People love to make fun of sports fans’ weird superstitions, but let’s be honest here: most of us don’t buy in to that kind of silly behavior. The superstitious sports fan is a fun stereotype, but come on. I’m a smart, well-read person; I know that talent and luck intersect in meaningless, random ways, and superstitions are just a narrative created by the brain to make sense of chaos. I get it, I know.
That being said, sometimes even the most rational sports fan has to give into some degree of superstition. Because, well, sometimes sports are haunted. Sometimes our favorite teams fail for what seems like no good reason, so we come to the conclusion that maybe, just maybe, it's something else. Maybe it's not about the sport. Maybe it isn't that we're less athletic, or we didn't practice as much. Maybe it comes down to superstition.
Case in point: the new Oregon National Championship uniforms.
Have you seen these things? They're certainly not flashy. White on top and washed-our grey on bottom, the greyscale jerseys are intimidating the same way the Borg is intimidating; they've turned this football team into a machine. There's nothing wrong with them, but I mean, none of their school colors are even in there. Not a hint of green or yellow, just iron shells of football-stormtroopers. Honestly, they look pretty cool, but if you're an Oregon fan, they should be completely terrified.
Abandoning your school color on an attempt to bring the first ever national championship to the school is apocalyptic. That's venturing into territory that gets even the most resolute sports fans shaking. It's not a loud fear, but I guarantee you that every Oregon fan across the country is thinking, Man, can't we just wear the stuff we always wear?
The rational part of me knows this shouldn't matter. Ostensibly, the uniforms you wear should have no effect on your quality of play, and Monday's National Championship Game will be settled with the same combination of talent and luck that decides every sporting event. It's not like they're wearing corsets and ankle weights; these are new uniforms specifically created by Nike to let players play to the best of their ability.
But that one word - new - won't leave my rational brain alone. When you start tinkering with the chemistry this deep into a campaign, how could you not be a little paranoid? It's ridiculous to think Marcus Mariota will take a split-second longer in his decision-making because of newly monochromatic uniform numbers... but what if he does? It's ridiculous to think the team will have any difficulty adjusting to the new gear instead of the stuff the players have been wearing all year... but it's not impossible.
This is a game played by some of the most athletic, well-practiced young men in the country. It's not unreasonable to think that faltering for a fraction of a second on a pass because your brain is trained to look for a green and yellow uniform could affect the outcome of the game. Logically, it shouldn't.
But what if it does?
And to complicate matters, what if the players themselves are going through this same thought process? They're lying awake at night thinking about whether the new jerseys will be a problem, so they're not well-rested enough and are less alert on the field. The drop in confidence causes them to play less aggressively, and then overcompensate with wild, uncontrolled plays. They're suddenly self-conscious about every mistake they make, wondering if it's the new uniform, and, unable to move on, their game suffers. For a game as rigorous mentally as it is physically, these kinds of things have a not negligible effect.
Oregon will probably win on Monday. The Ducks are seven-point favorites over a team starting a third-string quarterback. They have the nation's best player, and have built an excellent program that deserves plenty of adulation from the rest of college football. But make no mistake: if the Ducks lose, it's because of those uniforms. That's just how it is.