| Superstitious for success

The idiosyncratic rituals of athletes

I must have played with the filthiest scum-urchin in history ever convinced to play human sports, and he also doubled as a successful striker. Worse yet, I had the tremendous misfortune of being located beside him in the locker room. You know mould? He had it growing on his clothing. I’m not sure how that even happens, but it did. I’ve witnessed it. It’s blackish grey – mobile I suspect – and irresistibly ugly; like a hairless shih tzu lounging in a lawn chair, except this was quickly spreading fungi on his pair of blue Kappa shorts. I couldn’t look away. He even wore them to practice, smearing the black powdery organism on the clean, muddy field. The interesting thing was that we had our laundry taken care of by the university athletics department. Clip your shit together with a laundry tag, put it into a basket, and the next day you looked like the cleanest kid out of a Tide commercial. In fact, not only was it free, the process was painstakingly easy. But I guess every dirty dog likes his scent, and Andrew was committed to a culture of atavism. We’re talking about a guy whose diet relied on microwaved roast beef. Yeah, he’s the one who buys those rubber lumps of brown salt they advertise as bovine gourmet.

I had enough; I could taste the air now.

“You smell like a fucking fungus tree – and I’m not even sure that’s a real tree.”

“You smell like a virgin.”

“You smell like Tony Danza’s ass.”

“Who’s the boss?”

“Definitely not you, you Neanderthal.”

“Who has six snipes in six? Eh? By the way I slept with your mom, she says hi…”

He had a point. While I scored maybe once all season, he was somewhat of a semi-prolific striker and was lighting it up. What was the key to his success? Was it a rugged playing style that involved the unapologetic maiming of opposing defenders? An uncanny ability to invert insults that had a knack for poisoning your thoughts? A strong right-footed shot? His pre-game fights at bars? No, sir. There was an ancient ritual he invoked for his own success. Like the great Spartans before him and the countless other warrior poets who have trod the land of sport, he had another ally altogether: superstition. It makes perfect sense, because the athlete, if my knowledge serves me right, is very much like Tom Cruise: a profoundly superstitious creature also deathly afraid of doctors. Andrew was no different.

“Oh yeah? What’s the secret to your success, Ronaldo?” My guess was milkshakes made of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s body odour harvested from the original set of Bloodsport.

“After I snipe I don’t change a thing.”

“What? You can’t be serious?” It was all making sense.

“Not even the gitch [underwear].” I gagged tremendously.

“You mean to tell me you stop washing your uniform after you score for the rest of the season?” This was an appalling discovery for a part-time germaphobe such as myself.

“Does it even remotely bother you that you might be inadvertently growing anthrax?”

“I don’t give a shit. Six snipes,” he repeated calmly.

This isn’t anything new – there are countless oddities in the sports world that mimic a similar script. I’ve heard of players needing to throw up before every game, putting on the left side of their equipment first, avoiding the colour yellow at all costs, and eating a blade of grass before taking the field. It’s a game of chance that athletes respect, as if some omnipotent being is waiting for them to step out of line and unleash something biblical. And if you do adhere to the holy rules, you will be victorious. But really it all seems to come down to preparation. Are you focused? What is it that you need to do to go to a primal place where you can rise above your adversary?
Anyway, I’m not one for dramatics. I think the answer is pretty simple: smelling like a bucket of wet garlic.


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