The Redskins Rule and the Power of Superstition

Tom SchecterCorrespondent INovember 4, 2008

A funny thing happened to me last night around 8:15 PM: I became a Steelers fan.

It was just for one night, I figure; I've bled Blue since I was old enough to understand football, and I surely did enjoy watching the Giants' rousing comeback a week ago against a team I'm almost sure we'll be seeing again before this season is all said and done.

But last night, I desperately wanted to see Pittsburgh win, and it had almost nothing to do with expanding my Giants' lead in the NFC East.

It was that weird, trivial graphic on the screen. You saw it. Any time the Redskins win their last game before Election Day, the party in the White House keeps the White House. When the Redskins lose, the other party takes the White House, and I am a diehard Obama supporter, perhaps even more so than I am a Giants or Yankees fan.

I'm also a smart guy, and I know as well as anyone could that on the surface the premise that this election hinges on a football game is ridiculous. I scoffed at the graphic for the first 15 seconds, until they unleashed the kicker.

In the 17 election cycles in the history of the Washington Redskins, that rule has held true every single time. Talk about a streak. And so when Washington went up 6-0, I got involuntarily, reflexively nervous.

Now, I won't go into my political philosophy here. This is a sports page, and I'll leave my hippie Communist rants for some other site. (Seriously, if you're younger than 35, or making less than $250,000 a year and you vote McCain, you need your head examined.)

(Sorry, that just slipped out of there. Long week.)

I'm more interested, for this column's sake, in the psychological implications of superstition even than I was in the game (which, if you didn't see it, ended a 23-6 Pittsburgh laugher. Byron Leftwich was involved, which was fun. I'm sure you can read a recap somewhere else).

The fact that I have a vested interest in a Steelers-Redskins game when the Giants are already locked into first place for another week fascinates me. The fact that I have been running around screaming my head off at people about the perils of tempting fate like Toby Ziegler on the West Wing for the last two weeks fascinates me.

I feel like this is different than hubris. Hubris is Bill Belichick and the Patriots running up the score for an entire year and then losing the Super Bowl and losing Tom Brady for a year shortly thereafter.

Hubris is the Giants looking past Cleveland and San Francisco towards their first true test of the season (Pittsburgh) and then getting their asses handed to them in Cleveland.

Hell, hubris is me telling a friendly rival Little League coach that I hoped to see his team in the championship, instead of his semi-final opponents. (I will not ever live that down. Ever. I earned that second place trophy.)

Superstition is a different animal. Superstition is me wearing the same Kerry Collins jersey for an entire season (2000, of course), then realizing in horror that it wasn't in my closet the day of Super Bowl XXXV. Superstition is me saying, "This may be our last championship for awhile," while watching Mo dominate the Mets in the ninth inning of Game Five of the 2000 World Series, then thinking I'm cursed as I watch Arizona beat the Yanks with him on the mound the next year.

(Yeah, by the way, can I add a quick disclaimer? Don't come looking for me. I do not have special powers, even if I have to remind myself of that every time I make a prediction that comes true. Especially when it's as bad as that one.)

I know that scientifically, chances are that I had nothing to do with either of those games going awry, and that every sports fan has a few stories like this, but it's enough to make me paranoid.

Seeing as how this particular election is probably the most important one we've ever seen, instead of being a disinterested spectator, superstition drove me to cheer for a foreign team last night. It's not something I'm particularly proud of. But as long as Barack Obama wins tonight, I figure not to let it bother me too much.

Go vote.