February 14, 2009
By Patrick Cartwright
I am not a superstitious person. I have no qualms about walking under ladders, unless a fat guy with poor balance stands precariously on top. I do not suffer from triskaidekaphobia, or fear of the number thirteen. In fact, I laughed when years ago I realized that the high-rise I lived in went straight from floor 12 to floor 14. And my fiancee owns a black cat, whose path I cross quite frequently.
However, and for reasons I’ve never quite understood myself, I’m extremely superstitious about sports. If I have a routine that’s working and my team is winning, I stick with it. This has included everything from the way I dress, to the food I eat on the day of the big game. And, as a sane person, I am aware that behaving in this way is patently ludicrous. Yet, during my favorite college football team’s National Championship run in 2002, I found myself with long hippie-like hair because I realized five games into the season that I had not cut my hair since the season started and vowed not to cut it until that particular team lost. Drawing from the power of my hair, Sampson-like, that team went undefeated and beat a heavily-favored team to win the BCS Championship.
During the hockey playoffs in the year 2001, I became convinced that on hockey game days, the Penguins would win if I ate nothing but hot dogs and drank nothing but beer, water, or milk. How this thought process originated, I am unable to recall. However, for several weeks, as the Penguins defeated the Washington Capitols and edged the Buffalo Sabres before succumbing to the New Jersey Devils, I could be counted upon to have hot dogs and water for lunch, hot dogs and milk for dinner, and hot dogs and beer for a snack during the game. You don’t realize how long the NHL playoffs are until you are forced (in this case, I forced myself) to eat hot dogs every 2nd or 3rd day through three playoff series.
You might remember the 2004 NFL season. Most will remember that as the year in which Big Ben Roethlisberger set a new standard for rookie passers, going 13-0 in the regular season. I remember it as the year I didn’t change my clothing for the playoffs. I wore a Three Rivers Stadium t-shirt under a Steelers sweatshirt every game that year. When the playoffs (or “new season” as some players call it) started, I continued to dress in this way. The season ended with a thud, with an unimpressive win over the Jets that wouldn’t have even happened had it not been for two missed Jets field goals, and then a 41-27 shellacking at the hands of the Patriots. Looking for a way to right this injustice, I decided the following year that I would change attire for the playoffs. I did so the following year, forsaking my previous attire for a Roethlisberger jersey, and Bam! Super Bowl win. Coincidence?
One of my cardinal rules is “Don’t piss off the football/hockey/baseball gods”. This can apply a variety of ways. Never, EVER, guarantee a victory (are you listening Anthony Smith?). Never cheer when an opposing player gets injured (Philadelphia) or throw batteries at someone (Philadelphia) or pelt Santa Claus with snow balls (Philadelphia). If you’re cheering for your team at another team’s stadium, be respectful. Cheer for your team, but don’t be obnoxious, or you’ll deserve the beer you get dumped on you. And lastly, never desecrate an opponent’s cherished relic. You see what happens when people use the Terrible Towel in a disrespectful way. TJ Douchemanzada wiped his feet with it. He lost his quarterback, lost his playoff game, and hasn’t been to the playoffs since. Some of the Titans stomped on the Towel. They were bounced from the playoffs in their first game. The mayor of Phoenix blew his nose on it. The Cardinals lost the Super Bowl to the Steelers. Coincidence?
Speaking of mayors, I can’t be the only one who wanted to throttle mayor Luke Ravenstahl and county exec. Dan Onorato. Ravenstahl won major points with Steeler Nation on the week of the AFC Championship game by changing his last name to Steelerstahl. It was funny, imaginative, and showed his dedication to the city and its favorite team. Fast forward two weeks and he’s planning the victory parade before the game has been played. No! Bad juju! And then Onorato chimes in with some babble of his own, all but guaranteeing victory. You don’t do that sort of thing! The Steelers won, but at the victory parade, Onorato was booed by fans. Ravenstahl was spared, if only because he chose to ride in Ben Roethlisberger’s car. I feel that the only reason the jinx wasn’t put on the Steelers was that Ravenstahl banked some good will with the football gods the previous week. So he was a wash. Onorato was lucky that the Phoenix mayor made a similar guarantee and then blew his nose on the Terrible Towel or else he’d be packing his bags come the next election.
You might be asking yourself “What is the point of this, other than to show that you’re walking a thin line between rabid fan and mentally ill”? The point is this: It seems to me that temping fate generally is a bad idea. And so, when Mike Tomlin, who went out of his way all season to focus the team on the here and now, flashes seven fingers at the victory parade, I worry. When Dan Rooney says “lets try to get a seventh next year”, I fret. And when the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette repeatedly used the words “Seventh Heaven” in reference to the possibility of the Steelers repeating as NFL champs next year, I wanted to yell, scream to the rafters, “STOP!!! YOU’RE TEMPTING FATE! ENJOY THE MOMENT!” I have to wonder to myself what’s gotten into everyone? Do they not remember the last time Pittsburgh won a Super Bowl they followed it up with an 8-8 season? This was less than five years ago! It took 25 years to get the elusive “one for the thumb”. To talk about obtaining a seventh Lombardi Trophy less than one week after winning the sixth is folly bordering on the irresponsible.
Take a rest, everybody. The next season is seven months away. The next Super Bowl is in another year. Baby steps. One thing at a time. Think about the draft, where we need to add depth at key positions. Think about pending free agency. Think about the work we’ll have to do in order to win a third division title. It’s a long road to the Super Bowl. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go get a hair cut. I’m overdue by about five months.
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