I know I caused Tony Romo to drop the ball. This is not some fly-by-night conjecture but a statement of irrefutable certainty: There can be absolutely no doubt that I am personally responsible for his botching that hold last Saturday. Veteran readers of this column are well aware that I have for some time now been dabbling in the Black Arts. But as of last weekend, I am now officially a Warlock. The concoction I used to flummox Tony Romo was exquisitely rendered. It required mystic incantations, chanting, beads, a charm bracelet and the purchase of a haunted amulet with a haunted credit card. I mixed a potion containing bat wings, eye of newt, several two cent postage stamps, some fruit leather, and the Oakland Raiders play book. I poured this into a large black cauldron and closed my eyes and summoned the name of Njoifn, the Norse god of humiliating failure. As the clock ticked down on Saturday night's game, I became lost in a veritable hypnotic trance of fevered ill will towards Dallas, Tony Romo, Jerry Jones, Terrell Owens and the entire hateful miasma. As the Cowboys lined up to kick the winning chip shot field goal, I brought to bear all of the malevolent forces of nature to send the ball slipping like a struggling eel from Romo's hapless fingers. When it was all said and done, my sorcery had cruelly unraveled what very well may be the last playoff game of Bill Parcells’s coaching career. And I felt...good. Damn good. If, as seems only too likely, I am destined to suffer for all eternity as a consequence of my evil dalliance, well I'm just very glad that I kept Dallas out of the divisional playoffs. I call that a bargain — the best I ever had.
I can affect the outcome of NFL games in surprising ways. It may interest you to know that the Redskins went 5-11 this season not because of injuries to their two best players on offense and defense, but because I lost my burgundy sweatshirt. This happened right before a Week Five visit to the Meadowlands, where, riding a two game winning streak, they were summarily dismantled by the Giants 19-3. As soon as I realized the sweatshirt was gone, I knew we had no chance of making the playoffs. The guilt was tremendous. I am having to learn step by step how to forgive myself.
My situation is a little different, because I actually do affect the outcome of these games, but I've noticed that many non-magical football fans I know also believe that seemingly trivial gestures on their behalf can make a major difference in their chosen team's fortunes. An informal survey of these fantasies and superstitions yields some interesting insights. Take this account, provided by a fellow Redskins fan who for the purposes of this inquiry we will call “Bill”:
I always wore a Skins T shirt on game days until the Raiders game last year, which they lost against Never Nervous Norval Turner. After that I said something to the extent of "f*** f*** f***" and wondered how God could let Norv beat Joe Gibbs. (I think he was actually letting him beat Dan Snyder.) So now I always wear it the day before, but never the day after.
Obviously it doesn't require a Jungian-caliber analyst to recognize that “Bill” is a deeply disturbed individual. This is somewhat unsurprising when you consider the recent history of the Redskins franchise, and obviously the spectacle of former Redskins coach Norv Turner defeating current (and previous) coach Joe Gibbs has driven the subject to a state of near-irrational paranoia. He rants and curses, his capacity for speech seemingly whittled down to vigorous and barely articulate verbal bromides against God. What is notable, however, is the reoccurrence of the view that the game might somehow have been altered had he chosen to wear his Redskins jersey on a different day. The lucky garment is a remarkably common trope of fan superstition. Although it of course only holds true in the case of my burgundy sweatshirt, we may be able to glean something from this commonality of this delusion.
Many fans are inordinately steadfast in their ritual beliefs. Asked how he believed his viewing habits affected the outcome of games, “Mo” relayed the following:
I have a firm belief that when I tune into Redskins games after they start, they win, but when I watch from the beginning, they lose. This is NOT a superstition but a physical reality.
Note the addendum. “Mo” has taken this question very personally and makes it clear he will harbor no second guessing as to the veracity of his claims. I confess that even I, a man closely acquainted as with the complicated mystical elements that go into determining the outcome of NFL games, feels a little confused by “Mo”'s contention. Why would it matter when you started watching? You mean that if you don't watch the first two series then the team wins, but if you do they lose? I've never seen anything about that in my book of spells. It is true that the improper use of TIVO can cause your team's offense to abandon the run too early, but that is a completely separate matter.
Going further in our research, we discover perhaps the ultimate apotheosis of superstitious lunacy in the unsurprisingly in personage of a Cowboys fan. Here we have the confessions of “Andres”, a man who has clearly crossed over into the uninhabitable wilderness of follied dementia:
Actually one thing that worked two or three times for me this year was when the Cowboys got into a sticky situation I would mute the television, walk over to my PC, go to NFL.com and go to the Live GameCenter for the game and read the play by play as it happened. I felt that it would dehumanize the game for me in case something went wrong. Each time I did that they wound up scoring while I read the play by play.
It is obviously difficult to respond to madness on the scale of that which is written above. We are conditioned as humans not to listen to our most disturbing voices and impulses, and to reject and ostracize those who embrace them. In the case of “Andres,” his perversion is so elemental as to be possibly untreatable. His impulse to “dehumanize” the game is suggestive of a profound disconnect with reality — one imagines “Andres” exists mainly in a private world consisting of rock candy mountains, cartoon rabbits and Droids. “Sticky situations”? NFL.COM? Such pathology is the bread and butter of criminal watch lists and shock therapy advocates, and must be considered demonstrative of how badly off the rails fan interactions can go.
In the final analysis, the line between well-reasoned witchery and full scale psychosis is not always an easy one to detect. While I may be supernaturally gifted with the power to visit ruin on my least favorite football team, others are merely confused, mentally ill, or worse. It is one of the nice things about sports, however, that it accommodates us all: the clairvoyant and the emotionally damaged, the oracle and the section-8 ding-a-ling. I'm just glad I fall on the right half of this equation! Take that, Romo...