PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, February 16, 1996
The voodoo priestess waved her hands, anointing the recently fired coach of the Cleveland Browns with a potion so foul that the only magical powers it seemed to possess were those that drain the olfactory senses of their will to live.
“You want make the football man suffer, do ya?” intoned the priestess.
Bill Belichick said nothing, his nose curled, his breath lodged in the back of his throat like a lethal piece of cheap steak. He merely nodded his head.
“Well here’s what I do for ya, mister football man,” she said. “I give you this magic charm, this feather of a raven, and you give it to someone you want to put a curse on. You tell them they get a wish and whatever they wish for comes true. But they don’t get it how they wish for it, they get it with a curse.”
Belichick took the raven feather. When he got back to the states, his old buddy Bill Parcells called him up, he put the feather away, and he forgot about it and about the silly voodoo tourism he’d done on a Caribbean find-himself jaunt.
NEW YORK, 1999
Belichick was cleaning out an old place of his, getting ready to move to Boston and coach the Patriots, when he found that old raven feather. He remembered the words of the voodoo priestess had spoken some years before and thought to himself that perhaps there was magic in the feather, and what the hell, curses are for fools, so he held the feather aloft and wished for a Super Bowl title.
And it went swimmingly. When Drew Bledsoe went down in 2001, Belichick couldn’t help but think, “Is that all? That’s my curse?” After all, Tom Brady was so good from the word “go” that it seemed like “a blessing in disguise” hardly covered it. Belichick had his Super Bowl ring. Even Tara Reid earning the title of “Delilah” in the Boston sports media the following year hardly seemed like a large exaction from the gods; most coaches would kill for one Super Bowl ring.
Two more rings followed. Belichick decided to quit while he was ahead. He pulled aside his assistant, Romeo Crennel, and gifted him the raven feather. What he didn’t tell his friend was that it was a cursed item that would give you your wish, but always at a price. As the Patriot Way would always dictate, it was always best to get rid of an asset before it started to decline.
Crennel wished for a head coaching job. He ended up in Cleveland. Watch what you wish for, indeed.
FOXBORO, Massachusetts, 2008
Meanwhile, Scott Pioli, the erstwhile general manager and partner in crime to the mastermind, dreamed of glory of his own. He heard through the grapevine about a magic feather and asked Belichick about it.
The grizzled old coach, wiser than any could imagine, told Pioli that the feather was the magic by which he’d won those Super Bowls. And since he’d been satisfied with the course of his life and could retire in peace, Belichick told Pioli that he had given the feather to Crennel, who wished for a head coaching job and got his wish. But Crennel had given the feather back to Belichick, complaining that it had come with a curse and that the price was simply too high. Instead of getting heaven, he’d made a pact with the devil and found himself in hell.
Pioli, astonished by his good fortune, accepted the gift and wished that he could have his own team with the quarterback of the Patriots at its helm.
So Bernard Karmell Pollard showed up, took out Brady’s knee, and left Matt Cassel to pilot the Patriots to an 11-5 season, an improbable missing of the playoffs, and the departure of Pioli to Kansas City, where he lured away the Patriots’ quarterback—Matt Cassel.
“Watch what you wish for, Scott,” thought Belichick.
Pioli learned over the next four years what Belichick and Crennel knew; if anything, the raven feather grew angrier with every imposition onto its powers. At a chance meeting after the 2012 season, Pioli decided it was time to part ways with his feather, and he gave it to Roger Goodell.
NEW YORK, 2012
Goodell immediately made his wish. Infuriated by his inability to trap Belichick in Spygate, and shown up by the Patriots ever since, he wished upon the feather that he could finally exact his revenge.
And indeed, a deflated football gave Goodell what he wanted. He brought the wrath of God down upon the Patriots organization. He lorded over his kingdom like an Arab dictator in the days before American adventurism, becoming Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi and Bashir al-Assad in pigskin-overlord form.
His curse was his legacy. For all of history, he will be the standard against which awful sports commissioners are judged. Regarded as tone-deaf, sexist, racist, blind to the welfare of his players, and a bumbling fool, Goodell will forever be tarred with the brush of history.
And besides, those voodoo gods were watching. The Helmet Catch 2.0 was only the beginning. In a case of perfect symmetry, it had to be Pete Carroll who was behind the comeuppance, as he didn’t simply hand the damn ball to Marshawn Lynch up the middle; no, instead, Malcolm Butler rendered Goodell’s impotent imperialism moot with the ultimate game-saving interception.
Bill Belichick laughed. Somewhere in Haiti, a mad voodoo priestess laughed. The gods laughed.
And the raven feather? Who knows, it may just be in the hands of your favorite team’s GM or head coach even today. Watch what you wish for, football fans… you just might get it.
Fox Doucette is a writer and occasional dabbler in sport occultism. You should follow him on Twitter.