Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The 1993 Runner-up Jinx

Less than a month after trading Bobby Abreu and many others, the Philadelphia Phillies are just one game out of the wild card lead in the National League. This Saturday, Charlie Weis leads a highly-touted Notre Dame squad into its opener at Georgia Tech. Both teams have hopes of playing for a championship. However, to do so, each must overcome a fearsome obstacle: the 1993 Runner-up Jinx.

In the major American sports, not one runner-up from the 1993 season has made it back to the championship round since then. After Joe Carter took Mitch Williams deep, the Phillies have not gotten close to the World Series again. In fact, they have not reached the postseason at all during that time, to the chagrin of Philly’s title-starved fans. The city’s resistance to championships has even caused an unprecedented decision by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Academy members stripped Tom Hanks of his first Oscar, ruling that no one from Philadelphia could have legitimately won a title.

Notre Dame also finished the 1993 season at number two. The Fighting Irish have not been in the national championship mix since then. Incredibly, they have not even won a bowl game during that time, dropping eight in a row. As a result, Notre Dame lost its luster in comparison to other top programs. Symbolizing this fall in power was the sequel to Rudy, in which Rudy transfers to USC.

Perhaps most emblematic of the 1993 Runner-up Jinx are the Buffalo Bills. The 1993 season was the fourth in a row that Buffalo concluded by losing in the Super Bowl. In the early 90’s, the Bills played second fiddle as reliably as Ed McMahon. They even impacted the 1992 presidential campaign. The word “Bill” was so synonymous with runner-up status, Arkansas governor Clinton refused to reveal his first name until after he had won the election. However, Buffalo has not been a part of the past 12 Super Bowls. Therefore, the NFC representative could no longer be certain of victory.

After losing a classic six-game series to the Chicago Bulls in 1993, the Phoenix Suns have not returned to the NBA finals. The team has been close recently, falling in the conference finals the past two years. Two-time league MVP Steve Nash recently took action to try to take the next step. Noting that the 1993 Suns made it to the finals thanks to a bald MVP (Charles Barkley), Nash decided to shave off his famous hair, sporting a new buzz cut. The move seems to be a desperate ploy to overcome the ’93 Jinx, as Nash is less likely to be compared to Barkley than to Natalie Portman in V For Vendetta.

Another Canadian native with famous hair is mullet icon Barry Melrose, head coach of the 1993 Stanley Cup finalist Los Angeles Kings. As part of the familiar theme, the Kings have not returned to the final round since losing to the Montreal Canadiens that June. That run was the last time they even made the playoffs with Wayne Gretzky before The Great One was traded to St. Louis in 1996. Gretzky’s departure from Los Angeles was reportedly due to his well-publicized feud with Kobe Bryant.

So far, 1993 has refrained from commenting on the jinx. However, a source close to 1993 provided possible insight on the year’s reasons for imposing the hex. He noted, “1992 was an Olympic and presidential election year. 1994 was an Olympic and World Cup year. 1991 was a palindrome, which is a cool thing. 1993 just had the same events you see every year, so it didn’t feel special. But I guarantee you, all those runner-up teams remember 1993 now!”

Certainly the Michigan basketball program realizes the power of the 1993 Runner-up Jinx. The Wolverines fell to North Carolina in a classic NCAA final best remembered for Chris Webber’s infamous time-out. Michigan has not reached the Final Four since then. The program is so desperate to escape the jinx, it has erased all records noting its championship game appearance and has removed the corresponding banner from Crisler Arena. The measures apparently did not fool 1993, which even extended its jinx to keep Webber out of the finals during his NBA career. However, showing that it has a sense of humor, 1993 has allowed the Wolverines to make three finals appearances in the NIT.

Tennis fans are currently enjoying the U.S. Open, but they are aware that the jinx even extended to that event. The 1993 men’s runner-up was Cedric Pilone, who fell in straight sets to Pete Sampras and never returned to the U.S. Open final. Second place on the women’s side was Helena Sukova, who never again played in the championship round at Flushing Meadow. She lost in straight sets to Steffi Graf in the 1993 finals. Sukova is convinced that if the result had been reversed, she would have been the one to win the U.S. Open again in 1995 and 1996, and later marry Andre Agassi.

Despite the power of the 1993 Runner-up Jinx, the Phillies and Fighting Irish defiantly hold out hope to play in the World Series and BCS national championship game, respectively. It helps to have Ryan Howard or Brady Quinn on your side. However, if the teams fall short, 1993 will mischievously remind Mr. Manuel and Mr. Weis of the classic StarKist Tuna commercials: “Sorry Charlie!”