Whatever Works

October 12, 2003

Doris McCollow, an otherwise saintly Minneapolis homemaker,
robbed my Celtics of the 1985 NBA title, the Lakers rallying
whenever she'd descend to the basement, tray in hand, to surprise
her son Mike and me with 7-Up and popcorn. The cause-and-effect
was unmistakable, and forever after Mike--on hearing her first
tentative footfall on the stairs--would profanely forbid his
mother to enter, insisting she leave the tray outside the door,
prison-style, before silently withdrawing on tiptoe.

But then most fans really are prisoners, held captive to manifold
superstitions while watching games. Who among us hasn't, for
instance, been held hostage by a Leak Streak, in which your team
always--and only--scores while you're immobilized at the urinal?

A Dallas Stars fan with the screen name PNLTBX admits, on a
message board devoted to the team, that he won't hesitate to take
prisoners and banish a Leak-Streaking buddy to the bathroom until
a goal is scored. (PeNaLTy BoX, indeed.)

And what of the Leak Streak's diametric (and diuretic) opposite,
the Kidney Stonewall? "If it's a [TV] game and we're staying
close, I won't get up to pee," writes seesred, an Arizona
Cardinals fan, posting in the cyber-Siberia of a Cards' fan
website. Moreover, says seesred, "if my wife is out of the room
when they're on a roll, she can't come back in. If they're doing
great while she's with me, she can't leave."

And Red's wife is one of the lucky ones. "I am made to watch the
game from the basement of my dorm, away from anyone," vents Chris
From Scranton, a Sixers fan with notoriously bad game-day juju,
posting on the team's official site. "And if that fails, I must
leave the building until the game is over."

If that fails, Chris presumably gets an Atomic Wedgie, for
nothing is more fraught with mojo than a sports fan's underwear.
And so a Kansas City man named Ron Bulen wears, for every
Pittsburgh Steelers game, black briefs whose white tag says win
in black Sharpie. Bulen is just one of many fans seeking an
elusive, elasticized Holey Grail: undefeated undies.

Which raises a question that should resonate with all fans: Which
is more vital to the Steelers' fortunes--Hines Ward or ... worn
Hanes? Or put another way: Do these relics really help?

The answer, of course, is: They can't hurt. More to the point,
forsaking them might lead to disaster. "It was my fault the
Badgers lost to UNLV," a Wisconsin football fan called Door
County Badger confesses (on badgermaniac.com) of the recent
Saturday that he unaccountably neglected, for the first time in
memory, to turn on the red-and-white lights in his basement.

Red Sox fans can't afford to be so careless. On serpentine
Storrow Drive in Boston, on the approach to Fenway Park, the road
sign that warns reverse curve is repeatedly revised to read
REVERSE CURSE. This is less vandalism than exorcism.

But then sports is not a religion. It's an
irreligion--paganism--which explains all the goats. You know
that Cubs fan and Billy Goat Tavern owner William Sianis cursed
the Cubs in 1945 after his pet billy goat was denied entry to
Wrigley Field for the World Series against the Tigers. Last
month three Cubs fans brought a leashed goat to Minute Maid Park
in Houston and were likewise denied entry, dooming the Astros in
their divisional race with Chicago.

Even that was insufficient insurance, which is why, on his own
Cubs devotional website, one Al Yellon wrote during the pennant
drive: "I have been doing this at work for the last few weeks,
and it's worked surprisingly well. My coworkers say, 'How about
those Cubs?' and I say in return, 'They suck!' And when I do
that, they win." Fair enough. But what's truly inspirational--or
deeply disturbing--about Al is his professed plan, hinted at in
the very next sentence, to begin calling into work on his days
off to announce that the Cubs suck.

Foreign fans are just like us. They put their pants on one leg at
a time. But then they leave them on for six weeks. "I haven't
changed my pants since the win over Argentina," a British soccer
fan called kc posted on the BBC website, several weeks into the
last World Cup. "And I won't until we either win it or get
knocked out." England was knocked out. Literally.

Kelley Allison is a grown woman who has worn the same sweatshirt
for all Steelers games since she was five. "The waistband now
rests above my belly button and the sleeve bands just below my
elbows," she posts on one of the web's myriad Steelers sites. "I
look pretty silly, but when I don't wear it, they always lose."

Kelley, we have just the guy for you. His screen name is
azcardsfan1616, and he claims full responsibility for his team's
swoon last season. "When me and my girlfriend used to listen to
the games, the Cards were 4-2," he posts on a Cardinals bulletin
board. "When we broke up, they lost 8 of the last 9."

Naturally, 1616 did the right thing. "I was trying to get her
back," he assures his fellow fans. "Just to finish the season."

B/W PHOTO: JEFFERY A. SALTER

Most fans really are prisoners, held captive to manifold
superstitions while watching games.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)