Spectator film of Hilton Head’s first Heritage shows the greats
Somebody done put the hoodoo on the Cincinnati Bengals in a saga as twisted as the roots of South Carolina’s Lowcountry, where the trouble began.
It’s something that the main characters laugh about now, but could it explain things for restless Bengals fans?
It certainly seemed innocent enough on that summer day five years ago when a couple of NFL head coaches teed off on the 10th hole of the Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island.
A window was broken in the house that sits on a point at the corner of holes 10 and 16, one of the most popular gathering places for fans at this week’s RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing.
Homeowner David Mansbery of Brecksville, Ohio, says he learned later from forecaddies that the window on his million-dollar home full of windows was nailed when a foursome of then-Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis passed through.
Mansbery said he waited to hear something, then mailed a letter to Lewis, asking the coach to address the issue. Replacing one of the big windows that give the house 270-degree views of the golf course and the Calibogue Sound beyond can cost $800, Mansbery said.
Lewis told me on the phone this week that he didn’t break the window.
He remembers playing that hole with then-Buffalo Bills head coach Chan Gailey and Gailey’s sons.
None of the forecaddies or anyone else said anything about a ball hitting a house or a window, he said.
And, besides, he couldn’t have physically done it, he said.
“It would be a big-time cut,” Lewis said. “It would be a really high cut and only the (PGA Tour) guys playing down there this week could hit the ball that hard, that far, and that high. “
Mansbery said windows were broken in the house seven or eight time before he put up a discreet black net behind tall palmetto trees that also guard the home.
Mansbery said the forecaddies who regularly cruise by his deck would ask if he ever got paid for the broken window.
In January 2016, Mansbery wrote to Lewis, saying “apparently a native Gullah ... whose history goes back to West Africa who also may be a caddie reportedly buried a golf ball this past Thanksgiving under the window you reportedly broke ... and put a curse on you and the Bengals.
“Well, although their culture practices voodoo, I am not a superstitious guy, but after that (Bengals quarterback Andy) Dalton breaks his thumb, the goal post gets in the way in Denver, (and) your team mentally breaks down against Pittsburgh ...”
In another letter to Lewis, Mansbery said the root that was put on the Bengals declared the team would never win a championship.
The Bengals were losing playoff games long before the alleged root was placed on them.
Lewis said he wasn’t familiar with the Gullah custom, and didn’t believe in it.
“Part of football,” he said of the list of woes.
That would include his firing as head coach following the 2018 season.
Lewis, who was the Bengals’ head coach for 16 years, is credited with stabilizing the franchise while earning a reputation as a fine person.
Tom Kinder of Hilton Head, the public address announcer at the Bengals’ Paul Brown Stadium just as his dad was before him, said it was “the Siberia of football” until Lewis arrived.
“He put us right in the thick of it. He’s a great football coach, but even a greater person.”
Lewis responded to Mansbery’s letters by shipping him a box of Cincinnati jewels: Graeter’s ice cream and Montgomery Inn ribs.
Lewis and Mansbery now both laugh about the story.
Mansbery says, “To me, it’s a humor story. I had a lot of fun with it.”
And he said this week, “I’m releasing him.”
He said he’d tossed a ball into a pond across the fairway in an attempt to release the curse on the Bengals.
Voodoo is still practiced in the Lowcountry, but not as much as it used to be.
In the mid-20th century, even the Beaufort County sheriff was a witch doctor. J. Ed McTeer Sr. specialized in removing spells cast by Dr. Buzzard, Dr. Eagle, Dr. Bug and perhaps as many as 20 other local root doctors. They would cast spells on people for a fee. Dr. Buzzard was the king, with a national following.
None of that means anything to Lewis, a Pennsylvania native who has vacationed on Hilton Head since 1993 and has owned a home here since 2001.
“Our kids grew up loving the beach there, just relaxing and so forth,” he said. “And then it became golf. For me.”
He’s a member at the Long Cove and Berkeley Hall private clubs.
And he said he always gets in a couple of rounds each year at Harbour Town.
Which may be little bit deeper in the South Carolina Lowcountry than he thought.