Another cheerless Padres season is coming to a merciful conclusion, the Chargers have begun their charmingly erratic annual stutter-step through the NFL schedule and our NCAA Div I universities have startedfootball season as basketball waits in the wings. San Diego stands alone as a beacon of sports futility among America’s ten largest cities. Amazingly, no San Diego’s professional or NCAA Division I college team has ever won a national championship in baseball, basketball or football. Several years ago on a cold rainy night, at a tavern in Julian, we found out why.
It was Halloween. The cold wind blew curtains of rain down Julian’s dark, empty streets. Inside Bailey’s Barbecue and Tavern, the hearth fire crackled warmly and the aroma of wood smoke and roast meat filled the flickering gloom. We sat nursing after dinner drinks idly listening to two men at the bar lamenting the Padre’s dismal season and discussing the Chargers chances to make the play-offs.
A dark, well dressed man who had been sitting alone at the bar got up to leave. As he paid his bar tab he turned to the two men. “A word of friendly advice” he said seriously, “never bet the rent money on the Chargers.”
The two men stared at him. “Why not?” asked the first man.
“Because they will always break your heart,” he said softly.
“The Chargers will break my heart?” scoffed the second man.
“Yes” said the dark man, “the Chargers, the Padres, USD, UCSD and San Diego State, they will all break your heart. It cannot be changed.” He continued toward the door.
The first man yelled after him “what can’t be changed?”
He stopped at the door and smiled “why the curse of course” and he stepped out into the rainy night.
“What’s he talking about,” asked the first man looking at Amanda, the bartender.
“It’s about the curse” she said as she wiped the bar where the stranger had been sitting. “It’s a very sad, tragic story if you want to hear it?”
Both men nodded. Nome and I moved up to the bar and the other couple in the tavern left their table and took seats at the bar. The six of us sat attentively in the flickering firelight as Amanda began.
“In 1929 San Diego State was negotiating to buy land on Montezuma Mesa for their new campus. An Indian clan living on Vulcan Mountain owned the property that SDSU needed for their athletic fields. The Indians agreed to sell the property with the stipulation that SDSU would supply basketball, baseball and football equipment for the clan’s reservation school. SDSU also agreed to provide a four year athletic scholarship each year for a member of the clan as selected by the clan elders. Clan chief Mountain Bear’s son received the first four- year baseball scholarship as a pitcher.
As the years passed the school honored the scholarship agreement but the baseball coach never played the lad. In the boy’s senior year (1933) Mountain Bear complained to the University President who pressured the baseball coach into promising to play Mountain Bear’s son in the final game of the season.”
“The big day arrived and the entire Vulcan Mountain clan came to the playing fields on Montezuma Mesa to see Mountain Bear’s son pitch for the Aztecs. It was a tight game with the conference championship at stake. The tension grew among the clan members as Mountain Bear’s son continued to sit on the bench. In the bottom of the eighth inning of a scoreless duel, Coach sent Mountain Bear’s son to warm up in the bull-pen along with his ace reliever, Wally McComb.”
Amanda paused looking up at the clock over the fireplace, “last call” she said “who needs a refill.” We all did and waited patiently while Amanda refilled our drinks.
We were on the edge of our seats as Amanda cleared her throat and continued. “The excitement amongst the clan members grew as Coach signaled the bullpen for a ninth inning relief pitcher. But it wasn’t Mountain Bear’s son who strode to the mound, it was McComb. McComb was tagged for a two-out home run and the Aztecs failed to score in the bottom of the ninth, the game and conference championship was lost. Mountain Bear’s son was nowhere to be found on the field after the game but when the team returned to the locker room they found him hanging, lifeless, from a shower head, his team jersey wrapped tightly round his neck.
At that moment there was a flash of lightning followed immediately by crashing thunder that shook the building. The lights in the bar dimmed then brightened. The room suddenly seemed to grow cold. Amanda shivered.
“What happened then?” asked the first man nervously.
“The clan took Mountain Bear’s son home to Vulcan Mountain and buried him in sacred ground. At the end of three days of mourning they built a huge fire and burned all the athletic equipment that SDSU had given to the reservation school. As the acrid smoke rolled down the mountain and spread out toward San Diego the tribal shaman stood beside Mountain Bear at the top of Vulcan Mountain and spoke this curse. “San Diego will not see final victory in these sports for one hundred years.”
“And that’s the story of the San Diego curse” said Amanda with a shrug.
The second man broke a long silence, “If that’s true we can’t win a World Series, Super Bowl or NCAA national championship in football, basketball or baseball.”
“Not until the year 2033” Amanda nodded.
.“So who was that guy?” asked the first man
“That’s the great-great grandson of Mountain Bear,” said Amanda
“You don’t really believe that curse stuff do you?” scoffed the first man.
Amanda leaned forward “Well then you explain it. None of our teams have ever won any of those championships and the Padre’s have the worst all time won/lost record of any team in the majors. Besides, it doesn’t matter what I think, he believes it and he puts his money where his mouth is.”
“He bets against all of our teams?” said the second man incredulously.
“That’s how he makes a living” said Amanda. “Did you happen to notice that red car parked out front when you came in?”
The second man’s jaw dropped. “That was his Ferrari?”