91 years later, the 'Pottsville Curse' continues to haunt the Arizona Cardinals

Posted at 5:51 PM, Nov 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-19 20:01:45-05

After 108 years, the Chicago Cubs are world champions, forever ridding themselves of the Curse of the Billy Goat.

By defeating the Cleveland Indians in a dramatic seven-game World Series, the Cubs passed the label of longest championship drought to their former neighbors, the Arizona Cardinals, who have had a lesser-known curse hanging over their heads for over eight decades.

The citizens of Pottsville, Pennsylvania placed that curse on the Cardinals -- and they believe the 118-year-old franchise will fail to win a Super Bowl until a certain championship is rightfully returned to their town. 

Here's what you should know about the Pottsville Curse:

In 1925, the Pottsville Maroons football team participated in what would be its first of four seasons in the NFL. The Maroons capped the season by earning a 21-7 victory at the then-Chicago Cardinals in their final game of the season.

Since the NFL did not have a playoff format at the time, the NFL championship was awarded to the Maroons, as their win over the Cardinals gave them the league's best record.

Six days later, the Maroons played an exhibition game in Philadelphia against a college team, the University of Notre Dame All-Stars -- a game the Maroons won 9-7. However, since they played that game without the NFL's authorization, the Maroons were stripped of the 1925 championship.

Sensing an opportunity to claim the championship as their own, the Cardinals went on to schedule and win "two hastily arranged games against weaker teams" in order to leapfrog the Maroons in the standings, according to William C. Kashatus of The Citizens' Voice in Wilkes-Barre, PA. 

"The ploy was within the NFL's rules at the time due to the open-ended schedule," Kashatus wrote.

The Cardinals won both games and surpassed the Maroons in the standings -- and as such, the NFL recognized the Cards as 1925 NFL champs, their first title in franchise history.

"Infuriated by the ruling, Pottsville’s fans argued that if the Maroons had not been suspended, they would have won the title," Kashatus wrote. "Still, the league’s owners insisted that the Cardinals were the legitimate champions based on the rules of the time."

According to Patrick Lester at The Morning Call, another PA-based publication: Chris O'Brien, the Cardinals' owner at the time, actually refused to accept the championship from the NFL. But the Bidwills -- the family that still owns the Cardinals to this day -- eventually accepted the title after they took over the franchise in the 1930s. 

Today, the Cardinals proudly display a banner of the controversial 1925 championship at University of Phoenix Stadium and at their practice facility in Tempe. They also make reference to the championship on their website,without mentioning the controversy that surrounds it.

Meanwhile, "the Maroons, their survivors and the city have been trying to reclaim that piece of history for the past eight decades," Lester wrote.

According to Kashatus, NFL owners reviewed the Maroons' case twice in the 1960s. On both occasions, the owners refused to reverse the NFL's decision.

"When the NFL decided not to re-open the case for a third time in 2003, Ed Rendell, then Pennsylvania’s governor, asked city and borough councils across the state to lobby the NFL to restore the Maroons’ title," Kashatus wrote. "When his efforts failed, Rendell called the owners 'cowardly barons' and declared he would have 'no more communication with NFL officials until they award the Pottsville Maroons the 1925 title.'"

Today, Pottsville's population is just under 15,000 -- but those who call the town home are still upset about the NFL's decision. The curse is so etched into Pottsville's history that a book about the 1925 Maroons' "stolen" championship was written in 2007.

Weeks before the Cardinals faced the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII in 2009, Lester interviewed several Pottsville residents, including the mayor, who were rooting hard for the Cards to lose.

"We're going to have to call a meeting of the warlocks and witches to re-institute this hex we have on the Cardinals. I've got to find out who the witches and warlocks are," Pottsville Mayor John D. W. Reiley told Lester.

The Cardinals did go on to win an NFL Championship in 1947, 22 years after their contested one -- and they did so against another PA-based team, the Philadelphia Eagles.

But the Cardinals, who moved to St. Louis in 1960 and to Arizona in 1988, have never won a Super Bowl, as they fell to the Steelers in heartbreaking fashion in their one and only Super Bowl appearance. Pottsville's residents continue to believe the Cards will continue to go Super Bowl-less until the NFL, or the Bidwills, return what they believe is rightfully theirs.

"We feel betrayed. We'd even perhaps settle for co-champions," one Pottsville businessman told Lester.  

"They are cursed... and they should be."