finance the Broadway musical "No, No, Nannette", which bombed as did every Boston team from that point on - hense the curse. The Babe built a house (Yankee Stadium), a legend and dynasty in New York. Frazee is known in New England as a villain who perpetrated the greatest betrayal in Boston history. Ironically the whole crazy Frazee story was retold this year in a musical called ''The Curse of the Bambino'' at the Lyric Stage Company in Boston.
THE BAMBINO, George Herman "Babe" Ruth
And the curse lives on even now, but was most evident in 1986. The Sox had a great season making it to the World Series against the New York Mets. The Red Sox were about to disprove that silly curse with a 5-3 lead in the tenth inning of game six of the series. The Sox were up 3 games to 2 and the Mets were down to their last strike with nobody on base. Three straight singles by Gary Carter, Kevin Mitchell, and Ray Knight scored the Mets' fourth run. An untimely Bob Stanley wild pitch scored Carter and the Mets tied the score. Mookie Wilson hit an easy out ball that trickled through the legs of first baseman Bill Buckner as Ray Knight scored the winning run. The Mets, of course, won game 7 and the championship. 67 years after the curse was first surmised by anyone, it was proved to be a scientific fact, according to most Boston fans.
The famed play imortalized and even autographed
But, the 2002 Terps women did improve and got into the playoffs. They lost to a very good Cornell team and Princeton won the championship. More notably, the Terps did not - for the first time in recent memory.
The Princeton Tigers won the big one in 2002
The 2002 U of M men's team didn't make the post season after losing only 4 games to ranked teams by one goal. They were, by all accounts, a top ten team from the season's start to end but there wasn't even a stir when they weren't selected as the "Duke gets hammered by Hofstra and then gets into the show instead of them" controversy roared. Duke had, of course, beaten Maryland by only one point, twice.
4 points kept the Terps out of the 2002 tournament
I began to think about the curse this summer and called my friend in Boston for some scientific data and an expert opinion. "You know, Gait was the best men's player ever and he was the assistant for the Maryland Women's Team which was probably the best ever. But then he didn't get the MEN's coaching job." I said.
"And?" he asked.
"Which team would be cursed? I mean, I don't believe in this whole curse business but if it were true, would the men's team or women's team be cursed?"
"Wow. I see. That's tough." He said. I told him what had happened with the teams in 2002 and he determined that both teams could be cursed. "You won't really know if the curse is in play until it really matters - like in a game six of the World Series." He complained, still embittered by a 1986 ground ball that I don't even remember.
"So, last year doesn't help us determine?" I asked.
"Not really. I mean, it sounds like the men are cursed losing so many games by a point and missing the dance as a possible favorite to win, but, as far as the curse goes, that's kid stuff. That will happen year in and year out, in between choke overtime losses in NCAA tournament games and that type of thing. If the curse is on the men."
I explained that the Maryland men, based on that analogy, have been cursed since I was a kid, playing in final fours at their own Byrd Stadium and always disappointing, the undefeated '87 team that fell apart in the semis and so on. He just advised that it would be harder to determine at such an infancy of a potential curse if the men were affected than it would be for the women who dominated everyone until the very moment the Gait incident occurred. The men might not have been due a championship for another twenty years or so anyway but the women surely had built a program that would prove his theory one way or the other over perhaps the next five or ten years. "Be patient." He warned. "We only really proved it in Boston after most involved in the initial incident were long dead. The only thing those in the short term know and know well is that they aren't winning championships. I'll give you a great example, if a team that averages 3 losses and 10 wins gets cursed somehow, it may take two hundred years for the curse to mean something because the team stinks every year anyway. There are many teams that could be cursed and would never know it."
I told him that the Terps' men did not stink at all and that they might even be highly ranked in 2003 but that if a championship or lack thereof was the indicator, they may very well take decades to prove it one way or the other. Remember, only Princeton, Syracuse and Virginia have won it in the last decade anyway. He surprised me with the next question. What'd Gary Gait do with himself after the snub?" "He coached the Baltimore Bayhawks to the pro Men's World Championship." I bragged. He just started laughing and I knew that Gary's success did not help the case I wanted to make for the Terps not being cursed. Babe Ruth's Yankees dominated for years after the Boston gaffe. That's the "rub-it-in" part of the curse I later learned, renting the "Baseball" documentary by Ken Burns who is also a Red Sox fan and believes fully in the curse.
Terps Women are undefeated in 2003
I saw the Terps women play a few times in early 2003. I began going around saying things like "They're baaaaack!" They had beaten UNC, Duke and Virginia within a couple weeks of the season's start and locked up the ACC regular season crown and just a week ago beat powerhouse Georgetown in DC after losing Alexis Venechanos to injury and switching between the two back-up keepers for the remainder of the game. And the men have played well under second year coach Dave Cottle. Print mag covers featured their stellar defensemen and a revamped attack produced many a goal as they racked up the wins and rose in the polls. They lost to an up-and-coming UNC squad at home but then topped the very good Virginia Cavaliers in Charlottesville getting right back on track. So I called my friend again to tell him he was obviously way off.
Cottle's Terps are sure to get one of 16 post-season spots in 2003
"Don't you see?" He pleaded, "That's how the curse works. Of course they are the best team this year! Of course the women beat Georgetown and Duke! Of course the men are on a roll. If they are cursed, they will, some years, look like they couldn't lose. And they'll take a big lead in the championship or whatever, and THEN! Then it happens! The curse is evil, I'm telling you. It would be ok if the Red Sox were like the Cubs and never had a chance. But we all had to experience the popping champagne corks and then the wild pitch and then the Buckner ground ball to truly feel the evil of it. If the Terps are cursed, this is a great year to test it, if they are that good."
And they are that good. And doesn't that scare the faithful. Well, maybe not yet, according to our curse and bitterness expert from Boston. "No, no." he says, "it's still early yet. You're not even at the '1946 Ted Williams chokes in the Word Series' level yet. People still have faith and the curse is not even on the minds of the participants in year 1, 2, 3 or whatever. Until some media jerk makes a big deal out of it (Cough… pardon me, offense taken) they won't even know it exists. You still gotta go through disappointments like the big championship losses against the Cards in '67 and the Reds in '75. It's not until a great team fails that participants will start believing in the curse - until it haunts the back passages of their minds silently, waiting for the ball to drift slowly toward them and when they are thinking about the colossal party that will ensue the moment after they GRAB THAT EASY GROUND OUT AND TOUCH THE FREAKIN BASE! Sorry."
Buckner in '86
"I understand and only sympathize, for now" I said, still not including myself in his boat of cursed sports enthusiasts. "But you're implying that, in the first years, while the curse is 'fresh' and not so evident and not on the minds of the players, coaches, opponents or whomever, the team may win despite the curse, because they don't believe in it yet?"
"You wish that's what I meant." He retorted, "That's like some movie where if you don't believe, the maniac guy chasing you with a machete just dissolves into thin air. This is real. It's a curse man. It's not of this world. A bunch of college kids can't break it if the Roger "the Rocket" Clemens can't break it, if Ted Williams can't. I mean. Come on. Ted Williams. In the early stages it will just seem like they ARE going to win each year or at least on good years but for some strange or very normal reason, they don't - someone gets hurt before the game, a key player gets ejected early in a game, a ref blows a FREAKIN EASY CALL…you know? Your from Baltimore, Right?"
"Maybe some punk fan kid reaches over the outfield wall and catches a sure out making it a Yankee home run in the ALCS. Know what I mean?"
"Now I'm gettin' you." That kid always pissed me off.
"Eventually they'll know why they never win the championship but it might take 20 years or even 67. The Sox lost suspiciously in the '99 ALCS and we were relieved." He kept on, "That's where you eventually end up - happy that there wasn't the opportunity for the glimmer of hope. You've got a long way to go until then though. This guy, what's his name? Gait? He'll probably take a college job right down the street and be your nemesis for years if the curse progresses normally."
"Golden" Gait has won 8 championships in the 8 seasons he's been a coach
"Right. OK." What a downer this guy is becoming. I mean, the Terps are NOT the Boston Red Sox. Gary Gait's happy as a world champion coach. U of M built a basketball arena with the dirty money from the Gait fiasco at the very worst, if it even went down that way. But, the Comcast Center is a great building! A sure-fire winner!
"No, No, Nannette is a great musical! A sure-fire winner!" - Harry Frazee, 1919
Crazy like Frazee? Maryland AD Debbie Yow and PR henchman Dave Haglund
I hope there's not a bad karma curse on my Terps. I don't know if the Maryland men's lacrosse team will contend in May with so many great teams out there but I'd put money on the women. And now, I know a guy in Boston that will always take that bet.