Feb. 11, 2021



From talismans, amulets, salt thrown over the shoulder, an iron horseshoe for luck and knock on wood. Superstitions whose origins are murky and witchy and unknown still abound in our everyday lives. Everyone subscribes to superstition in some way. So, what superstitions do you hold on to?

This is our 2nd episode of our 2nd season but...of all our episodes lumped together it’s our 13th episode and it’s all about superstition! I think we should first define what a superstition is exactly.

A superstition is defined as a widely held, but unjustified belief, in supernatural causation leading to certain consequences of an action or event, or a practice based on such a belief. (Personal superstitions)

Before researching this topic, I would have told you that I really have no superstitions. That I am grounded in logic and concrete evidence but…. I was surprised to find that I really do give in to doing little things that help me feel more in control of my surroundings. Which I think is where superstitions originate - people look for a way to gain some control or semblance of control over things that are completely out of our control.

For one, I do have a horseshoe over my door, pointed up to hold in the luck. But that’s just décor. Wouldn’t bother me if I took it down. But I find myself reluctant to talk about something good that’s pending. I don’t want to jinx it. I feel (truly feel) that by talking about something like a possible job promotion or the current good health of my family that I’ll jinx it in some way and ruin the outcome. So what do you do when you have to talk about such things? You knock on wood of course. 

I asked my friends and family about their superstitions and the jinxing of things by talking about them and the subsequent knocking on wood to counter that is pretty common. One weird  superstition I have though involves sheets and blankets. When I was a kid…

Triskaidekaphobia is fear or avoidance of the number 13. It is also a reason for the fear of Friday the 13th, called paraskevidekatriaphobia or friggatriskaidekaphobia.

The idea that 13 was unlucky was fully in place by the 1890s when a number of English language sources relate the number to an idea that at the Last Supper, Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, was the 13th to sit at the table. The Bible says nothing about the order in which the Apostles sat, but there were thirteen people at the table.

Fear of the number 13 shows itself in the fact that most buildings, at least in the US, don’t have a 13th floor. The numbers just go from 12 to 14, skipping over 13. The same goes for airplane seating.

From a 2017 article by MELISSA CHAN for TIME magazine, we know that Stephen King, the famous horror writer has a fear of the number 13.  ”For “triskies,” as King calls them, the number 13 is scary. But when the date falls on a Friday, it’s horrifying.. Millions of Americans may suffer from fear of Friday the 13th, according to Saybrook University psychology professor Stanley Krippner. Hollywood capitalized on that by spawning the Friday the 13th horror movies franchise, in which the ominous day is associated with a nightmare-inducing serial killer.”

And just FYI, we have a Friday the 13th this year in August.

Just a few 13 related bad events...

  • Apollo 13 was launched on April 11, 1970 at 13:13:00 CST and suffered an oxygen tank explosion on April 13 at 21:07:53 CST. It returned safely to Earth on April 17.
  • On Friday, October 13, 1307, the arrest of the Knights Templar was ordered by Philip IV of France. While the number 13 was considered unlucky, Friday the 13th was not considered unlucky at the time. The incorrect idea that their arrest was related to the phobias surrounding Friday the 13th was invented early in the 21st century and popularized by the novel The Da Vinci Code.

From TheSkeletonKeyChonicles.com THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS

There’s Spuyten Duyvil (Spy-ten Die-vil), a train station in the NYC borough of the Bronx that has a lot of trouble when it comes to the number thirteen. An express train carrying 13 cars was traveling down the tracks one cold January day in 1882--It just happened to be Friday the 13th--when the brakes failed. The conductors were able to bring it to a stop but another train, running thirteen minutes behind the first, was unaware of the stalled out locomotive and crashed into it resulting in a catastrophic fire that killed a least a dozen people. Passengers who escaped rolled giant snowballs in hopes of extinguishing the flames. 

There was another disaster on December 1, 2013 in which a Metro-North Railroad Hudson Line passenger train derailed near that same station killing four and injuring more than 100 people. The name “Spuyten Duyvil” literally translates to “Spouting Devil” in Dutch.

But some people embrace the number 13, the Thirteen Club. (Wikipedia) In 1881 an influential group of New Yorkers, led by US Civil War veteran Captain William Fowler, came together to put an end to this and other superstitions. They formed a dinner cabaret club, which they called the Thirteen Club. At the first meeting, on January 13, 1881, at 8:13 p.m., thirteen people sat down to dine in Room 13 of the venue. The guests walked under a ladder to enter the room and were seated among piles of spilled salt. Many "Thirteen Clubs" sprang up all over North America over the next 45 years. Their activities were regularly reported in leading newspapers, and their numbers included five future US presidents, from Chester A. Arthur to Theodore Roosevelt. Thirteen Clubs had various imitators, but they all gradually faded due to a lack of interest.


The world of sports brings us numerous examples of superstitions and superstitious people. Reaching the pinnacle of athletic competition is exceedingly difficult. Anything that may give a person a perceived edge over their opponent will be and has been utilized. As mentioned, all sports produce superstitious people, but it appears that baseball may spawn the most. It has been said the hitting a baseball thrown by a major league pitcher is the most difficult action in sports. Perhaps that is why there are so many superstitions in baseball. These were gathered from Business Insider, Wikipedia, Mens Journal, and Bleacher Report.

Nomar Garciaparra was an all-star short stop who played for 14 years in the major leagues, mostly with the Boston Red Sox. Nomar was a big fan of rituals. Before every pitch of an at-bat, he would adjust the velcro on both batting gloves several times in a rhythmic fashion. As soon as he was finished with that, Nomar moved his bat in windmill like fashion while alternatingly tapping his toes.

That wasn't the full extent of Nomar's superstitions. He would kiss his bat and climb the stairs of the dugout one foot of a time before getting to the on-deck circle where he would repeat his at-bat routine over and over again. He also (almost) never changed the shirt he would take batting practice in, and according to his brother Michael, Nomar would lose it if you ever touched his hat. 

Steve Kline had an eleven-year major league career as a relief pitcher for four different teams. Though he had a solid career, most fans took notice of Kline's sweat stained hats. Kline wouldn't wash his hat a single time during a season. As a result, Kline's dingy hat became a common topic of conversation for the fans. His hats become such a hot topic that the St. Louis Cardinals once held a "Steve Kline Hat Day" where the first 5,000 fans that entered the park got their own dirty hat.

Larry Walker has a 17 year major league career and was one of the best players of the 1990s. He was the National League MVP in 1997, and was elected to five all-star games. Why was he so successful? Larry thinks it has to do with the number three. He wore the number 33 for his entire career, made sure the phone company gave him a number with as many threes as he could get, and he would only wake up at 33 past the hour. Walker even got married on November 3rd at 3:33pm.

Richie Ashburn enjoyed a major league career that spanned from 1948 – 1962 most of that time with the Philadelphia Phillies. Over that time, he maintained a .308 batting average which is quite high. His secret? He slept with his bats! He did this in order to make sure clubhouse attendants didn't mix his bats in with the rest of the inferior ones. It must have worked well for him as he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995. After his playing days, Ashburn was a popular color commentator of Phillies broadcasts. He used to quip that he "slept with a lot of old bats."

There’s an interesting side note on his Wikipedia page. During a game on August 17, 1957, Ashburn hit a foul ball into the stands that struck spectator Alice Roth, wife of a Philadelphia writer, breaking her nose. When play resumed Ashburn fouled off another ball that struck her while she was being carried off in a stretcher. Ashburn and Mrs. Roth maintained a friendship for many years, and the Roths' son later served as a Phillies batboy.

Wade Boggs had an 18 year career as a 3rd Baseman. He is one of the few players to have more than 3,000 hits in his career. The 12-time All Star attributed much of his success to a daily routine and refused to alter his habits. These everyday customs including eating chicken before each game (earning him the nickname “Chicken Man”), always taking batting practice at 5:17 and running sprints at 7:17 and drawing the word “Chai” (Hebrew for “life”) in the dirt before coming up to bat. So he could have some variety in his diet, his wife, Debbie, accumulated more than forty different chicken recipes which is also a major league record. (OK, I made that part up.) Boggs’ undying allegiance to his superstitions helped lead him to one of the finest pro baseball careers of all time. 

Turk Wendell was a relief pitcher for four different teams over an eleven year career. His numerous superstitions are more famous than Wendell himself.

Wendell wore the number 99 for most of his career since it was his favorite. He liked it so much that he had every figure on every contract he ever received end with a 99. Adding to his colorful persona was this oversized necklace that he would wear in every game. The necklace was made up of teeth from animals he had killed whilst hunting. While on the mound, Wendell pitched with four pieces of licorice in his mouth. When the inning was over, Wendell would take an exaggerated leap over the foul line and would then brush his teeth in the dugout between every inning. 

Just so you don’t think that only successful players were superstitious, consider the case of Kevin Rhomberg who only appeared in 41 games for the Cleveland Indians in 1982.  Kevin wasn't in the big leagues for very long at all. In fact, he wasn't all that good of a player. The only reason baseball historians ever bring him up is because he was exceptionally weird! Rhomberg never turned right while on the field. If he had to move right, he would spin left. (Probably made it difficult to field ground balls.)

Even weirder than his directional impedance was how he behaved when players, coaches, or whomever touched him. He had to touch them back.  As an example, if Rhomberg was ever touched while sliding into second, he'd chase the fielder down and touch him back. Every time. (I think you’re really supposed to stay on the bag!)

The No-Hitter

Baseball is known for its many unwritten rules. One of the most important of these is that no one, not players, announcers, or fans, can mention the fact that the pitcher has not allowed a hit. It is believed that saying something like, “Wow, our pitcher hasn’t allowed any hits yet!” is enough in and of itself to ruin the no-hitter. I’ve been to a major league game where a no hitter was carried into the 6th inning. You can literally feel the tension in the crowd. The most that the announcer is allowed to say is that the other team has had any base runners yet. 

Sports Illustrated Cover Jinx

The Sports Illustrated cover jinx has an irrational foundation. Some people swear it exists, and those people have five decades worth of evidence to back them up. 

There are a lot of athletes and a lot of issues of Sports Illustrated. Any misfortune that an athlete or a team suffers after appearing on the cover is simply a coincidence—at least that’s what a completely rational human being should probably say. That being said, Wikipedia lists all of the cover related incidents since 1954, and it is a very long list! There were 8 incidents in 2019 alone! 

However, that same article also cites notable exceptions to the curse including Michael Jordan who appeared on the cover more than 50 times, Muhammed Ali, more than 40 times and the 2016 Chicago Cubs. At the beginning of the season, the Cubs appeared on SI with the banner, Your 2016 World Series Champions! The Cubs hadn’t won the World Series since 1908, but they did win it in 2016, overcoming the SI curse as well as several other curses that the team had supposedly been under. 

Now let’s turn away from Baseball to some other sports. Speaking of Michael Jordan, he of course enjoyed a long and successful career with the Chicago Bulls of the NBA including six championships. Looking at his picture you may have noticed that he appears to be wearing larger than normal shorts with his Chicago Bulls uniform. That’s because he always insisted on wearing his University of North Carolina shorts underneath his Bulls shorts. 

Jerry Tarkanian was a college basketball coach for more that 31 years. He was most known for coaching the University of Nevada Las Vegas team to four Final Four appearances and winning the tournament in 1990. However, the only thing anyone ever wants to talk about is the towel.

Early in his career while coaching a game that took place in a sweltering southern California high school gym, Tarkanian got fed up with having to constantly go to the water fountain, so he wet a towel and chewed on it to keep his mouth from going dry. Ever since that moment, he chewed a towel during games out of superstition.

Jason Terry played for 19 years in the NBA, eight of which were with the Dallas Mavericks. His secret for success? In basketball, you see, it's important to understand the enemy as much as possible. If that means sleeping in the shorts of your opponents, so be it. Do you think that's weird? Jason Terry sees nothing weird about it. He owned a pair of shorts for every single team in the NBA. On nights prior to game days, he will would grab the shorts of his next opponents and fall asleep in them.

Now on to Hockey. Patrick Roy enjoyed a 19 year career in the National Hockey League dividing time between the Montreal Canadians and the Colorado Avalanche. He is considered to be one of the best goalies of all time. How did he enjoy such success? He held full conversations with the goal itself, especially the two side posts. Why? "Because they are my friends," Roy routinely said. When the puck bounced off of one of the posts and ricocheted away from the net, Roy would say, “Atta boy, You da Post wit da Most!” (OK, I just made that part up)

Wayne Gretzky One does not earn the moniker "the Great One" without doing a few things that are a little strange.

Gretzky always put on his uniform in a certain order, fired the first shot of warm-ups wide right of the net, and would drink a Diet Coke, a glass of ice water, a Gatorade, and another Diet Coke in that order prior to game time. The last thing he would do before stepping on the ice was apply baby powder to the blade of his stick. Was there reason for the baby powder? Gretzky once said, "I think it's essentially a matter of taking care of what takes care of you." (I didn’t make that up!)

And now football. What would you do if a very large man came up to you and told you to slap him in the face as hard as you can? Well, that's what Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle John Henderson does. Before each game the 6'7 350 pound (that’s a mountain of a man!) Jacksonville Jaguar has one of his trainers slap him across the face as hard as he can. Evidently he believes that it helps him to have a successful game. (You know, the WW II generation thought a good slap in the face was often the right thing to do to help bring a person to their senses!)

Les Miles has been a successful college football coach at Oklahoma State, LSU, and currently at Kansas. Les Miles also has a grass habit. No, not that kind. He actually will eat some of the grass on the field before every single game and he will do it again in high pressure situations.

Cameras have caught Miles in the act of munching on the turf. When asked about it, Miles said, ""I have a little tradition that humbles me as a man, that lets me know that I'm a part of the field and part of the game." (No, I didn’t make that up either!)

The Madden Curse: This is similar to the SI curse. Every year E A Sports produces a new version of its X Box game Madden Football named after former coach and TV personality John Madden. And each year a different player appears on the front cover of the game. Rationally, we all know that there's no real correlation between appearing on the Madden cover and the cataclysmic collapse of so many once-promising NFL careers.

But there is a lot of anecdotal evidence to support this theory. Here are just a few players who have fallen victim to the dreaded curse: 

Daunte Culpepper: The season after appearing on the cover of Madden 2002, the former Vikings quarterback went 5-11 and broke the record for the most fumbles in a season. (There’s just something funny about the word Fumble.) He blew out his knees in 2005 and never returned to form. 

After appearing on the cover of Madden 2004, former Falcons quarterback Michael Vick broke his leg in a preseason game, which kept him out all season. It was the same year his dog-fighting ring came to light. However he did have some success after serving his time. 

Former Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb landed the cover of Madden 2006 and incurred a sports hernia on the first game of the next season. McNabb played hurt all season until a torn ACL mercifully ended his year early.  

After his MVP season in 2006, former Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander landed the cover of Madden 2007. Alexander suffered an early-season injury which caused a sharp decline in his production—he was out of football just over a year later

Other sports and sports personalities also have their superstitions

NASCAR It’s quite understandable why NASCAR drivers would embrace certain superstitions. While a hockey or football player may weird it up with dirty socks or some other smelly ritual, they’re merely trying to stay healthy and/or win a game. For NASCAR drivers, a bad day could very well mean a fiery crash. So, it’s a good idea to hedge your bets.

No Peanuts in the Shell: An old superstition that dates back to the racing era before World War II, peanuts in the shell are almost never sold at or around a NASCAR event. Peanut shells are considered bad luck and according to racing lore, peanut shells were always found in the smoldering remnants of a badly wrecked car.

No $50 Bills: According to legend, two $50 bills were found in the shirt pocket of champion racer Joe Weatherby after he was killed in a crash in 1964, no one knows how much the tale is rooted in truth. Regardless, $50 bills are non grata in NASCAR.

And finally, let’s turn to tennis. Bjorn Borg  The Swedish tennis legend had superstitions that related to one specific event—Wimbledon. Known as the Ice Man for his steely confidence on the court, Borg would always prepare for the annual tournament by growing a beard and wearing the same Fila shirt. These quirks helped him net an amazing five straight Wimbledon titles from 1976 through 1980. Surprisingly, the Stockholm native’s “lucky beard” has become one of sports most popular superstitions and has been adopted by many athletes in other sports. Now known as The Playoff Beard, it is unique, in that it's something that fans and athletes can do together to support the team. (Probably not really a superstition, but rather an excuse not to shave)

And finally Serena Williams While her on-court aggressiveness and competitive nature have given her a reputation as one of the greatest and most feared female tennis players of all time, Serena Williams believes much of her winning ways are the result of closely followed routines. For her, these quirks include bringing her shower sandals to the court, tying her shoelaces a specific way and bouncing the ball five times before her first serve and twice before her second. The fourteen-time Wimbledon champ will even wear the same pair of socks during a tournament run without washing them! Williams is so set in her superstitions, she has chalked up major losses to not following her own routine correctly.

That was a whole lot of superstitions concerning sports but you know there’s superstition surrounding almost anything. Theater people have a ton of superstitions like never saying Good Luck. That’s where the term, “Break a leg” comes from. They also never mention the name of a certain Scottish play by Shakespeare.

Then there’s superstitions surrounding monumental events from weddings (Something borrowed, something blue) to giving birth like a baby born within the amniotic sack being special and possibly having supernatural powers. And there’s our celebrations such as making a wish on candles on birthdays, the yule log at Christmas, eating cabbage and black eyed peas at New Year. And these are just our local superstitions. I asked people on Facebook to share some of their superstitions and these were the most common ones.

  • Fear of black cats
  • Holding your breath when passing a cemetery
  • We talked about the horseshoe but iron of any kind has a lot of superstition about warding off evil and iron was deliberately buried in doorways or under houses
  • Tossing salt over your left shoulder if you spill any 
  • Lifting your feet as you cross a railroad track
  • If your broom falls over you are having company
  • If you sweep under someone’s feet they will never marry
  • if you move out of an apartment or house your to leave a broom behind for good luck to yourself and the new place occupants.
  • Catching a leaf as it falls from a tree is good luck!
  • Several people said their mothers told them not to put shoes on the table as it means that someone in the family will die but most agree it was a way to keep the table clean. One commenter said her mother told her it came from the old days where the body of a recently deceased was laid out on the home’s table for visitors to pay their respects. Therefore the only time shoes were on the table was during that time.
  • Making a wish on a fallen eyelash
  • Say Bread and Butter if you and someone you are walking with get separated. Like going on either side of a pole.
  • I ALWAYS pick up pennies I see on the ground but many people have said they will never pick it up if it is tails.
  • Don’t step on cracks or you’ll break your mother’s back.
  • When you shiver for no reason it means someone (sometimes a goose or a cat) has walked over your grave
  • Bad luck to open an umbrella in the house
  • One commenter said that she never whistles at night. Her Navajo family taught her that it will call the attention of a skinwalker.
  • Never give anyone a knife, it will sever your relationship. If you want to give a knife then take a coin from them that way they are buying the knife.

Superstitions are very cultural as well. I think about my Irish heritage and all the Celtic superstitions like the Banshee, Leprechauns, fairies, and all the things you do to avoid drawing their attention or making them angry.  Steve, do you think there’s any one culture that has a monopoly on superstition?