We’re all familiar with the Curse of the Bambino, but what about the Curse of the Colonel? The urban legends surrounding Boston’s sports are as infamous as the city itself. For decades, Bean Town’s sportslore has been passed down through generations of sports fans. In many cases, these tall tales have stuck around longer than the legends they’re based on. The fables are intertwined with Boston’s culture; soaked into the soil of Fenway’s field and twisted among the rafters of The Garden.
Bill Russell was traded for the Ice Capades.
Bill Russell is considered to be one of the greatest players of the NBA, leading the Celtics to 11 championships in his 13-season career. So, why did the Rochester Royals (now known as the Sacramento Kings) trade him up for the Ice Capades? After all, Les Harrison, the owner in Rochester, had the first pick in the 1956 draft and made a pass on the most promising rookie. In John Feinstein’s 2004 collection of stories, Let Me Tell You a Story: A Lifetime in the Game, based off of Red Auerbach, the then-coach of the Celtics, Auerbach explains the 1956 draft rundown:
‘So how’d you get them to not take Russell?’
Red smiled. I had set him up perfectly.
‘The Ice Capades,’ he said.
‘The Ice Capades?’
‘Sure. Walter Brown [the owner of the Celtics] was president of the Ice-Capades. I had him call Les Harrison, the owner in Rochester, and tell them he’d send the Ice Capades up there for a week if they didn’t draft Russell.’
‘So you got Bill Russell for the Ice-Capades?’
‘You got it.’
Auerbach held onto this story for his entire life, keeping it with him until he passed away ten years ago. If this story is true, then that means Harrison bartered 11 championships for one week of twirling and whirling figure-skaters.
In an in-depth look into the trade-tale by Bill Cronin, he writes,
… it should be noted that Walter Brown never spoke about the incident before he passed away in 1964. Lester Harrison, for his part, vehemently denied the story before he passed away in 1997. And Auerbach told the story a number of times before he passed away in 2006.
It seems like from here on out, this is a dead-tale of “he-said/Les-said” with none of the direct parties alive to ask about it. Although, in Bill Russell’s Red and Me: My Couch, My Lifelong Friend, Bill sticks to the same story. Nevertheless, true or false, it’s a funny thought to imagine Russell in the shadow of Dorothy Hamill.
Wade Boggs downed 64 beers on a cross-country flight while drafted by the Red Sox.
First and foremost, it should be immediately stated that this sportslore is atrociously untrue. Wade Boggs did not drink 64 beers on a cross-country flight from Boston to LA. That would be ridiculous. He drank 107. Boggs recently denied the “64 beer myth” in an interview with ESPN, but former relief pitcher Jeff Nelson said that Boggs “absolutely would drink ’50 or 60’ beers” in a day. Furthermore, Charlie Day of Fox series, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, based an episode off of the legend. While on The Tonight Show, Day claims that when Boggs met the cast of It’s Always Sunny, he confessed the true number of beers he drank on that flight: 107.
Curse of the Colonel
Although not directly involving Boston, Japan’s baseball team, the Hanshin Tigers, have a history that is all too familiar to a favorite Fenway fable: The Curse of the Bambino. In 1985, the Hanshin Tigers, considered the “Boston Red Sox of the Nippon league”, made their first and only victory in the Japan Series. Needless to say, Hanshin fans went absolutely 2004-ALC-crazy. In celebratory fashion, fans who happened to strike a slight resemblance to any of the Hanshin Tigers would leap from the Ebisu Bridge in Osaka and into the canal below. Unfortunately, without a person to emulate American-player Randy Bass, a rabid crowd seized a plastic statue of Colonel Sanders from a nearby KFC and tossed it off the bridge in effigy. This began the Curse of the Colonel, which states that the Tigers will not win the championship again until the statue is wholly recovered. In 2009, withered and fractured pieces of the Colonel were found by divers in the Dotonbori River. Until this day, Sanders’ left hand and glasses sit at the murky bottom of the river and the Hanshin Tigers have yet to make their comeback. 32 years without a championship title? That’s nothing. Try 86.
Left-Handed Larry Bird Game.
To beat the boredom and blues of being an NBA prodigy, it is rumored that Larry Bird played an entire game left-handed. This rumor is only partly true however, as Larry Bird played half the game against the Portland Trailblazers with his dominant hand. Still, it’s more than impressive that Bird shot left-handed for 22 points out of his overall 47 points for that game.
Coach of Harvard Football strangled a bulldog to boost team morale.
Out of the 28 games that took place in the 1908 College Football season, Yale had won 21 of them. Harvard Crimson’s Percy Haughton, being one of the first professional head coaches, had a strong desire to defeat the Yale Bulldogs. The legend has it that, before the game, Haughton strangled a live bulldog in front of his players to motivate them to victory. Alas, this story has been determined untrue (although the killing has come into question). However, it is suggested amongst Harvardians that the true story goes a bit like this: Haughton had emblematically strangled a papier-mâché bulldog; he then strapped the faux-pup to the back of his car and proceeded to drive around Harvard Square with it dragging behind him. If legend is true, this was a break-through motivational tactic because Harvard Crimson did, in fact, win the game 4-0. Percy wasn’t playin’.
TD Garden Monkey
For years, Celtics players and fans had sworn they had seen a leprechaun swing from the eaves during games at The Garden. In the late 90s, this was proven to be false. It wasn’t a leprechaun that they had been hallucinating, it was a monkey. During the 1998 demolition of The Garden, a mummified monkey corpse had fallen down from center court.
When the Boston Globe got wind of this monkey business in ’98, there had been no physical evidence that the monkey ever existed at all, only the stories of demolition workers. Not until recently, in 2015, did photos surface giving proof to the monkey’s existence.
Now, with the monkey-sightings actually confirmed, it’s on to the next question: how did it get there? It had been theorized that the little primate had broken loose during a traveling circus that rented out The Garden in the 1930s. An excerpt from a 1930s Globe article reads,
Swinging high in the rafters of the vast auditorium, scampering over beams that a cat would have shied at, the monkeys, escaped from their cage, romped, leaped, hung, and frolicked with such agility that seven of the best trappers of the Animal Rescue League could only catch three.
Unfortunately, this can’t be the case. The monkey that was discovered during demolition was not old enough to have come from the ‘30s. Perhaps a fan snuck their monkey-companion into a game? All we can say now is at least we’re certain that the monkey was real, but the mystery lies within the origin.