Doris McCollow, an otherwise saintly Minneapolis home-maker, 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.