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 

A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This wildly inventive short film takes you on a whirling, spinning tour of the Big Apple

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This short film takes you on a whirling tour of the Big Apple

Video

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we save the night sky?

Video

The Faces of #BlackLivesMatter

Scenes from a recent protest in New York City

Video

Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life

The Supreme Court justice talks gender equality and marriage.

Video

The Pentagon's $1.5 Trillion Mistake

The F-35 fighter jet was supposed to do everything. Instead, it can barely do anything.

More in Entertainment

Just In