Larry Banman: Superstitious behavior comes in a variety of forms
March 31, 2008
How would you answer the questions, “Are you superstitious?”
Many people would claim their lives are not ruled by silly superstitions like not letting a black cat cross their path and they don’t really get too worried about seven years of bad luck if they break a mirror. A lot of people avoid stepping on cracks in the sidewalk, but how many of us, after we step on a crack, make a call to mom and tell her to be especially mindful of activities in which she may break her back. Throwing salt over the left shoulder is a superstition which you just don’t often see employed to ward off bad luck. That superstition arose from the belief that evil spirits which cause illness lurk over our shoulders. The purpose of the salt over the shoulder maneuver is intended to put salt in the eye of an unsuspecting demon. If somebody chastises you for spilling salt, that caution arises from the belief of some that Judas spilt salt at the Last Supper, just prior to his betrayal of Jesus.
There are good luck practices which have their root in old superstitions. The act of saying “God Bless You” after somebody sneezes, comes from the days of the Black Plague in Europe. Sneezing was one of the symptoms of the disease and violent sneezing was usually a precursor to death. The Pope passed a law that required people to ask for a blessing on the sneezer. Covering the mouth was encourage, both to stop the spread of germs and also to keep the soul of the sneezer from escaping. Ironically, prior to the Plague, a violent sneeze was thought to be a good way to expel demons and, thus, the sneezer was always congratulated. Knocking on wood comes from the belief that good spirits live in trees and the knocking is a way to summon their good graces. Crossing your fingers originated as a way to make the sign of the Christian faith (the AGAPE fish sign) and render evil spirits helpless.
Athletes often have a number of things they do in preparation of a contest. They may refer to those practices as a routine, but they often have the feel of superstition.
Baseball players often refuse to ever step on a chalked line. Many players have the same pre-game meal, they wear the same clothes (sometimes they even put them on in the same order), they listen to the same pre-game music, they stand by the same people during the playing of the national anthem. Basketball player “Pistol” Pete Maravich wore the same ratty old gym socks for most of his career, baseball player Larry Walker had an affinity for the number three and many of his routines were based on the number three (you might have guessed that his uniform number throughout his career was 33).
If you ask any athlete, you will likely find that they do something or wear something because it was what they did or wore when they had a particularly good game.
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Those of us who are long past our athletic careers and our quarterbacking is of the armchair variety, are also not immune from the world of “adequate game preparation.” As evidence, I submit my own actions during the Kansas vs. Davidson college basketball game on Sunday. It is no secret that I am fanatically rabid for Kansas college basketball. Cut me and I bleed Crimson and Blue. To set the scene a bit for Sunday’s game, Kansas was faced with the unenviable task of playing Davidson, this year’s media-darling Cinderella team. The Davidson College Wildcats, with their 1,700 students, with their improbable run out of the Southern Conference, with Stephen Curry, their baby-faced, silky-smooth, sharp-shooting, major-college-overlooked, son of a former NBA player, superstar were the feel-good story of this year’s NCAA tournament. I like an underdog as well as the next person, but this time I wanted my ‘Hawks to put their collective claws around the neck of the Wildcats. I wanted them to smash the Cinderella glass slipper into smithereens. Not that I see things through Crimson-colored glasses, but I knew things had gone way too far when the referees started lining up for copies of “Kansas – Just Another Ugly Stepsister.” To cite one play from the first half, Curry should have signed up for Frequent Flyer miles for all the traveling he was doing on that play.
It was a close game. No team ever established a double-digit lead. Curry was somewhat bottled up by an assortment of Jayhawk defenders and he still scored nearly 30 points. Needless to say, there was plenty of tension for this particular Jayhawk fan. The score was knotted at 28 points apiece when I began to wonder if I had done all I could to help Kansas secure a berth in the Final Four. It was in this frame of mind when I noticed, to my abject horror, that I was wearing a NEBRASKA sweatshirt. What in the name of game preparation was I thinking? I had thrown the old shirt on to do some snow shoveling and I never changed into my game clothes. I nearly broke my nose and my glasses removing the offending garb and I quickly had on my blue KANSAS t-shirt. All would now be right in the world, I thought. Alas, I had waited too long and the game was doomed to be a nail biter. As often happens during nerve-racking games, I started to do chores around the house during commercial breaks. I stacked firewood, I shoveled some more snow, I folded laundry, I picked up my room, I brought all my dirty dishes to the dishwasher, I vacuumed – all in the hopes that I would help the Jayhawks over the edge. At some point, I left the outside door open to the balcony outside the room where I was watching the game. During that time Kansas recovered from its biggest deficit to take a six-point lead. You can probably see this one coming – the door was left open for the remainder of the game. Our dog loved the freedom, but my wife was wondering why she had to suffer the cold draft pouring down the stairs.
If you watched the game, you know that Kansas won the game when Davidson missed a shot at the buzzer. Mr. Curry had pulled the game to within two points with a three-point bomb and Kansas had a questionable possession where they didn’t take a great shot. With a few seconds on the clock, Curry was unable to get a shot over the Kansas defenders and he passed to a teammate who took aim, shot and missed to the left. The state of Kansas took a collective breath when the shot was fired and then exhaled, mostly in relief, when it angled to the right.
One of the stories after the game was about the Kansas coach, Bill Self, finally getting the Jayhawks past the regional final game. In his first and fourth seasons, Self had seen his team make it to the regional final, only to lose. In his second and third seasons, the Jayhawks lost in first-round shockers. After Sunday, finally, the stigma of being, “one of the best coaches never to get to the Final Four” was removed. I am happy for Self, who replaced a very popular and successful coach, Roy Williams. He has not always been embraced by the Jayhawk faithful. Getting this monkey off his back must be a great relief. I just hope he appreciates the efforts I put forth to help get him that elusive win.
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