Curse or Coincidence?

Conspiracy theorists claimed last year that when Bethel Johnson was named kick returner that it would mark the end of his brief Vikings career. His signing with the Texans Monday assured that, but it extended a streak of return men for the Vikings that just disappear to a troubling number that have some people believing you're cursed if you get that job.

In sports there are many superstitions and the belief that curses exist. If a baseball player has a hitting streak going, he may eat the same lunch until it ends. There are some fantasy owners that won't draft the player on the cover of the Madden EA Sports video game because the cover boy always seems to get injured.

But the Vikings might be facing a curse of their own. With the signing this week of Bethel Johnson by the Texans, the Curse of the Return Man is going to add at least one more chapter to its growing legacy.

What is the Curse of the Return Man? If you're the Vikings' leading return man in a given year, you're gone by the next season. Johnson led the team last year and, when VU gave out its year-end awards, there was a sentiment to give it to Johnson because, although the Vikings hadn't publicly stated their future plans for Johnson, it seemed like an appropriate parting gift because he was assured to be gone.

Johnson was just the latest of the curse. In 2005, the leading return man was Koren Robinson. After he went eastbound and down, after his dustup with the law on his way to Mankato, he was gone. In 2004, Kelly Campbell was the leading return man and he was let go following the season. In 2003, it was Onterrio Smith, and we all know what happened to him as he taught most of us much more than we ever wanted to know about the Original Whizzinator – including that Latino is a color, according to the device makers. In 2002, Moe Williams was the leading kick return man. While he remained with the team for three more years, his role diminished in each of those seasons to the point that his role in the offense was all but eliminated. In 2001, it was Nate Jacquet. The fact that most fans don't even remember Jacquet speaks on its own behalf. In 2000, it was Troy Walters, who in the following season (his last with the Vikings) caught one less pass than Daunte Culpepper. In 1999, it was Robert Tate, who was flip-flopped from d-back to wide receiver and never became a full-timer at either position after that. In 1998, it was David Palmer, the last Viking to lead the team in kick returns two years in a row.

Does this qualify as a curse? Viking life expectancy drops off the charts for those who take over kick return duties, so it doesn't look like the best career move. Who will be the kick returner this year? If history means anything, it'll be a guy who isn't on the team in 2008, which may have some superstitious players a little leery of volunteering to be the next return specialist.

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