When a younger sports fan, no one thought it too strange -- since we were 12 and "strange" is what 12 year olds specialize in -- when while watching our teams on television and things were not going well, my friend and I would look desperately for something we could change to make things better. The most common one (still employed today on a large scale) would be to reverse our caps to inside-out and then put them back on. Or removing hat altogether. (If things were going particularly terrible, flinging said hat across the room was often used, though more for catharsis, not for superstitious help.)
But usually this felt inadequate. We went beyond. Favorite tricks included: switching off the TV and listening on the radio (or turning volume off), if possible. Or changing shirts. Or inventing trivia quizzes we had to answer in a short span of time, or so-and-so would definitely miss that field goal, or strike out in the 9th. Or along those lines, run around the block and come back before halftime was over.
(Of course, all this was before the invention of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder as a thing.)
Even more interesting was when I was with a similarly superstitious friend who was rooting on the opposite side. We had an unwritten rule that we wouldn't interfere with each other's ritual-in-progress, thinking to ourselves that we could counteract their superstition in our own way, or even by mere thought. We had a Code of Ethics.
Not only is all this illogical enough to make Mr. Spock's Vulcan ears droop, it's downright narcissistic. Something that wouldn't occur to us back then, given most kids by nature are self-involved, even if innocently. But the idea that something we were doing in our living rooms in Santa Barbara, California would affect an inning down the highway at Dodger Stadium, or several states over at Mile High Stadium, or the Superdome, was ludicrous. Yet it wasn't that the thought wouldn't cross our minds, it was that we wouldn't let it.
And if a certain ritual didn't "work," well then, try something else next time. Or make up an excuse (which even amidst all this silliness we knew was, well, silly), like "We didn't say it backwards." or "Should've worn the shirt inside out."
Fast forward to last fall, to: A Denver Broncos hat that I'd owned for some years disappeared on a soccer field I'd played on, then forgotten, then remembered, came back, and it was gone. This was on the day the Broncos started 6 wins and 0 losses. Since I lost that hat their record has been rather putrid.
...Ending with a game yesterday that was one of the most shockingly distressing losses I've seen them have in a long time (bringing up similar feelings to their Super Bowl rout at the hands of the 49ers, but at least in that game, they were the heavy underdog and for good reason. I didn't expect the score as bad as it was but I expected them to lose, whereas this last defeat was a stunner.
But I don't want to rehash that game (believe me) which will be disemboweled elsewhere. What was interesting to me is how I, as a grown man several decades removed from that 12 year old sports fan, decided to go on eBay and order a Broncos hat that is just about identical to the one I'd lost. I'd previously bought a brand new one with an entirely different, "hip" design but it seems to have had no effect on the team's wins being greater than their losses. So I bought a replacement as close to the lost hat as I could find, hoping it would arrive before their next game.
Meanwhile, I wanted to leave the "replacement" (i.e., "scab") hat on the floor of our garage where our cats have been known to pee on things that are soft and available -- thinking that's what that hat (and the team) frankly deserve, as some sort of a symbolic purification ritual.
My g/f rightly thought this would be crazy. She also wondered about my sanity in general after yesterday's debacle. Not being a sports fan (though she roots for my teams, for my sake), she wonders about anything like that which we have no control over making us that depressed. Because I was really depressed. For a few hours. Until I realized I had things in my own life to count my blessings about.
And because I'd ordered my old hat.
Why do we do these things? Because we need to feel like we have at least some tiny bit of control over these things which we really have no control over -- including how our favorite sports teams fare. Oh sure, we can call sports talk radio shows, or write blog articles, and vent, and make suggestions, and hope in the back of our heads that the team's general manager or manager or coach are listening and reading and will take our suggestions to heart and make necessary changes.
Which of course is assuming that our ideas and suggestions are actually precisely what is needed. Sometimes we're right, sometimes we're wrong, but at least we are contributing and participating. Or so we feel.
These seemingly ridiculous superstitious rituals are just another way for us to feel connected to our team's fate. Some people have those rituals, others blow steam by writing angry comments on online sports articles (a habit I find much more harmful and polluting than superstitions).
When a game is clearly getting way out of hand, such as this last one, that even a 12 year old realizes he can't pull out anything from his bag of tricks to make it better, that helpless feeling kicks in. I don't really use that bag of tricks during games any more (well, for the most part), but when things are really bad, the inner 12 year old can come back out, leading one to do desperate things, like order a new hat.
Some who think along the same lines will argue that by writing about this I've ruined any chance of the hat saving the day.
But I know if I believe hard enough, magic can happen.
I have to, right? Otherwise I'm just another helpless fan, hoping against hope for the best.
If things don't go well on any given Sunday, I vow to not take it out on my hat (and I will damn sure never take it out on my girlfriend -- may such people be damned). Instead, I will take a walk around the block to take air in my lungs, not sprinting around it to make it back by halftime, but to remind myself this is something that I have, that this I can control.
My dad had good advice for me that he admitted he doesn't always take himself:To be a more mature and happy sports fan, you should enjoy it as much as possible when your team has won, and have the ability to not let it get to you when things go awry. That is something we have power over.
And at the very worst, you may find yourself with a nice collection of hats.