The “Curse of the Bambino” ended with a miracle in 2004. The Boston Red Sox became the first team in Major League Baseball history to rally from a three-games-to-nothing deficit, claimed the American League pennant over the hated New York Yankees, and swept the St. Louis Cardinals for their first World Series title since 1918.
The “Curse of the Billy Goat” ended in the midnight hours of November 2, 2016. In maybe the most memorable game seven in World Series history, the Chicago cubs outlasted Mother Nature and the Cleveland Indians for their first World Series championship since before the Titanic sank.
Most recently, the Philadelphia Eagles vanquished the “Lombardi Curse,” taking down Tom Brady and the New England Patriots for their first ever Super Bowl title.
While Red Sox, Cubs and Eagles fans could finally soak up their long-awaited climb to the top, the rest of us were left with somewhat of a void. Some of the most celebrated storylines in sports had vanished.
The “lovable losers” of Boston and Chicago were no more. The underdogs had become top dog. Where, then, can the rest of us find the next great sports curse?
Look no further than Charlottesville, Virginia.
On a frigid night in Blacksburg, the University of Virginia found itself leading arch rival Virginia Tech by four with less than 3:30 left to play. An incredible interception by UVa linebacker Charles Snowden not only set up the Cavaliers at Tech’s 11-yard line, but prompted a number of Hokie fans to head for the Lane Stadium exits.
The streak had ended. Virginia was about to snap a 14-year drought to their in-state rival, and tame Tech on its own field for the first time since 1998.
Then, the inexplicable happened. The unimaginable. The stuff curses are made of.
The Hokies held the Cavaliers to a field goal. Quarterback Ryan Willis, who was intercepted on the last drive, threw up a 3rd-and-10 prayer that was answered by tight end Dalton Kean for a 43-yard gain.
And perhaps the most unexplainable play of the night, running back Steven Peoples, blazing towards the endzone in the final two minutes, coughed up the football, and seemingly the game at the Cavaliers six yard line. A UVa defender had the ball, the game, and the streak, at his feet. But as if the spirit of Bill Buckner’s 1986 World Series blunder swirled through the south endzone, the fates had other ideas.
The ball rolled past that UVa defender, and into the arms of the Hokies. Game tied 31-31, and headed to overtime. New life for a Tech team, who’s hopes of a 26th consecutive bowl trip seemed dead in the mountain air.
In the extra session, Hokie kicker Brian Johnson, who missed his previous five attempts before Friday night’s game, finished off a 2-for-2 performance with a go-ahead 42-yard field goal. Then, 14 yards from victory, Cavalier quarterback Bryce Perkins, all but unstoppable in the second half, fumbled a simple handoff.
Hokies recover. Game over. Somehow, some way, Virginia Tech won. The streak survived. 15 straight wins- and counting- over Virginia. It’s the longest streak in FBS football for one team over their in-state rival.
The final sequence of events doesn’t even take into account the game- and curse-defining- moments earlier in the contest. One of Virginia’s receivers dropped a wide-open touchdown toss in the first quarter. With Virginia at the Tech 13-yard line, the officials egregiously awarded a fumble to Virginia Tech with replay clearly showing Perkins’ elbow and knee down.
And just as impactful as any memorable play in the final minutes was the final play of the first half.
Willis threw what looked to be sure-fire pick six as the second quarter clock hit zero. Somehow, the Hokies quarterback ran down UVa’s cornerback, and dragged him down well short of the endzone.
There have certainly been unforgettable finishes in this rivalry. In 1995, Virginia Tech’s Antonio Banks picked off Mike Groh for a game-winning, walk-off pick six. Three years later, Virginia rallied from a 29-7 halftime deficit to stun the Hokies 36-32 in Lane Stadium.
There have been last-minute field goals, game-winning interceptions, and career-defining touchdown passes, but no ending may live on like the 100th edition of Virginia versus Virginia Tech.
Red Sox, Cubs and Eagles fans might have seen its twists and turns, and remembered that same stomach-churning feeling of defeat, the thoughts of, “how?”
Or, “What just happened?”
In a rivalry that used to be a back-and-forth affair, the Hokies have now held on to the Commonwealth Cup for 19 out of the last 20 seasons.
It’s the stuff curses are made of.
On Friday, November 23, 2018, the “Curse of the Commonwealth Cup” was born.