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 

The Blacksmith: A Short Film About Art Forged From Metal

"I'm exploiting the maximum of what you can ask a piece of metal to do."

Join the Discussion

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

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

Video

An Ingenious 360-Degree Time-Lapse

Watch the world become a cartoonishly small playground

Video

The Benefits of Living Alone on a Mountain

"You really have to love solitary time by yourself."

Video

The Rise of the Cat Tattoo

How a Brooklyn tattoo artist popularized the "cattoo"

More in Entertainment

Just In