Fans of University of Wisconsin Badgers basketball have taken to Twitter to cry foul after Sports Illustrated unveiled a regional cover with the team pictured on the cover.
In the current issue, which began appearing online overnight, two Wisconsin players — including the team’s 6-foot-11 forward, Frank Kaminsky who grew up in Lisle — are pictured along with the words “On Wisconsin: The case for the Badgers.”
The Badgers are scheduled to play the Kentucky Wildcats in the Final Four round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday.
“I wish they weren’t on the cover,” said Kevin Kruse, general manager of Will’s Northwoods Inn, a designated Badger bar in Lakeview where hundreds of Wisconsin fans routinely view games. There are 24,000 University of Wisconsin alumni in the Chicago area, according to the local chapter of the alumni association.
Superstitious sports enthusiasts have long argued that the magazine’s cover serves as a jinx to the players or teams depicted on it. The legend is so widely circulated that the magazine itself published a cover story on its so-called Cover Jinx in 2001.
At that point, after investigating virtually all of SI's 2,456 covers, the magazine reported that it found roughly 37 percent or 913 covers were associated with “jinxes” — a demonstrable misfortune or decline in performance following a cover appearance.
Michael Jordan appeared on the cover for the 51st time just as his wife filed for divorce. A week after University of Washington quarterback Bob Schloredt was pictured taking a snap on a 1960 cover, the heavily favored Huskies lost to Navy following Schloredt's fumble of a snap, the magazine reported.
The curse was so legendary, no athletes would even agree to be photographed with a black cat for the playful cover. The magazine instead pictured the cat alone.
At Will’s Northwoods Inn, Kruse routinely deals with fans who request the same bartender, particular seats and specific menu items, all in the name of winning. His frustration with the cover, however, is less about superstition than with wanting to keep expectations low and pressure off the young players.
“Personally I don’t believe in superstitions too much, but I definitely understand and try to help out as much as I can,” Kruse said.
Brandon Rifkin, a 28-year-old UW-Madison graduate who lives in Chicago, admits that he has worn the same outfit — a Badger T-shirt over a gray thermal — for each game in hopes of not interrupting the team’s winning streak. But, noting that the current SI cover is regional, with rival Kentucky depicted on its own cover, he’s not too afraid.
“I’m not sure how two teams can both be jinxed at the same time,” Rifkin said. “The jinxes should all cancel out — at least that’s how my brain processes it.”