Bird Brown: Superstitions in sports as old as time

A Ravens fan cheers during the first quarter of the preseason game against the Rams.
A Ravens fan cheers during the first quarter of the preseason game against the Rams. (Jerry Jackson, Baltimore Sun)

For unrelated reasons, I’ve chosen not to wear any Ravens gear for this entire season.

It’s been more than a year since I’ve donned any purple. Haven’t worn it on Purple Friday, not on Game Day Sundays, and not on any single day during the week.


Each Sunday I walk in the middle of the sea of purple walking to M&T Bank Stadium rocking one of my “alternate kits” — my Westminster High School jacket, Coker College jacket, or my Notre Dame jersey and sweatshirt.

This team has broken my heart in too many ways since their Super Bowl win in the 2012 season.

Their constant “Bend and Break” defense under former defensive coordinator Dean Pees, resulting in late-game losses, late-season failures, and missed playoff opportunities; their constant 6-yard drop down passes on third-and-9 called from any of the last several offensive coordinators dating back to Gary Kubiak; and their shameful display of disrespect of kneeling on foreign soil have all driven me to not want to support them with any Ravens swag.

If you just want to know enough to get by, you've come to the right place.

So, when someone asked me if I was wearing my purple for this week’s playoff game against the Chargers, I laughed at the thought.

Even if I wanted to show my support, my superstitions kick in and I think, why would I chance the incredible run the Ravens are making right now with wearing something I haven’t all year?

Sports are littered with some of the craziest superstitions as athletes turn their attention away from their own contribution in the success or failure of a sporting moment to an intervention of some powerful, mystical force.

Baseball leads the pack in its collection of superstitions both in tradition and individual flair.

Did you know that the original cause of a ballplayer not stepping on a foul line between innings was a sign of respect to the groundskeepers?

What about not talking to a pitcher in the middle of him throwing a no-hitter or perfect game?

Former relief pitcher Turk Wendell would brush his teeth and then chew licorice — between innings — on days that he pitched. Wade Boggs was known as the “Chicken Man” because he would only eat chicken on game days.

Other sports share their own brand of superstitions as well. In rodeo, cowboys always shave before they go to battle with the bull to attract Lady Luck if she’s in the crowd.

Football players like Emmitt Smith (22), Drew Bledsoe (11), and Michael Irvin (88) wore a double number for good luck.

Believed to have started in the Italian Serie A League, many soccer players will only step on to the field with their right foot first as a Roman soldier did before entering the field of battle.

NASCAR fans won’t eat peanuts because lore has it a driver ate peanuts right before a race in which he crashed and died.


Does this stuff really have an impact on the outcome of a sporting event?

If Jeff Gordon shelled some peanuts before entering a race, would that mean his car would fail to reach the finish line? If Irvin wore No. 89, would he have dropped a big pass in the Super Bowl?

If Wade Boggs had enjoyed a nice steak dinner at Fogo de Chao on game day, would he have put himself in to a hitting slump and made a few errors in the field?

There certainly are enough players with superstitions that make you wonder about their true effect. Former NHL goaltender Patrick Roy would stare at his goal before the game, visualizing the frame shrinking before his eyes. Being careful not to skate on the red or blue lines, he would also talk to his “friends” (the posts) to enlist their assistance as the game went on.

He is the all-time career wins leaders among NHL goalies.

Michael Jordan wore his North Carolina shorts under his Bulls uniform throughout his career. Six rings later make it hard to argue against the shorts.

And how can you question the significance of Tiger Woods in his red shirt on Sundays?

Coaches are not immune from the power of superstitions. Former UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian would chew on a towel during the game, Kansas football coach Les Miles eats turf during his team’s competitions, and former Birmingham City soccer manager Barry Fry was rumored on game days to urinate in each corner of the home stadium during his tenure to ward off evil spirits.

I’m not a big believer there is this mystical force at play that controls the destiny of every player in every sporting event known to mankind. In fact, I subscribe to the first century Roman philosopher Seneca that said “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

But as I lace up my shoes (left foot first, of course) and put on my Coker jacket or Notre Dame jersey for Sunday’s Ravens playoff game, I’ll let someone else test the influence of Lady Luck.