STATESIDE: Another season of hurt for Washington fans

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Move over Chicago – there’s a new curse doing the rounds.

Seeing the Cubs extinguish 108 years of hurt and goat-infused paranoia saw the battered sporting souls of the Windy City unleash a huge collective sigh of relief.

Everyone looked at Chicago baseball with a mix of sympathy and dark humour. Now, though, the jokes and tears are directly firmly towards Washington DC.

The Wizards may have brilliantly kept their NBA playoff dream alive in dramatic fashion on Friday night, yet it was the NHL Game 7 defeat for the Capitals which really stung the country’s capital.

A 2-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the reigning Stanley Cup champions, in the second round of the playoffs was a crushing blow and added to arguably the worst sporting Stateside stat right now: It is 66 combined seasons (NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB) since a team from DC reached a Conference Finals. And they are 1-for-86 in reaching the semi-final since 1992.

With Cincinnati coming in quite a distant second with 43 , that’s one hell of an awful tally.

While the last of the Redskins’ three Super Bowl wins came 25 years ago, at least there’s been some joy on a football field in amongst a series of car crash seasons since.

No-one expects too much from the Wizards, even with John Wall firing. Their only championship came 39 years ago under the guise of the Washington Bullets.

Over in the MLB, the Nationals, who used to be the Montreal Expos until their move in 2005, have never won a National League pennant let alone trodden the boards during the World Series.

In 2012, the Nationals had the best record around but blew it at the start of the postseason despite being one win away from a first-round victory.

It was more of the same last term, with a super-charged five-game series with the LA Dodgers not going their way.

It’s on the ice, however, where hope has sprung eternal even if the franchise has just ONE Stanley Cup appearance since 1915 (defeat to the Detroit Red Wings in 1998).

The arrival of Russian ace Alex Ovechkin 12 years ago was supposed to signal the start of a brand new era. Millions of dollars have filled his pockets, yet all it’s guaranteed is more heart-wrenching agony.

Nine playoff appearances. Nine series shrouded in disappointment.

There was hope that following an impressive campaign this season – the Caps boasted the best record in the NHL – 2017 would be their year.

Just get past the Penguins and Sidney Crosby. Even when it went to a deciding match and with superstar Crosby sitting out with concussion, hopes were high.

Well, they were until the buzzer sounded. Washington drew a blank, Ovechkin had a stinker before admitting he was playing with an injury which has ruled him out of the World Championships this summer.

The Russian isn’t the player he was – in 82 games this campaign,he netted scored 33 goals with 36 assists. That’s two less in the assist department and 17 fewer goals than last year.

Five goals and three set-ups in 13 postseason matches wasn’t too shabby, but, ultimately, not enough.

Nevertheless, it was a rotten end to a promising season for a team hailed one of best for years.

Ovechkin, at 32 years-old, is past his prime but with four years of a $10 million deal remaining, won’t be going anywhere fast. He remains popular with fans although, tellingly, some sections of the local media have begun to rip into their star turn.

Standout players like TJ Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky were expected to have fired the Caps to glory, but will now look on as the rebuilding starts.

New hopes. New dreams. Yet will reality bite once again?

“As I said to everybody in the room, I hope you get this opportunity again,” said coach Barry Trotz. “You don’t know if you will. You don’t know if you’ll ever get back to the playoffs.”

“When you lose the right to keep playing, when you’re in the playoffs and you feel that you can be a team that can do some damage, it always is a bitter pill to swallow.”

Wizards: It’s over to you.

No pressure.

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Madden NFL's most cursed cover athletes

Jay Asser 13/05/2017
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Madden legend: Michael Vick. Picture: Getty Images.

Black cats, breaking mirrors, opening umbrellas indoors… All child’s play compared to the ‘Madden Curse’.

Landing on the cover of one of the most popular video game titles sounds cool, right? Not if that game is Madden NFL.

The popular franchise has claimed many victims during it’s brief run. After originally being released as ‘John Madden Football’ in 1988, it featured its namesake on the cover every year until 2001. Players were also shown alongside the former broadcaster and Hall of Fame coach in some of the editions, but 2001 was the first year the game had a cover athlete, with Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George blazing the trail.

Ever since, a weird thing has happened. Several cover athletes have suffered injuries or fallen well short of their previous season output that earned them a spot on the cover in the first place. Prior to Madden 17, however, it looked as if the curse was dying off, with the previous four cover athletes – Odell Beckham Jr, Richard Sherman, Adrian Peterson and Calvin Johnson – all faring just fine. But then, Madden 17’s Rob Gronkowski missed half the regular season and all of the playoffs with a back injury to revive the voodoo.

Now, Tom Brady of all people will take on the curse by appearing on Madden 18 and attempting to be one of the lucky ones to get through the upcoming season unscathed. If anyone can beat a mythical curse, it’s Touchdown Tom, who at the age of 39 defied Father Time to lift the Lombardi Trophy for the fifth time in his legendary career. What’s a silly curse to Brady?

The New England Patriots quarterback laughs in the face of danger, but if he’s not careful, he could join the following players on one list he wants no part of.

Here are the five most cursed Madden cover athletes:

5. Peyton Hillis Madden 12

at M&T Bank Stadium on December 24, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland.

Of all the Madden athletes, the Cleveland Brown running back stands out as the one with the least star power. That’s what you get though when you let the fans vote for who should be on the cover. Almost no one expected Hillis to match his 2010 campaign, in which he captured lightning in a bottle by rushing for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns, while reeling in 61 receptions for 477 yards, but his decline was sharp. In 2011, he managed 717 yards and three touchdowns in total, playing just 10 games due to hamstring injuries. At least he got his 15 minutes…

4. Donovan McNabb, Madden 06

GettyImages-82903402

On paper, the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback didn’t fare too badly in the games he played in 2005, notching 2,507 passing yards, 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions. The problem was he only played in nine games as a groin injury cut his campaign short, one year after he led the Eagles to the Super Bowl and nearly captured what would have been his only ring.

3. Shaun Alexander, Madden 07

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One of the issues with being named to the Madden cover is it often comes after you’ve had a career season, so it’s incredibly difficult to replicate that. For Seattle Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander, he was never going to be able to match his bonkers 2005, when he rushed for 1,880 yards and an NFL record 27 touchdowns. Alexander likely would have still had a strong 2006 if he didn’t suffer a broken foot in Week 3 that limited him to 10 games, in which he managed 896 yards and seven touchdowns.

2. Rob Gronkowski, Madden 17

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It’s probably not fair to give the Madden Curse credit for this one. At least not full credit. The New England Patriots tight end has been injury prone during his seven-year career and last year was no different. After taking his time to recover from a hamstring injury that kept him out the first two weeks, Gronkowski came back and did his thing in eight games (540 yards, three touchdowns) before a back injury put him on the shelf again. He did end up getting a ring out of it though, so again, was he really cursed?

1. Michael Vick, Madden 2004

No player has experienced Madden’s give and take quite like the former electric Atlanta Falcons quarterback. As far as dominant athletes in video games go, Vick is right near the top thanks to how ridiculously unstoppable he was in Madden 2004. His speed and elusiveness in the game practically made him a cheat code and helped grow the legend of the highlight-reel star. But it wasn’t all good. Before the 2003 season even started, Vick broke his leg in the preseason and missed the first 11 weeks. He eventually got back on the field and had 585 passing yards, 255 rushing yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions, but the Madden Curse had done its damage and established itself as a real threat.

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The most successful playoff runs in NBA history

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No team in NBA history has been able to stay perfect during a playoff run to a championship however, some teams have come close.

The 2017 playoffs have two teams capable of running the table to the NBA Finals with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors both halfway there with an 8-0 record in the playoffs in their respective conferences so far.

The Cavaliers will have a much easier opponent in the Eastern Conference Finals, whether it is the Boston Celtics or the Washington Wizards, as both squads lack the experience and talent to overcome the Cavs and LeBron James, who is performing at an all-time level in these playoffs.

The Warriors will face sterner resistance from either the San Antonio Spurs or the Houston Rockets.

Both teams have a chance to enter the Finals with (12-0) record and solidify their excellence in playoff history, here is a look at five teams who achieved the best records in the postseason:

5) 1986-87 LOS ANGELES LAKERS

PLAYOFF FORMAT: 5-7-7-7

OVERALL RECORD: 15-3

Led by Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar the Lakers ran through the 1987 Western Conference, sweeping the Denver Nuggets in the first round, then defeating the Golden State Warriors in five games in the second round. Their success continued by sweeping the Seattle Supersonics in the conference finals to set the stage for a clash with Larry Bird and his Boston Celtics in the Finals. The Lakers defeated their bitter rivals 4-2 and completed one of the most dominant runs in playoff history.

4) 1988-89 DETROIT PISTONS 

PLAYOFF FORMAT: 5-7-7-7

OVERALL RECORD: 15-2

The year of the Bad Boys, Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars led the rough and intimidating Pistons to one of the best streaks in American sports. They only lost two games in the Eastern Conference Finals to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, Detroit dismantled all their other opponents in four games including the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals.

3) 1990-91 CHICAGO BULLS

PLAYOFF FORMAT: 5-7-7-7

OVERALL RECORD: 15-2

The first of six championships for the Bulls, Michael Jordan was a man possessed during the 91′ playoffs and was determined to lead the franchise to its first title. The Bulls swept the New York Knicks in the first round, handled the Philadelphia 76ers in five games then swept the Pistons in the conference finals. Chicago met the Lakers and Magic in the Finals and easily dispatched the older team in five games to claim their first championship in franchise history.

2) 1982-83 PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

PLAYOFF FORMAT: 3-7-7-7

OVERALL RECORD: 12-1

The opening round of NBA playoffs during the 1980’s was a best of three series. The 76ers were a juggernaut first seed in the East and earned a first-round bye at the time. Julius (Dr.J) Erving and Moses Malone led their team to a sweep of the Knicks in the semifinals, afterward defeating the Milwaukee Bucks (4-1) in the conference finals. The 83′ showdown it was called, Philadelphia obliterated the Lakers in four games and avenged their two previous losses to Los Angeles in the championship round.

1) 2000-01 LOS ANGELES LAKERS

PLAYOFF FORMAT: 5-7-7-7

OVERALL RECORD: 15-1

Considered the best one-two punch in league history at the time, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal were in their prime and ready to wreak havoc on the rest of the NBA. The Laker swept all their Western Conference opponents to reach the Finals with an (11-0) record.

The 76ers and Allen Iverson were standing in the way of a perfect post-season for the Lakers, Shaq and Kobe took over the series but could not end on a perfect note, Los Angeles lost the opening game at home (107-101) in overtime off a 48-point performance from Allen Iverson. The Lakers won every game after that to win back-to-back titles.

If the Cavaliers and Warriors meet in the finals, there is zero chance that either team could sweep the other. The story line could shape up into two super teams meeting in the NBA Finals for a trilogy with perfect (12-0) records coming out of their conferences.

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