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Crothers: Clemson And "The Curse"

Tuesday, January 20, 2009 9:34am

CURSES FOILED AGAIN

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try again.

Fifty-three trys. Fifty-three road trips from Clemson to UNC. Fifty-three straight somber rides home.

They call it the Clemson curse. Not me. Them. The folks who’ve been watching too much Star Trek. Seriously, one of my pet peeves is when reasonably rational sportswriters and broadcasters proclaim that something which happened in a college basketball game five, 10, 20, 50 years ago has anything whatsoever to do with what will happen this season, when none of the same players, and often neither of the current coaches were involved in any of that history.

Besides, it’s not as if somebody at Clemson has done anything to merit an actual curse, like opening King Tut’s tomb, banishing an odiferous billygoat, trading away Babe Ruth or joining the Kennedy family.

So, why is it that every time Clemson shows up in Chapel Hill, the Tigers turn into the Washington Generals?

Has anybody stopped to consider that on any given night a significantly superior team should defeat an inferior team? After all, UNC has beaten Clemson in 67 of their 86 meetings not played in Chapel Hill. That’s not black magic. That’s better players.

Blame some of this voodoo talk on Clemson’s memorable visit to UNC a year ago when the Tigers led by 11 points with just three minutes remaining, only to lose in double overtime. That result brought out all of the Miss Cleos in the press, convinced that a curse must exist. When Clemson’s Cliff Hammonds was asked about it after the game, he said, “I don't think there's a curse. We wanted it most of the game, but then we lost focus on our defense coming down the stretch and they wanted it a little more than us."

(Note: the only thing I hate more than talk of curses is talk of one team “wanting it” more than the other, but we digress…)

“I'm happy [the streak is] still going on,” Tyler Hansbrough said after UNC’s 53rd straight home win over Clemson set an NCAA record. “We didn't say anything about it before the game, or anything like that, but everybody knows about it, so we definitely didn't want to be the team that they break it on."

UNC players say that their coaches never discuss the streak leading up to the game, but that doesn’t mean the Tar Heels don’t talk about it amongst themselves. Hansbrough’s quote suggests that there may be more pressure on the team that has won 53 games in a row than the team that has lost them. Honestly, what has Clemson got to lose? A 54th straight game? So what? Prohibitive underdog isn’t the worst psychological position to be in.

I repeated Hansbrough’s quote to Clemson coach Oliver Purnell this week and asked him to gauge the psychological mindsets of both teams.

“You’ve got me on the couch now,” he said, chuckling at the thought. “You’ve got Tyler on the couch. When the game starts Wednesday night, there won’t be a couch to be found anywhere.

“I don’t think we want to address any curse, because, first of all, I don’t believe in any curse. It’s not about 50-some losses, it’s about this group. We’re talking about [this game] as an opportunity. We’re talking about writing our own script, not following some script that was written long before these kids were born.”

Got it, coach. Until I see your head spin around on its axis, I’m not calling an exorcist. I’ll just enjoy watching your team keep trying.

The history books tell us that the ultimate maxim for perseverance, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” is attributed to Robert the Bruce, a 14th century Scottish king who endured a rather lengthy losing streak against the English army fighting on Scottish territory, in what both teams thought was a home game. As we all remember, Robert finally did upset the English at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.

As the Clemson Tigers take to the court for their 54th try to win the Battle of Chapel Hill, they can take some solace in the resolve of Robert the Bruce. And if it doesn’t work out, heck, maybe it’s time to consider the advice of W.C. Fields, who said, “If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There's no point in being a damn fool about it.”

Tim Crothers is the author of The Man Watching: A Biography of Anson Dorrance, the Unlikely Architect of the Greatest College Sports Dynasty Ever.