The Root Cause of the Astrodome Sports Curse

Groundbreaking for the Domed Stadium Houston, Texas January 3, 1962

Groundbreaking for the Domed Stadium
Houston, Texas
January 3, 1962

 

The Root Cause of the Houston Sports Curse may have been staring us in the face for the past 52 years – but we just looked past the obvious without seeing, because we were missing a salient fact from the past. Put the blame on the innocent gullibility of our Houston sports culture in the late 1950s and early 1960s, please. It took us, at least, the first twenty years as a designated major sports big league franchise in baseball and football to finally recognize that being in a big sports league or major conference was no guarantee of a World Series or Super Bowl – to say nothing about actually winning one.

The Houston Oilers and Earl Campbell ran into a “Steel Curtain” that redundantly quashed their hopes for a Super Bowl in the late 1970s. In spite of strong words from a fellow named “Bum”, the Oilers never did find that next year in which they actually kicked that door in to where they wanted to go. In time, it would be the Oilers who found an easier door to open – and that one led to the hills of Tennessee and away from the disdain of jilted fans in Houston. Bud Adams and the Oilers were to Houston like the person in a relationship who says “if I can’t have everything I want from you, I’m leaving right now.” A reaction from most Houston fans was pretty much what it is with angry jilted parties too on the receiving end of that threat. – “Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out,” Houston fans responded to Adams and the Oilers.

The Houston Astros took 19 seasons to finally knock the bejabbers out of Houston baseball fans who always thought that a World Series was sort of like Social Security. – You know, sort of like an entitlement that you eventually get – if you just wait long enough. When the 1980 Astros taught the fans that two more innings with Nolan Ryan pitching on the wings of a 3-run lead could and would crumble into a defeat that did deny the club their first World Series in Game 5 against the Phillies that night. Even a nice late game lead with a future Hall of Famer pitching is no sure thing. Winning these big games also hinges on luck, how the ball bounces, the alleged eyesight of umpires, and non-interference by the gremlins or gods of baseball. If you aspire to be a serious baseball fan, never take anything for granted, even the word of an owner who says he’s doing everything he can to win. And, even then, if he really is trying, the wait may exceed your lifetime.

The Houston Rockets of the NBA were the latecomer of the Big 3 sports leagues to arrive in our town. It’s not fair to connect the Rockets to any curse emanating from the Astrodome, unless it was a belated side swipe at Elvin Hayes for becoming something of a national hero by leading UH to a 71-69 victory over  UCLA and the great Lew Alcindor in January 1968 at the Dome in a game that put college basketball on the map. In an event that came to be known as “The Game of the Century”. Hayes later starred for the Rockets, but never won a title for them. The Rockets finally taught Houston fans in the mid-1990’s that it was possible for a team from Houston to win a “world championship”. By the time the Rockets won, however, local fans were wise enough to understand that these two crowns were both achieved during the two-year absence of Michael Jordan from the NBA to see if he could also make it big in baseball. He didn’t, but he tried. Most Rocket fans understood that Jordan’s sabbatical from the NBA was a contributing factor to their two championships in the two years he was absent.  There are no entitlements in any serious competition.

So, what’s all this have to do with a Houston sports curse? We didn’t even cover UH’s Astrodome football disappointments in this documentation. As a  regular tenant of the Astrodome for most of its 20th century life span, UH was entitled to its share of cruel loss too.

So, what’s the deal about a Houston Astrodome sports curse? Maybe nothing, but it’s fun to explore. If the Cubs and Red Sox can get away with it, why can’t our community of excuse-makers?

About 33 years ago, I remember having a discussion with former 1980’s hurler Vern Ruhle over coffee at a social function one day. Naturally, we talked about the frustration of Games 4 and 5 in the 1980 NLCS. When I half-kidding mentioned the old rumor that the Astrodome may have been built on the site of an old Native-American burial site, I thought the very white-complexioned Mr. Ruhle was turning to chalk in shock as I mentioned such a possibility. He had never heard the rumor, but it made terrible sense to him how that could have been the source of a curse on anyone who used the Dome to play “games”. It also wasn’t lost on Vern Ruhle that, if the story were true, that it would not have been a matter of the dome sitting on top of a burial ground. That 24-feet deep excavation would have resulted in an absolute destruction and unearthing of bones or artifacts – an utter decimation of the worst kind upon a sacred place.

Ruhle’s point is also the factual reason that the Native-American burial mound excuse for a curse is also easily dismissable. Fact One: If the excavation crew had violated a burial ground, those items would have appeared in the removal material and most probably would have been reported. Fact Two: if unearthed artifacts were not reported, one of the dozens of story-hungry writers who were out there all the time during construction would have written a piece on what they had seen and made a big deal of it. Fact Three: Nothing like that ever happened. No unearthed artifacts or bones were reported. Conjecture: There may be a burial ground nearby any large hole that’s dug in the State of Texas, but, as far as one may take this logically: The presence of a Native American burial mound at the site of the Astrodome is highly improbable.

No, our suggestion for a curse-source, if there is such a thing, is much simpler to see and connect to those who have used the Astrodome for near-major wins in all sports that have evaporated late into inexorably painful defeats.

Here it is. – Remember that photo of all the local officials firing Colt .45’s into the ground at the 1962 Astrodome construction groundbreaking ceremony? On Page 92 of “The Astrodome: Building an American Spectacle” (2014) by James Gast, the author clarifies a point that many of us never knew. We thought they were firing live ammunition into the ground. According to Gast, they were not. – They were firing blank cartridges!

Once you can see it, you can say it: If there is a Houston Astrodome sports curse, maybe it’s as simple as the mystical possibility that they started the Astrodome by firing blanks – and that the local teams that played there just kept right on firing blanks at the worst possible times for the rest of the 20th century.

Curses. Foiled again.

____________________

eagle-0range
Bill McCurdy

Publisher, Editor, Writer

The Pecan Park Eagle

Houston, Texas

 

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7 Responses to “The Root Cause of the Astrodome Sports Curse”

  1. Tom Hunter Says:

    Slightly off topic, but the Astrodome is the burial site of former Colt .45s pitcher Jim Umbricht. After his death on April 8, 1964, his ashes were spread over the construction site of the Astrodome by his brother, Ed, from a small plane as his parents and teammates looked on. Jim Umbricht’s number “32” was the first to be retired by Houston.

    Another reason that razing the Astrodome would be a sacrilege.

  2. Rick B. Says:

    Now we need curse explanations for Minute Maid Park & Reliant Stadium (and, given the state of the Rockets, Toyota Center as well). No more one-stop shopping for curses (or for cursing at Houston sports teams’ fates).

  3. Anthnony Cavender Says:

    I believe Minute Maid was constructed on contaminated soil.

  4. Wayne Roberts Says:

    The Texas Longhorns pretty much always did well in the Astrodome and we viewed games there, especially with UH as home games.

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Wayne! Wayne! Wayne! – You knew I would respond here, didn’t you? And so I do. All in fun.

      No question. The Longhorns were 4-3-1 against the Cougars in the Dome. Two of the UH wins at home over UT included a 60-40 bomb in 1987 and a 47-9 slaughterhouse night in 1989. These were hardly the death rattles of the Astrodome curse, unless you care to tack on those big John Jenkins payback wins by UT in Austin. I have to say this much.

      If anything, the curse for UH at the Dome was tied to the fact that a whole herd of Longhorn cousins were displaced to make room for the 8th Wonder. And that motivated the Horns to come to Houston with motivations for grazing on AstroTurf and then pooping the bi-products upon our beloved Cougars. – In the end, UT won one more game in the Dome in games with UH. They also hung 70 points on UH in Austin one year, even though none of those Austin wins could make for the 30-0 drubbing that UH put on UT in their 1976 first SWC season, one that just happened to fall in the last year of Coach Darrell Royal, whom I also respected greatly. Royal was the guy that helped UH get into the old SWC. As a UH guy, I took no joy in that part of it. It just worked out that way.

      Meanwhile, it’s still baseball season. And the Astros’ offense is coming alive. And last night, Dallas Keuchel looked pretty good.

      Enjoy your Sunday and come see us in Houston sometime.

  5. Wayne Roberts Says:

    What was that line by I think the chair of the Cotton Bowl Committee in 1976 with regard to UH students and alums spending habits. Something like “Half of them are robbing the 7-11 and the other half are standing outside drinking Slurpees.” I was told by UH administrators a year or two later that at their Cotton Bowl parties in Dallas in 1976 they were serving drinks in Slurpee cups. I always admired that. Great win over OU, Bill. Savor it well!

  6. AKSHU'S SITUATION Says:

    Yes its a new…

    Thank you for liking this post – and for your somewhat incomplete comment. If you would care to finish that thought – and if the thought is relevant to the subject natter of this column – and if it is expressed in good taste, we shall be most happy to run it. – Regards, Editor, The Pecan Park Eagle.

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