Why Do Sports Make Us So Superstitious?

Actually, I don't have a rabbit foot handy for any team, and I think I remember the precise moment that I lost track of it. When I was a senior in high school, our football team went undefeated the entire season and made it to the state semifinals, which were played on our home field. I know that Vermont's high school football circuit isn't exactly Friday Night Lights, but I hadn't read about Odessa, Tex. yet, and our football team had been, well, really bad for a long time. We hadn't won a state title in 25 years. But enough of the disclaimers: Really, this was about an undefeated team in a small town, and everyone got into it.

In the fourth quarter that night, we were down 16-12 with enough time for one more play, and the Hail Mary attempt came up just short. Off-the-fingertips short.

I remember, quite clearly, talking about the game with a friend later and trying to communicate that if I, or she, or we, or they, or someone had done something differently—and I was talking about looking away at the last second, or something equally irrational—then of course we'd have won the game. 18-16 final. The friend gave me a quizzical look, and I felt a little bit chastened, and there went the rabbit foot. Almost completely.

I don't have any explicit superstitions for my teams anymore, but I still crack my knuckles at the end of a close game and I still spin a basketball once, and then dribble it twice before I shoot a free throw because it's habit by now, and, as Jake said, it makes me feel a tad bit more involved. This isn't a serious comment on fate (this probably isn't the place for it), or a critique of the fans' right to claim influence (the fans who were at Ford Field three weeks ago would have something to say about that); superstitions just make sports, and the people who both play and watch them, much more engrossing, and much more nerve-racking. And that's half the fun. (Unless, I guess, you're doing Hamilton's laundry.)

And what do you know? Just now, I saw an older woman clutching a stuffed squirrel in the stands at Busch Stadium. Whatever works.

–Emma

Presented by

Sports Roundtable

Patrick Hruby, Jake Simpson, and Hampton Stevens 

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