Big-Game Shirt

Athletes and sports fans freely admit that they’re the most superstitious people on the face of the earth. Some guy whose team is on a winning streak will wear the same unwashed underwear for every game until the good run is over.

According to a 2012 article in Bleacher Report, baseball players do all kinds of weird things. Mark Teixeira wore two different pairs of socks during a hot streak at the plate. Matt Garza went to Popeye’s Chicken for a pregame meal before every start.

In basketball, it was said that the NBA’s Jason Terry had to sleep in his opponent’s shorts the night before a match and that LeBron James tosses chalk powder in the air in the locker room.

In a survey, nearly half of Seattle Seahawks football fans reported they would watch a game in the same location every week in belief it would help the team win.

All to keep capricious fate on our side and, even more so, to keep the sporting gods from turning against us. Why was it that your favorite running back waited until the worst possible moment to fumble for the first time all season? It had to be because you sliced your sandwich diagonally that day instead of side-to-side.

I had the big-game shirt.001

My good luck charm was a souvenir of San Diego State’s 2010 Mountain West Tournament championship in men’s basketball. It was black, had a tournament logo and identified the “SDSU Aztecs” as the champion. What a cool shirt. It represented my alma mater’s return to March Madness glory for what would turn out to be a six-year (and counting) run. After wearing it a few times on game days, I noticed a trend — my team won. Having such a blessed collection of thread isn’t something to take lightly. It must be nurtured, not taken for granted and, most of all, not over-used. Can’t get greedy with the lucky shirt.

So I pulled it out for the biggest of games in basketball and football — the ones that will make the difference between good seasons and great ones. So no, I didn’t don black magic for SDSU football’s trip to Ohio State a couple of years ago. The Aztecs weren’t going to win and were blown out. Didn’t want to spoil the karma in a no-win scenario.

But for a couple of football victories over Boise State, the shirt was on. In basketball, it was even better. In a 61-57 conquest of Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse last year, you know what I was wearing. In a 51-48 victory over No. 21 New Mexico to clinch the Mountain West regular season championship, in which the Aztecs came back from a 16-point deficit, black was on my back. Previous seasons also brought great success.

The shirt is being retired. The mojo is gone.

The SDSU football and basketball teams have suffered some downright weird losses this year. I don’t remember each occasion I wore the shirt, but four of Aztecs six football losses came straight out of The Twilight Zone, and half of the basketball team’s eight setbacks were extremely frustrating. I know I wore the shirt for some of those.

On the other hand, I had it on for a 53-49 early-season basketball win over Utah, which secured a No. 5 NCAA Tournament seed. Things felt normal in hoops.

But the last couple of weeks sealed the shirt’s fate. On Feb. 28, I wore it to a home basketball contest vs. Boise State. A victory over the Broncos would have given the Aztecs a share of the league championship and, likely, an outright title by the time it was all done. SDSU led by seven points with 11:12 left in the game, and scored seven the rest of the way, lost and had to share the title in a league that was significantly weaker than in recent years.

I put the shirt on for the last time Sunday. SDSU lost 45-43 in the Mountain West Tournament championship game to Wyoming, a team it had swept during the regular season. The loss was despite holding the Cowboys to zero points — as in none — over 14 minutes late in the first half and early in the second.

Now it could be that the Aztecs are offensively challenged, which is true. Or something most commentators have not picked up on, which is uncharacteristically weak defensive rebounding. But, in reality, it’s gotta be the shirt.

So it’s out, and when the Aztecs play St. John’s in the NCAA Tournament Friday, I will wear my relatively new t-shirt that says “Menlo Park: It’s Where My Story Begins” (I lived my first eight years in the city adjacent to the Stanford campus). I wore it to one win, and had it on while watching another victory on television. It’s my best chance, and maybe the Aztecs only hope to advance in March Madness.

If the new shirt doesn’t work, I have one more trick in my back pocket. Or against my back pocket. I normally watch televised games at my living room chair or lying on the couch. However, I’ve helped the Aztecs win a couple of close games by moving at crunch-time to a seated position on the edge of the couch closest to the TV. It might sound crazy. It’s certainly superstitious. But I’m a sports fan. It’s how I am.

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