Webster's World

So, now we know how Boston Red Sox fans felt all those years. As the BoSox limped from one disaster to another, one close call to another cursed performance, many of their fans must have wondered if that World Series was ever coming. And the fact they had to wait 86 years until finally winning it in 2004 means that many lived a whole lifetime without cause for celebration.

I am going to be 49 years old next month and in the more recent of those years, I began to wonder if I would ending up living a full life without seeing a British man win at Wimbledon but Andy Murray finally put that one to bed on Sunday afternoon. And as it had taken 77 years for that ghost to be laid, there were plenty who had waited far longer than me.

There are a few candidates for the Super Bowl equivalent, fans who have been starved of any sort of success for years, many of whom are beginning to believe that the Holy Grail will not be unearthed in their lifetime. Fans of the Steelers, Packers, Giants and Patriots need not apply for sympathy here just because they have had to wait a handful of years for yet another title.

But for those who think the day will never come, we have to focus on eight teams who were in existence prior to the start of the start of the Super Bowl era but have not won the trophy.

The real hard luck stories are probably Buffalo and Minnesota, who share the dubious distinction of each having been to four Super Bowls and each having lost the lot. Can you imagine the agony of having seen your team go to the big show time and again only to blow it on every occasion? The Vikings managed to lose their four games in the space of just eight seasons but the Bills trumped that in the 1990s by doing it four seasons in a row. They haven’t returned to the Super Bowl in 20 years. There is a group of fans who must be wondering how long some of them have left to witness the day it will finally happen.

Then we have the Philadelphia Eagles, the hard-luck story with the chip-on-their-shoulder fans who believe they have been cursed and cheated for years by the Cowboys, in particular, as well as the Giants and Redskins. The Boo Birds have been to the Super Bowl twice and lost to the Raiders and Patriots. They remain the only team in their division never to have won it.

Then come San Diego, Atlanta and Arizona, all veterans of just one losing Super Bowl appearance. The Chargers and Falcons were both well beaten many years back but all neutrals went through agony with the Cardinals when they almost pulled off a shock win over the Steelers five years ago, only to fall to a stunning catch in the dying seconds.

I have not counted the Cincinnati Bengals, Tennessee Titans or Seattle Seahawks here who have all lost the Super Bowl but were all born after the Super Bowl started, even if the Bengals have been on the go for all but two of the Super Bowl-era seasons.

But the two teams who could tell you more about distant dreams than any other are two of the NFL’s old boys. And they have been so starved that they actually envy the Vikings, Bills and Eagles. So what if you have lost every time you have been, they say. At least you have been to the Super Bowl.

Yes, the Cleveland Browns and the Detroit Lions are the only two teams who have been in the NFL since the dawn of the Super Bowl era, yet have still not even earned a trip to the big game. Cleveland still curse Denver’s John Elway for stopping them short of their goal but seldom have they shown any more threat than the hapless Lions to actually come close to winning their conference and representing them on the biggest stage.

So in these times of sporting miracles, when we have seen Britain do well at an Olympics, when we have witnessed Usain Bolt almost jog world sprint records, when we have lauded the first British winner of the Tour de France, when New Orleans have won a Super Bowl, and when we have a British men’s singles champion at Wimbledon, why should we not dream that perhaps the NFL’s final Super Bowl curse will be banished.

How about it lads! Super Bowl XLVIII next February is a contest between the AFC champion Cleveland Browns and the NFC champion Detroit Lions. Wouldn’t that be something? Not only would it be something, I reckon it would be odds of about 10,000-1 at any bookmaker in the land.

Those romantic neutrals among us can but dream.


The last three weeks in the life of Aaron Hernandez have probably packed in more controversy and media attention than most people would care to bank in a lifetime. And there appears to be plenty more where that came from.

On June 18, police arrived at Hernandez’s house to conduct a search of the premises in relation to the death of Odin Lloyd, a friend of Hernandez. Details, reports and allegations of tampering with potential places and pieces of evidence have emerged at an alarming rate.

Two days later, we were told that the New England Patriots had banned Hernandez from Gillette Stadium and a claim was made by the Boston Globe that the Patriots had already decided to release Hernandez if he were arrested on any charge, even if was just obstruction of justice, a claim that was verified this week by Patriots owner Robert Kraft.

The following week, on June 26, Hernandez was led from his house in handcuffs and taken into police custody. The Patriots binned him less than two hours later and did so even before they had heard any details of the charges against their star tight end.

The club have since announced that they are withholding a signing bonus due to Hernandez next year and that they are going to make attempts to recoup some signing bonuses already paid to him.

The Pats then announced that for a two-day period they would offer a free replica shirt exchange at the club’s Pro Shop to any fan who had ever bought a Hernandez 81 jersey. More than 2,500 turned up to get a new shirt that bore the name of any player other than Hernandez. Perhaps more interesting – or maybe even ghoulish – was the fact that some fans were putting the Hernandez 81 shirts up for sale on ebay and they were fetching prices way over their shop value.

Hernandez started to lose his sponsors at a rapid rate. Milk Muscle dumped him one day after the house search and five days before his arrest while Puma got rid of him after it. On Monday of this week, EA Sports dropped Hernandez from its Madden NFL 25 and NCAA Football 14 games.

And finally, that EA decision came on the same day as Kraft spoke out officially on the issue for the first time and said that Hernandez had fooled the organisation ever since he was drafted in 2010 by telling them that he was trying to shake off an image of trouble that had followed him in college. Referring to Hernandez’s arrest, Kraft said: “No one in our organisation was aware of any of these kind of connections. If it’s true, I’m just shocked. Our whole organisation has been duped.

All of which brings me to the Bill of Rights and, in particular, the opening words of the Sixth Amendment which read: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed…” And that leads me to ask, with all that has happened in the past three weeks, with all the gestures made by the people who employed him or used his name, and with the millions of words that have been printed and spoken by so many people in public, how on earth is Aaron Hernandez supposed to get a fair trial.

It also shows what an impossible position NFL teams, and plenty of clubs in other sports, find themselves in when it comes to player conduct. So often in this day and age we hear that the problem for a lot of modern athletes is not themselves but the people they choose to surround themselves with. We heard so much of that about Paul Gascoigne at Tottenham more than 20 years ago and as he finds himself splashed across newspapers again this week with all his old demons haunting him, again we think about how things may have been different if only someone had stepped in and changed the early influences on his life.

Plenty of people have often wondered the same about Ray Lewis. Would he have had his legal problems and murder accusations had he simply been able to move away from so-called bad influences once he became a very wealthy young man?

Similar stories abound in young athletes but how do you draw a line and how do you do that without seriously impinging on a man’s right to associate with those he wants to? Does a club have a right to choose a player’s friends for him based on knowing what is good for him, or simply on the fact they don’t like the sort of people he associates with? Can they claim that they know, based on past probabilities, what is good for a player and what is not?

All that is debatable but certainly the NFL can cover a lot of it in their contractual personal conduct clauses that have been expanded over the past couple of decades thanks to just how much trouble some players have managed to get themselves into.

Hernandez is beginning to mirror Tiger Woods with the manner in which the world No.1 golfer was dropped by companies and friends when he ran into all his troubles. But Woods had cheated on his wife. He had not committed a crime for which he was going to be tried so this is significantly different.

However much social media and the thirst for every detail of every incident of life seems to drive things these days, the law is still supposed to be blind. The law is supposed to see only the evidence and the facts, and to be allowed to draw a verdict from that without the possibly-prejudiced opinions of people who may not know the full facts. And all that should be of paramount importance when a man could be facing trial for the loss of his liberty for the rest of his life.

None of that excuses a man who has committed a crime. In fact, it is supposed to back up the system that is designed to convict those who have committed crimes while at the same time protecting those who are falsely accused. Aaron Hernandez being arrested and charged proves nothing more than the police feel they have reason to want the state to bring a prosecution against him but it is not in the remit of the police to convict him. That is for the people to do and to do so in court not in the media.

If Aaron Hernandez shot Odin Lloyd in the back and killed him, he will never see the outside world again and he will have nobody but himself to blame. But even before a single witness or piece of evidence has been presented, the guilty verdict is in thanks to all that we have seen and heard already.

That may serve some voyeuristic public appetite but it doesn’t serve the justice system, the same justice system that any one of us – guilty or innocent – may one day have to call upon.