Only a flake would doubt the Curse of Doug Flutie.
If you didn't believe in the Curse before this week, it's time to walk toward the light after we learned Monday that the high-flying Texans have lost quarterback Matt Schaub with a foot injury, most likely for the year.
This poltergeist of pigskin speaks to earthly beings through an extra-large medium, the Cold, Hard Football Facts. And what the Curse of Flutie tells us is quite simple: any team that employs Wade Phillips, now the defensive coordinator with the Houston Texans, is doomed to miserable failure -- usually due to some sort of downfall at the QB position and always on the heels of cruelly heightened expectations that make the pain all the worse.
The Curse of Flutie is karmic retribution from the great spiritual beyond for the fact that Phillips benched our pint-sized hero passer before the 1999 playoffs when both were with Buffalo, despite the fact that the Bills had gone 10-5 with Flutie at the helm.
The Cold, Hard Football Facts named that move the worst head-coaching decision of the 20th century. And the Curse wasted no time spreading its tangled web of misery and cruel defeat: with Flutie watching from the sidelines, the Bills immediately suffered one of the most memorable and painful defeats in NFL history. They lost to the Titans in a postseason finish so improbable and controversial it's known only as "The Music City Miracle."
Twelve years later, and Buffalo has never returned to the playoffs.
But that was just the start of the Curse of Flutie. It's left a predictable trail of misery, defeat and missed opportunity in its wake from one end of the NFL to the other. Any team that employs Phillips is doomed to suffer.
Consider the most recent victim of this cruel and vindictive force: the Houston Texans, who offer a textbook study in the paranormal acts of pigskin that define the Curse of Flutie.
The Texans had already overcome injuries to star players Andre Johnson and Mario Williams and were rolling through the 2011 season. They boasted a 7-3 record, a dramatically improved defense that was one of the great statistical storylines of the year (we wrote about those improvements right here on SI.com last week) and an unimpeded path to their first-ever playoff appearance and division title in the Peyton Manning-less AFC South.
Houston was fresh off a 37-9 deconstruction of the Buccaneers, they held a two-game lead in the AFC South with just six to play and even boasted the top scoring differential in the AFC (+107), a reliable indicator of Super Bowl potential.
The Texans would be the AFC's No. 1 seed if the season ended today.
The first 10 weeks of the 2011 season, in other words, were the giddiest of times in the brief and inglorious 10-year history of the organization: the best record in franchise history and the high water mark of organizational fortunes.
The timing of the Schaub injury is a particularly cruel twist of fate -- but particularly cruel twists of fate are a Curse of Flutie specialty.
In the wake of this joy, Texans fans learned Monday that Schaub, the team's prolific Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback, will likely miss the rest of the season. He's being replaced by Matt Leinart in what can only be described as a dramatic downgrade at the most important position on the field.
Leinart, like Flutie, is a former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback. But Leinart has not been a full-time NFL starter since 2006, he has won just seven games in his NFL career and has produced a career passer rating of 70.8 -- a number so low it makes Tim Tebow look like Dan Marino.
The Curse of Flutie is beaming with pride after engineering this particularly delicious twist of misfortune.
The Cold, Hard Football Facts do not wonder if a higher power is at work. We are intimately familiar with the history of this guiding hand of the gridiron.
In fact, the Curse of Flutie is so predictable and reliable that we announced just two weeks ago on CHFF TV that it was certain to strike the Texans. You can see the video right here.
Here's what we said about Houston in the clip on Nov. 3:
"The Curse of Flutie: We have to watch for this because Houston right now is 5-3 and they are probably going to win the AFC South. Except there is one big problem. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has done an incredible job turning around that defense. But the Texans are doomed to failure because Wade Phillips benched Doug Flutie before the playoffs in (1999) .... Every team that employs Wade Phillips is doomed to misery forever more."
It is not the first time we warned of misery ahead.
In fact, we issued the very same warning in 2007, soon after the Cowboys named Phillips their head coach. Here are our exact words from the start of the 2007 season:
"(Phillips has) never been a great head coach (48-39, .552) with four different teams. Plus, he brings to Dallas the Curse of Doug Flutie ... We don't believe in voodoo or anything, but we do believe in the omnipotent power of the Flutie Curse. Sorry, Dallas."
The State of Texas is now 0-2, twice foolishly tempting the Football Fates when they should have heeded our warnings.
The misfortunes of the Bills since Phillips benched Flutie in 1999 and the likely misfortunes of the Texans here in 2011 are merely the bookends of the Curse.
The Curse of Flutie has followed Phillips from job to job, haunting each franchise that makes the mistake of hiring him. You might think the Curse of Flutie would have been broken when the Bills fired Phillips after the 2000 season.
But the Curse of Flutie is not so easily satisfied.
It continues to plague the Bills and it lingers with any organization that hires Phillips, even long after he's gone.
Here's the Phillips career timeline since he foolishly unleashed the Curse of Flutie upon Planet Pigskin in 1999:
• Defensive coordinator in Atlanta (2002-03)
• Defensive coordinator in San Diego (2004-06)
• Head coach in Dallas (2007-10)
• Defensive coordinator in Houston (2011)
All four organizations have been defined by high hopes followed by miserable and unexpected failure -- the two signatures of the Curse of Flutie.
For example: Since hiring Phillips, the Chargers, Cowboys and Falcons have all produced top-seeded playoff teams. All three of these No. 1 seeds failed to win even a single playoff game: the 2006 Chargers, 2007 Cowboys and 2010 Falcons. And Houston, of course, was on pace for the AFC's top seed before losing Schaub this week.
Here's a brief look at how the Curse has haunted every organization that has employed Phillips since the day that he benched Doug Flutie before the 1999 playoffs. Note that the Curse of Flutie often dictates that teams lose because of poor play at QB:
1999 Bills, Birth of the Curse -- With a playoff spot wrapped up, Phillips sits Flutie for the final game of the regular season, under the devious ruse of giving him some rest and backup Rob Johnson some reps. But Phillips then installs Johnson as the starter for a playoff game in Tennessee, unleashing forces beyond the control of mere mortals.
The Bill lose to the Titans via the "Music City Miracle." The loss is made possible after a poor day by Johnson (10 of 22, 131 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT, 64.8 passer rating.)
1999-2010 Bills -- Zero playoff appearances since Phillips benched Our Aggrieved Hero.
2004 Chargers -- Match a franchise record with 12 regular season victories but fail to win a playoff game after losing to the Jets in the wild card round. QB Drew Brees actually plays well (31 of 42, 319 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT). But the Curse of Flutie was just having a little fun at his expense: It blows in an ill wind that forces Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding to miss an easy 39-yard field goal in overtime. The underdog Jets pull out a shocking 20-17 victory in San Diego.
2006 Chargers -- Post a franchise-best 14-2 record, lead the NFL in scoring (492 points) and capture the AFC's No. 1 seed. Fail to win a single playoff game. Quarterback Philip Rivers plays poorly (14 of 32, 230 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT) as the Chargers lose at home to the Patriots, 24-21.
2007 Falcons -- Lose face-of-the-franchise quarterback Michael Vick in a shocking dog-fighting scandal that rocked the sports world.
2007 Chargers -- Reach the AFC title game for just the second time in 25 years -- but draw miserable fate. They must travel cross-country to face the 16-0 Patriots. The Chargers lose, 21-12, behind injured QB Philip Rivers (0 TD, 2 INT) and fail to score a single touchdown. The Curse of Flutie laughs a maniacal laugh.
2007 Cowboys -- Match a franchise record with 13 victories and capture the NFC's No. 1 seed. Fail to win a playoff game. It was the first divisional playoff loss by an NFC No. 1 seed after 17 straight wins. Quarterback Tony Romo plays poorly, completing just half his passes and suffers key sacks late in the game, a loss to the Giants.
2008 Chargers -- Made the playoffs after an 8-8 season, the Curse's vindictive little way of filling the organization with false hopes. Playing without injured star LaDainian Tomlinson, the Chargers rush 11 times for 15 yards in a 35-24 playoff loss at Pittsburgh.
2009 Chargers -- Close out the regular season with 11 straight wins to go 13-3 -- the Curse of Flutie merely setting up San Diego like little bowling pins of pigskin.
The Chargers earn a first-round bye and a home playoff game against the 9-7 wild card Jets. Rivers passes for 298 yards, compared to just 100 for Mark Sanchez. But the Chargers lose 17-14 thanks to an 0-for-3 effort by kicker Nate Kaeding -- a particularly tragic victim of the Curse of Flutie.
2009 Cowboys -- Win the NFC East with an 11-5 record, a talented offense and the league's No. 2 defense (15.6 PPG). Lose to Brett Favre and the Vikings 34-3 in the divisional playoffs behind an ineffective effort from Romo and a career playoff performance by Brett Favre (4 TD, 0 INT). The Curse of Flutie did a little jig at the irony of one of the league's best defenses suffering so miserably at the hands of the aging, mistake-prone gunslinger Favre.
2010 Chargers -- The Chargers finish the year No. 1 in total offense and No. 1 in total defense. Win only nine games and fail to reach playoffs. The Curse of Flutie celebrates with fish tacos and a bottle of Stone Ruination IPA.
2010 Cowboys -- A season of high hopes, followed by miserable failure. Dallas fires Phillips after a 1-7 start; go 5-3 the rest of the way. The Curse of Flutie brushes up Phillips' resume and sends it via Pony Express to Houston.
2011 Bills -- Began the season 3-0, highlighted by a signature win over the dominant division rival Patriots. But success is never meant to be again in Buffalo, not as long as the Curse of Flutie roams the earth: the Bills are now 5-4 and sinking fast after a crushing 44-7 Week 10 loss to the Cowboys.
Remorseful Bills fans suffer nightmarish visions of Rob Johnson and his Olivia Newton-John-style 1980s headband trotting out onto the field for the final seven games.
2011 Chargers -- Everybody's preseason favorite to win the AFC West is 4-5 and has suffered four straight losses after a strong start. The Curse of Flutie offers the SI Cover Curse a course on weaving false hopes.
2011 Cowboys -- The typical high hopes in Dallas have been met yet again by underachievement on the field. The Cowboys began the season 5-4 -- though they did lay waste to Buffalo 44-7 in Week 10.
Forced to make a choice between one of its victims for another, the Curse of Flutie will always hand Buffalo the cruelest outcome. The 44 points were the most scored by the Cowboys since Week 1 of the 2007 season -- the team's first game with Phillips as head coach. Yes, the Curse of Flutie works in mysterious ways.
2011 Falcons -- The Curse of Flutie forces Atlanta management to foolishly mortgage the future and trade five draft picks for wide receiver Julio Jones, when the team had tons of holes on defense.
The 13-3 Falcons of 2010 have responded with a disappointing 5-4 record through Week 10 and Atlanta QB Matt Ryan has taken a step back with Jones in the lineup (91.0 rating in 2010; 83.0 in 2011). Even fellow Boston College alumni are not immune to the vindictive retribution of the Curse of Flutie.
2011 Texans -- On pace for their best season in franchise history and the No. 1 seed in AFC. Lose QB Matt Schaub after Week 10. The Curse of Flutie celebrates with a road trip to Galveston and a fried seafood platter at Gaido's.
Football fans have two choices: they can believe in the Curse of Flutie or they can wallow in their ignorance and misery.
Before you decide, consider the statistical signature from the Gridiron Gods to affirm the Curse:
In Flutie's last game in a Bills uniform in 2000, he pitched the proverbial perfect game, completing 20 of 25 passes (80 percent) for 366 yards, 14.6 YPA, 3 TD, 0 INT, and a perfect 158.3 passer rating.
It was and remains the only "perfect" passing game in the history of the Buffalo franchise. Jack Kemp never posted a perfect passer rating for the Bills. Joe Ferguson never posted a perfect passer rating for the Bills. Jim Kelly never posted a perfect passer rating for the Bills. Ryan Fitzpatrick never posted a perfect passer rating for the Bills.
Only Flutie has accomplished this feat ... and then he never played another down in a Buffalo uniform. It was a fitting middle-fingered statistical salute to the organization that wronged him so badly in 1999.
Today Flutie's earthly body works the broadcast booth analyzing college football and running his charity, the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism. He occasionally walks on water.
But his aggrieved spirit roams the NFL, seeking vengeance upon Phillips for the worst coaching decision of the 20th century.
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