I don’t have many rituals when it comes to sports. Sure I wore the same Johnny Cash T-Shirt/Flannel combination every Sunday during the Ravens last Super Bowl Run. And, yes, I am currently sporting a playoff beard that may or may not be a direct violation of the official dress code at my place of business. But I’m not totally obsessed with rituals and superstitions. But….
….I probably won’t watch another Lightning game in real time. You see, I’ve managed to watch a four games this playoff season in their entirety. All four games have ended as Lightning losses. Think about that for a moment. They’ve only lost five games between the two series they’ve played - and I’ve seen four of them. So, unless they rack up a three games to none lead in the next series I’m not watching them.
Is it logical? Nope, not even close. I know my watching the game at a bar or online has absolutely no outcome on the result, but here we are. Luckily, with my work schedule it won’t be hard to miss games (2nd Shift 4 Life!) and I do go back and watch them after the fact. Well, after the 48 hour blackout window on NHL.com, that is.
I can’t explain why I’m not watching the game. Well, at least I can’t explain it to non-hockey fans. I haven’t told The Duchess yet, but I’m sure she’ll roll her eyes and chalk it up to another stupid sports thing. One of my bellmen, who is Bosnian and not a big hockey fan, asked me why I was growing a beard. I told him and he rolled his eyes and blatantly said it was the stupidest thing he had every heard of.
Yet hockey fans understand. I’m not the only one at work who has sprouted whiskers over the last couple of weeks (yet I’m probably the only one doing it for the Lightning) and it’s actually started some conversations with guests who were checking in from Montreal.
One of the bartenders at work who is kind enough to put the game on TV so that I can catch glimpses from time to time admonished me for watching Game 5. Then, when I joked that I had switched my day off from Tuesday to Wednesday so that I wasn’t tempted to watch, he said it was the smartest thing I’ve done in a month. (The real reason I switched was so that Link and I could go to a ballgame in Milwaukee, but why let the truth get in the way of a good story!)
It makes sense for players to have rituals or superstitions. Eating chicken every day didn’t make Wade Boggs a better ballplayer. It was, however, a ritual that relaxed him and made him feel more comfortable heading into the game. That feeling, not the act, made him a better ballplayer.
Avoiding the game isn’t something that I’ve always done. I watched every game in the 2004 Stanley Cup run as well as every game in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals run. So it’s not like watching in the past has jinxed them. This is a 100% new superstition for 2015.
Some of the other things that I have done in the past have met with mixed results. Wearing the Lightning jersey on game day is a 50/50 split as they’ve won two games and lost two games. Wearing the all blue combo (blue pinstripe suit/blue shirt and blue tie) at work got off to a hot start with three wins, but cooled off with two losses. Which is good, because people were really wondering why I was wearing the same getup every other day.
The aforementioned beard has carried them to the second round. This is the first playoff beard since 2011, since last year I was a little paranoid about growing one in what was still a relatively new job. Oh, and The Duchess really, really doesn’t like it. The last time I had it, I let it go full homeless because, well, I was unemployed and could do things like that. Now as a responsible employee I do at least clip it from time to time. (I haven’t kept track of their record on days when I trim the beard…hmmm..maybe that’s the key)
So, if there is no rhyme or reason to these “superstitions” why do I and thousands of other people do it? I’m not sure. Mostly because it’s fun I guess. Sports are supposed to be stupid and fun. They are distractions from everyday life so why not go all in and enjoy it a bit?
Apparently there are more intellectual explanations for superstitions. In my five minute of prep work I stumbled across a couple of articles about the topic. One of them discussed something called the uncertainty hypothesis. As defined by Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne in her article Why We’re So Superstitious, it states “when people are unsure about an outcome, they try to find a way to control it”.
Now that makes sense. We, as fans, do not have any influence whatsoever on the game. Unless of course we jump on the ice and take a baseball bat to the other team’s goalie. And as humans, not being able to control something tends to make us nervous. So if we can find something to fixate on that has worked in the past we latch on to it because it gives us comfort. If it happens again and again than it takes on even greater importance.
Important games are nerve wracking enough as they are. Especially hockey games. So there is a benefit to having or doing something that brings comfort. Even if it’s totally nonsensical. Heck, the more nonsensical, the more relaxing it might be.
Not watching the games has probably added years to my life. While not seeing Steven Stamkos score a goal to double the lead left a little happiness out of my life, not watching the final five minutes (after Montreal had pulled within two goals) kept a lot of stress out of it. By the time I click “refresh” the action has already happened. It’s in the past so I can’t worry about it.
Another thing that studies into sports fans and their superstitions revealed is that fans who strongly support teams tend to feel less lonely. When you see someone wearing the same jersey you are it almost always brings a smile to your face doesn’t it? Especially if you’re an out of town fan.
During the week of Game 6 and Game 7 against Detroit there seemed to be an overwhelming amount of Lightning fans in Chicago. By overwhelming I mean three. I saw the Lightning logo at least three times over those couple of days. Now, I don’t know if I just kept seeing the same guy over and over again or if they were actually different people, but every time I saw it, I smiled. Not only that, it made me feel more confident about the Lightning’s chances.
Finding a sense of belonging in the world is important. And if sporting a ragged, patchy beard or wearing a t-shirt riddled with holes helps me find that place, well, then it’s not quite that crazy after all.