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Just a little luck
By JAMES GROB
A friend of mine is a huge NASCAR fan — a huge fan of all kinds of auto racing, actually. That’s why he hates peanuts.
Don’t see the connection?
I really didn’t either. The guy used to love peanuts, but since he’s become more and more into the car racing, he’s sworn off them.
Sounds crazy to me, but then, I like eating peanuts a lot more than I like NASCAR. I especially like them salted in the shell, when you can crack them open with your teeth and lick the salt in the inside, but I digress.
My friend tells me that it’s bad luck to eat peanuts during an auto racing event. He’s afraid that if he eats them during a race — even if he’s just watching a race on the television — that a driver might get into a serious crash and get hurt or even killed. He tells me that a lot of his other NASCAR friends feel the same way, so they’ve all sworn off peanuts, during the races and otherwise.
So it’s a superstition, you see. And that I understand.
Superstitions and sports go hand in hand. Baseball players are never supposed to step on the baselines between innings. Also, if your pitcher is throwing a no-hitter, never mention the word “no-hitter.” And it’s good luck to spit on your hand before you pick up your bat. I don’t know if it’s all that sanitary, but it’s supposed to be good luck.
Hockey players aren’t supposed to ever set their sticks down in a crossed position. Soccer players should always step out onto the field of play with their right foot first — like the ancient gladiators used to. Rugby players should always dress up like women and go to biker bars the night before a big match.
Okay, I just made that last one up. You caught me.
I’ve heard that Michael Jordan always wore his North Carolina shorts under his NBA uniform. Superstition worked pretty well for him, I guess.
I recall when I used to play football — back in the middle of the last century — I always wore two pairs of socks under my cleats to prevent blisters. This was not a superstition, of course, it was just common sense. The superstition was that I always made sure that the colors of the opponent my team was playing was on the socks that were underneath the second pair of socks. Before the season, I went to the store and bought socks to match the colors of every team on our schedule.
Sounds stupid, doesn’t it?
Well, it probably was kind of stupid, but the thing is, my team made the state playoffs and went to the UNI-Dome my junior year. Once there, we played a team with new colors, and I had no socks to match them.
We lost. Badly. Something like 28-0. So my socks cost my team a shot at a state title. It couldn’t have been that our opponent was just a better team. It had to be my socks.
I’ve seen superstitious coaches close up on more than a few occasions. One time, when I was covering a prep baseball team that was winning a game by several runs in the final inning, I saw an eager batboy start to pick up all the equipment in the dugout and bag it. He was just trying to get a head start on his clean-up duties. The coach took one look at him and started screaming.
“What are you doing?” he said between words that are unprintable in a small town newspaper. “Never start cleaning up until the final out! Are you trying to lose the game for us?”
Another time, on a football sideline, the home team I was covering had a third-down-and-long. One of the assistant coaches, in his first year out of college, turned to the players on the sideline and yelled, “Punt team, get ready!”
The head coach turned as red as a beet, and verbally reprimanded his faithful young assistant with words that could bring the toughest of old sailors to tears. I guess he thought it was bad luck to tell the punt team to get ready before it was actually time to punt.
Superstition isn’t limited to sports, of course. Most folks try to avoid walking under ladders and opening umbrellas inside. And black cats make a lot of people nervous.
A year or so ago, my wife was participating in a theatre play. The day of the performance, a lot of other people in the play kept coming up to her and saying, “Break a leg!”
I thought that was kind of rude.
After all, if my wife were to actually break her leg, she wouldn’t be able to perform. Plus there would be a good deal of pain involved. On top of all that, I would have to be the one driving her to and from the doctor all the time, and I would also probably get stuck with most of the housework and other stuff until she recovered. No, breaking a leg didn’t seem to me to be a very nice thing to say.
Later it was explained to me that in the world of theatre, it is bad luck to say, “good luck,” so they say “break a leg” when they mean “good luck.”
I get it now, but they are weird things, these superstitions. Sometimes I wonder if we do ourselves a disservice when we put so much stock to mundane, trivial details of life at the expense of our own accomplishments and failures. After all, the good and bad things that happen to us are the things that make us what we are, human beings.
But on the other hand, I guess we could all use a little luck once in a while.
So keep your fingers crossed.