This guest post is brought to you by a new Twitter friend, Ben Zajdel. Ben is a graduate of the University of Texas at Dallas, works in a Christian bookstore, watches entirely too much basketball (PERFECTLY okay with me), and has written a few short books you might enjoy. You can keep up with him at his website, or on Twitter, @benzajdel.
Before I start this article on superstition, you need to know a little about me. I have a degree in Historical Studies, which means I learned how to fact check old documents and make sure they’re legitimate. I am also currently pursuing a degree in Environmental Science, so you can probably guess that I don’t like approximations and guesses. I’m also a Christian, so I don’t believe in magic and voodoo and curses. I openly mock those who think magnets can heal you, and I dismiss most natural remedies.
That being said, how to be superstitious is one of the most important things a sports fan can learn.
There are many different ways to be superstitious about sports. You can have a lucky spot on the couch while you cheer your favorite team to victory. You can prepare the same meal before every game, knowing that your “Victory Nachos” were what helped the basketball roll into the basket instead of out of it. There’s the classic “never mention a no-hitter” while watching a pitcher blank batter after batter. Maybe you and a friend have a secret handshake which must be performed before every quarter. My personal favorite, however, is the lucky article of clothing.
In 2005, the University of Texas Longhorns football team was ranked second in the nation and heading into a matchup with the Ohio State Buckeyes. The game was to be played in Ohio Stadium, one of toughest places to play in all of college football. Being a proud student of the UT system, I went out and bought myself a brand new t-shirt for the occasion. It was gray, and simply said “Texas” on the front in burnt orange.
The Longhorns went on to win a thriller of a game, and from that day forward I wore that t-shirt on every game day. UT had a tremendous season, going undefeated and beating the vaunted USC Trojans in the National Championship Game. That shirt unleashed a torrent of success for the Longhorns, helping them compile a 57-8 record over five years. My t-shirt (and the Longhorns) seemed poised to build a dynasty.
But, alas, fate and marriage intervened. I came home from work one day to find my wife wearing my lucky t-shirt one day in late December. I don’t blame her, really. She couldn’t have known. I try not to disclose my quirks and compulsive disorders unless absolutely necessary. Quickly, and probably kind of rudely, I asked her to change shirts and hoped that the damage was minimal. Those hopes were soon dashed against the rocks of college sports.
Colt McCoy, the Longhorns quarterback in the 2009 National Championship Game, suffered an injury on the first series of that game, and Texas lost to the NFL’s 33rd franchise, the Alabama Crimson Tide. Since then, the Longhorns have gone 22-16. My lucky t-shirt’s magic is all gone, sucked dry by my wife’s common sense and disbelief that a simple piece of cloth can affect the outcome of a football game.
I don’t know why I am superstitious when it comes to sports. I know that what I wear, or where I sit, or what food I eat has no effect on what happens in stadiums miles from my home. At least that’s what my brain tells me. Something inside me, however, tells me I’ve got to contribute. I’ve got to do something to lend my team a hand. And that might be the biggest reason I’m superstitious when it comes to sports. It’s a way for me to be involved. It’s a way to feel like I was part of the victory (or the defeat).
In the end, that’s the magic of sports. You’re not passively watching a drama play out before your eyes. You’re cheering, clapping, and stomping in the stands. You are involved. So it shouldn’t be surprising that we try to find more and more ways to throw ourselves into the action. Superstitions are one way to do that, even when we know that they really don’t matter at all.
The lesson: go out and create some crazy superstitions of your own. Just remember to be slightly rational about it and not take it too seriously.
Again, check Ben out at his website, and also on Twitter @BenZajdel. What are YOUR favorite sports superstitions?