Friday, February 22, 2008

The Curse of Cato

Sports “curses” have haunted luckless franchises almost as long as professional leagues have existed: the Curse of the Bambino, the Curse of the Billy Goat, The Curse of Muldoon, and the Curse of Billy Penn, to name some of the most infamous.

I believe it’s time to add another “curse” to that list: the Curse of Cato.

Cato the Younger (95-46 BC) was one of Rome’s greatest senators, a staunch defender of the republic, known for his honesty, integrity, and his opposition to power-hungry militarist, Julius Caesar. A man of inscrutable moral fiber, Cato would be appalled that the Ottawa Senators franchise carries as its logo not the pride of the Roman republic, but a Roman centurion—the symbol of brute imperial dictatorship. As senator, Cato devoted his public life fighting to maintain Rome’s republican principles. Such a slight to republican ideals by the Ottawa Senators angers not merely the hockey gods, but Jupiter, Mars, and the entire Roman pantheon.

The Curse of Cato is starkly reflected in the fortunes of the Ottawa Senators. In fourteen full seasons in the modern NHL, the Senators have progressed from league doormats (losing 70 games in 1992-93) to paper tigers. Ottawa has registered at least 100 points in six of the last eight seasons—and is well on its way to a seventh—yet the talented Senators fall short of the Stanley Cup every year.

Prior to the Ottawa Senators’ re-institution to the NHL in 1992 and its adoption of the centurion logo, the first incarnation of the franchise won eleven Stanley Cups as one of professional hockey’s early powerhouses. In those bygone years, Ottawa donned a truer, more honorable logo—one that didn’t mock the franchise’s very soul by featuring its political arch-enemy. In fact, it could be argued—especially after a 12-pack of Labatt’s—that Ottawa’s original logo (seen here, on the sweater of Frank Finnigan) paid senatorial homage to Cato, who was known to friends, Romans, and countrymen simply as “O.” Even if you don’t drink Labatt’s, you can’t deny that the Ottawa Senators enjoyed infinitely more success sporting their Cato-friendly logo. When Ottawa shunned that in favor of an imperial image, the Senators lost power like their Roman counterparts in the wake of the Caesars.

Until the Ottawa Senators lift the Curse of Cato by replacing that centurion on their chests with the deserving image of Cato, Cicero, or one of the Gracchi, don’t expect a parade down Wellington Street any time in the next millennium.

(Ottawa Senators' logos copyright the National Hockey League. Graphic wizardry at center ice courtesy of Mount Drinkmore's Dave.)

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