What Caused the Curse of Colonel Sanders?

The image of Col. Harlan Sanders tends to evoke happy thoughts. The founder and symbol of Kentucky Fried Chicken is a grandfatherly, pleasant-looking chap. The last thing you would associate with him would be a curse.

Unless you are a fan of the Hanshin Tigers baseball team, that is.

Click image to visit the website of the Hanshin Tigers fanclub (in Japanese).

The Hanshin Tigers is a professional baseball team based in Kansai, Japan. The team was the perennial underdog of Nippon Professional Baseball. Despite its failure to secure the championship year after year, the Tigers retained a loyal fan base. The fans’ loyalty was rewarded in 1985 when the Tigers defeated the Selby Lions and secured its first and only victory in the Japan Championship Series.

As the team progressed steadily toward the championship, enthusiasm among the fans intensified. Three weeks before the big game, a big celebration took place at Ebisu Bridge in Dōtonbori, Osaka. As supporters called out the names of the players, fans who resembled the players jumped from the bridge to the waters below. When they got to that year’s MVP, they had a problem. American Randy Bass had a major role in the team’s success, and the fans wanted to honor him. Because he was a bearded Caucasian, they struggled to find anyone who looked anything like him. They chose, instead, to abscond with a plastic statue of Colonel Sanders from a nearby KFC. It was Colonel Sanders’ statue, therefore, that went in the water in honor of Randy Bass.

Although the Tigers would win the 1985 championship, that marked the end of its success on the baseball diamond. The team immediately entered into an 18-year dry spell. The team did make it to the championships in 2003, 2005, and 2014, but they lost to their opponents.

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The statue of Col. Harlan Sanders that is at the center of the “curse.”

The team’s run of bad luck has been attributed to the “Curse of the Colonel” (Japanese: カーネルサンダースの呪い). Fans spread the rumor that the spirit of Harlan Sanders was so enraged over the treatment of his statue that he would intervene to stop the Tigers from winning another championship until the statue is recovered.

Since the legend of the curse began to make its way through fandom, several people have attempted to recover the statue. Several variety television shows have featured attempts. All attempts ended up being as elusive as the efforts to recreate the colonel’s legendary mixture of eleven herbs and spices.

When efforts failed, fans tried making a formal apology to the manager of the KFC that lost the statue. That, too, failed to turn the team’s fortunes. The statue was replaced and bolted to the ground to prevent another theft. It has not, however, appeased the ticked-off colonel.

On March 10, 2009, divers in the Dōtonbori River were startled to find what appeared to be a human corpse. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be the infamous likeness of Harlan Sanders. The upper body was recovered. The next day, the right hand and lower body were located. The statue was returned to its rightful location amidst great celebration and expressions of relief by Tigers fans. The team’s winning streak did not return, however.

The statue’s glasses and right hand were replaced, but that seems to be insufficient to break the curse. The legend persists that the original pieces are what must be returned if Tigers’ fans are to ever again savor the sweet taste of victory.

The KFC that was home to the statue is no longer open for business. The remnants of the statue have been relocated to the KFC near Koshien Stadium. As for the missing pieces, presumably, they remain at the bottom of the river. Perhaps you can be the one who restores the hand that the colonel used to declare his meals “finger-lickin’ good.”

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