"I've had a lot of people tell me I should try to capitalize on it somehow," says Dornfeld, who's 25 and unemployed. "The banner was shown in a commercial for Disney World that Frank did. But I don't want to cheapen it."
Dornfeld isn't sure of the strategy he'll adopt for the 1988 season. "I want to discuss it with Frank first," he says. Meanwhile, the banner will spend the off-season in the trunk of Dornfeld's car.
Far fewer superstitions have found their way into football, possibly because, philosophically, its confrontations take a much more direct approach than baseball's. Instead of, "Hey, fellas, let's mix the bats up to change our luck," football players tend to say things like, "Hey, fellas, let's get out there and punch their faces in!" The less subtle the sport, the less room there is for superstition. Remember, this is just a theory.
Confrontation—that's what football players thrive on, but of course there are exceptions. On Friday, Nov. 13, 1987, a stray black cat strolled into the Denver Broncos' practice facility. Five days earlier the Broncos had lost 21-14 to the Buffalo Bills to fall 2½ games behind the San Diego Chargers in the AFC West. The Broncos decided to keep the cat to see if it would change their luck. Obviously, they were going against the grain of conventional superstition. (Actually, black cats were considered lucky in ancient Egypt. It was only during the witchcraft-mad Middle Ages that black cats got a bad rap.) Anyway, when Denver won its next four games, Quatro, as the cat was called, became a good-luck charm.
Many football superstitions involve equipment. Jim Kelly, he of the pregame retch, will use only black laces in his rib protector and will lace it only from top to bottom. One of his offensive tackles, Joe Devlin, feels that any cosmetic alterations made to his equipment are bad luck. One day Devlin came in to find that Dave Hojnowski, the Bills' equipment manager, had cleaned his helmet. Devlin went outside and beat it against a curb to restore its battle-worn look. His head was reportedly not in it at the time.
Many football players let only certain trainers tape them, and only at certain times and in a certain pattern. Denver quarterback John Elway always has offensive guard Keith Bishop sign in for him on the pregame list that goes up in the Bronco locker room of those who want to be taped. Million-dollar quarterbacks can do stuff like that. And some quarterbacks are even superstitious about other quarterbacks. Kelly, for example, refuses to watch game films with his backup, Frank Reich, for fear that if he does, Reich will play in a game other than one in which the Bills are far ahead late in the fourth quarter—a game in which Kelly is injured, for instance.
When John Madden coached the Oakland Raiders, he never let his players leave the locker room to start a game until running back Mark van Eeghen had burped. (This ritual was known as the pregame "Buick.") Perhaps Madden was aware of ancient aural superstitions, such as the wailing of a banshee, which foretold death in Gaelic culture. More likely, though, Van Eeghen's burp was somehow just pleasing to Big John's ear.
An inordinate number of basketball superstitions center on clothing. Take that awful brown, red and blue crew-neck sweater that St. John's coach Lou Carnesecca wore for good luck during the 1984-85 season. Though it can be safely said that Carnesecca has never exactly fled the spotlight and that the garment in question was good for attracting the public's attention, Carnesecca was, no doubt, sincerely superstitious about wearing it while his team was winning 13 in a row. But Carnesecca put it away after Georgetown dashed the sweater's winning streak in a game during which Hoyas coach John Thompson wore a T-shirt designed to look like the horrible sweater.
Kansas coach Larry Brown also has several superstitions involving fashion. He always wears a University of Kansas pin on his lapel and tucks a white handkerchief into his breast pocket. He will never again wear the same suit and tie that he wore during a loss. For a long time paisley ties were verboten on the Jayhawk bench because Brown was wearing one when he lost his first game at Kansas five years ago.
In addition to his sartorial superstitions, Brown shaves in the same pattern each morning. He will tape his pregame radio show only inside arenas, since the Jayhawks once lost after he had taped the show in a lobby. Kansas players must leave the floor to return to the locker room with just under 10 minutes showing on the pregame clock. And Brown must touch each assistant before the tip-off, just as Egyptian pharaohs touched hunchbacks for luck centuries ago.