For decades, superstitious sports fans have lived in fear of their favorite athletes and teams making the Sports Illustrated cover. The “SI Jinx” is credited with having ruined the fortunes of (among many) race car driver Pat O’Connor, who crashed and died four days after his appearance; Pete Rose, whose 44-game hitting streak ended the week he made the cover; the sky high University of Oregon’s football team, which promptly went on to lose their next four games; skier Lindsay Vonn, who made the cover and that week badly injured her leg in a crash; and my personal favorite, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Jack Lambert, who was tagged on the cover as “The Man of Steel” and then suffered a turf toe incident and missed the entire upcoming season. These are but a few examples.
Which leads me to ask: Is the Nike “Write the Future” campaign the World Cup version of the SI jinx? The commercial starts with Didier Drogba, who broke his arm leading up the tournament, and once on the pitch (wearing a cast) was unable to keep his talented team from almost certain elimination. Next up, Italy’s Fabio Cannavaro, whose wretched blunders led to two costly goals against his now-eliminated team. Following him, the great Ronaldinho—who didn’t even make Brazil’s squad. Then we get Wayne Rooney, who has thus far shown what he’s shown for the past half-decade: He is a thoroughly ineffective player at the international level. In the ad, he successfully tackles Franck Ribéry—and we know what sort of World Cup he and France had. Then we come to Portugal’s Man o’ Abs Cristiano Ronaldo, who finally scored his lone goal of the tournament against a hapless North Korea squad badly distracted by the realization that, given the impossibility of comeback, they would soon be departing South Africa, a magical land of food and electricity.
I expect there are further Nike commercials to come as the tournament heads toward the final, and presumably they’ve banked up some with players who are succeeding. (Memo to Beaverton: time to get out that Landon Donovan commercial.) And it may well be that Rooney, etc. come alive in the next rounds. But for now, the jinx seems undeniable. Maybe I don’t want that Landon Donovan commercial running, after all.