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The Sports Section - Superstitions

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Of all the fascinating things that occur in the world of sports, some of the craziest are the actions that players, managers, and coaches go through prior to a game or during the season. All part of the mental game, these antics can include superstitions, good luck charms, rituals, curses, and jinxes.

Perhaps the best-known one in all of sports is the Sports Illustrated cover jinx.  Fans cringe when they see players from their favorite teams on the cover, knowing that nothing good will come from it.  Remember when Joe Carter and Cory Snyder graced the cover in April of 1987, with the prediction that the Indians would be the best team in the AL that year?  The two players had good seasons, but the Indians record was a dismal 61-101.  Now this curse has extended to players being featured on the cover of the Madden NFL video game (think Peyton Hillis!).

In general, these crazy antics, routines, and idiosyncracies have to do with the players' clothing/uniforms, equipment, grooming sytles, pre-game/in-game rituals, and food.  There are thousands of examples, but here are some of the more interesting ones.

Did you own a pair of red socks during the 1997 Indians' season?  Following the lead of slugger Jim Thome, Cleveland fans took to wearing knee-high red socks everywhere.  Many of Thome's teammates also wore their unform "socks up".  And for a while it seemed to work - until Game 7 of the World Series.  Speaking of red, Tiger Woods wears a red shirt on every final round he plays because his mother told him that, as a Capricorn, his power would be highest when he wore that color.

Hats are important, especially in baseball.  Many fans have special hats they wear on game days.  Both fans and players will sometimes turn their caps inside out to "rally" their team at a crucial time.  Then there are the pitchers, who are notorious for wearing the same hat all season - sweat marks, dirt and all.

Other superstitions involving clothing often center around wearing the same item for every game - anything from underwear to jewelry.  Michael Jordan was know to wear a pair of UNC basketball shorts under his team uniform in NBA games.  Other players have a system for putting on their uniforms - usually in the exact same order every time, like hockey great Wayne Gretsky.  He is also known for always tucking in the right side of his jersey.  And then there are the players who don't wash certain items of their uniforms, usually during a hot streak, until their luck changes.

How many ways can you cook chicken?  Wade Boggs ate chicken before every game during his 18-year baseball career.  His wife had over 50 recipes for preparing chicken.  Many athletes eat specific types of food before games because of the nutritional value, but many eat something, like Boggs, because they think it brings them luck.

Many aspects of personal grooming also play into these superstitions.  Players will let their hair grow out, get it cut, grow beards and mustaches, then shave them off - all hoping for success in the batter's box.  Growing beards before the playoffs has been a long-standing tradition of NHL players and is now common in other sports.  Tennis great Bjorn Borg always grew a beard before he played Wimbledon, which he won 5 times.

Sometimes the rituals occur during play itself, especially in baseball.  Many people complain of the slow play of the game and wish there would be restrictions on how many times a batter can step out of the box, and how long he can go through his antics with batting gloves, etc.  This brings to mind Mike "The Human Rain Delay" Hargrove, Indians first baseman and manager, and Nomar Garciaparra and his obsession with his batting gloves.  There are any number of players in the NBA who have a set routine at the foul line when shooting free throws.  And golfers on the PGA tour have their own quirks when addressing the ball, like Keegan Bradley who steps up and back and twirls his club, and Jason Dufner, who's known for "waggling" his clubs before hitting the ball.

Golfers have other oddities as part of  their games, like how many ball markers/coins and tees they carry in their pockets, what denomination of coin they use, marking their ball on the green either using heads or tails, but never randomly, and how they put identifying marks on their playing balls (dots, lines, smiley faces).  Ernie Els will change balls if he makes a birdie because he believes each ball only has one birdie in it.

Other supersitions?  In tennis, most players will not step on the chalk lines when changing sides - similar to baseball where almost no one will step on the foul line when changing sides between innings.  It's also bad form to step anywhere on the pitcher's mound when crossing the infield.  Another baseball "code" is leaving the pitcher alone on the bench when his team is batting.  Teammates rarely talk to the pitcher.  And if they're pitching a perfect game or no-hitter, no one is allowed to mention it - not the fans, teammates, or announcers, so he won't be jinxed.  The same holds true in hockey, if the goalie is holding the other team scoreless.

How about you, the fans?  Do you have a favorite shirt or hat you always wear when watching your team?  Maybe a favorite seat or any ritual you go through to jinx the other team?  Or routines you change because it didn't work last time?  Being a fan is a tough job!

Featured Books:

The JuJu Rules or How to Win Ballgames from Your Couch: a Memoir of a Fan Obsessed by Hart Seely (796.35764 N532S, 2012).  "From an award-winning humorist, a touching memoir and manifesto that reveals the deep secrets of fan jinxes, hexes, and charms."

The Code: Baseball's Unwritten Rules and Its Ignore-at-Your-Own-Risk Code of Conduct by Ross Bernstein (796.357 B531C, 2008).

Sports Illustrated: The Covers (796.S764, 2010).  "Since 1954, the covers of Sports Illustrated have depicted the greatest teams and athletes of their generation as well as the most memorable moments in sports."  This collection spans 56, showing every cover in chronological order through 2010.



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