Why Do Sports Make Us So Superstitious?

More

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

Jump to comments
Presented by

Sports Roundtable

Patrick Hruby, Jake Simpson, and Hampton Stevens 

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What's the Number One Thing We Could Do to Improve City Life?

A group of journalists, professors, and non-profit leaders predict the future of livable, walkable cities


Elsewhere on the web

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

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Entertainment

Just In