Friday, March 8, 2019
Even the most logical people can throw rationale to the wind when it comes to their sports teams.
“You’ll get people that are very, very rational human beings that will act extremely irrational during sporting events, including acting in a superstitious way,” said Brendan Dwyer, Ph.D., interim director of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center for Sport Leadership. “It’s just because they want to feel like they have some impact on the outcome of the game.”
Dwyer witnessed it firsthand with the VCU Athletics department when the Rams went to the Final Four in 2011.
“People that work in athletics, they understand how games are won,” he said. “They understand how the sausage is made, how athletics works. But they wouldn’t wash their clothes. They had lucky numbers, they had lucky ties. They had lucky socks because they thought those were impacting the outcomes of the game.”
Dwyer, whose most recent study, “A Fan’s Search for Meaning: Testing the Dimensionality of Sport Fan Superstition” appeared in the November issue of Sport Management Review, said most people understand their actions and behaviors do not impact what’s going on. But they can’t keep from wondering, “what if they do?”
“It can be the most rational person when they’re in everyday life,” Dwyer said. “But when it comes to sports, for some reason they turn off that rational thought. … The more the illusion of control that a person has, the more superstitions increase. I don’t think it’s going anywhere.”
Here are the superstitions that some of the Rams’ most ardent fans — and the players themselves — follow to bring the team luck.
The Rams have some of the most enthusiastic fans in college basketball — the Rowdy Rams student section even received the Naismith Student Section of the Year Award for the 2012-13 season — and many of them will go to great lengths to do anything they feel will help their team win.
Cooper has been a Rams fan since her senior year in high school, when she knew she was coming to VCU.
“As soon as I heard of the Rowdy Rams organization, I applied immediately and I have been to just about every game afterward,” she said. “I love school spirit and from my experience, the best way to show school spirit is by supporting the athletic organizations that are a part of the school.”
Now a sophomore, Cooper has been to every home game this year. She tries to arrive at the Siegel Center an hour and a half before tipoff. She strategically sits near her friends, but not with them. She usually keeps to herself and doesn’t talk to anyone.
“I have been doing this since the first game of the season,” Cooper said. “It started ’cause I was usually running from class or a meeting to the game and was too tired from the day to talk. But after a while, it became something I did as if to emotionally prepare myself for games, ’cause you never really knew how the guys were going to play that day.
“If I’m super social before any of the game-day activities start, I have noticed that we usually have a stressful game, either a really close game or the guys don’t play to their full abilities.”
In most homes, McClure said, the three most important words are typically “I love you.” But in her house, they are “Go Rams go!”
Married to a VCU alumnus, McClure likes to tell people that her husband paid to be a VCU fan, but she was a born-and-raised fan.
The lifelong fan fondly recalls the days with Jesse Pellot-Rosa and Eric Maynor.
“My brother-in-law attended VCU when he was dating my sister and he would take us to countless games.”
If a game is airing on TV, it’s a sure bet that you will find McClure glued to the set.
It wasn’t until this season, however, that she developed a routine on game day.
“I gave birth to my daughter in November 2017 and I knew that I wanted to raise her to be a die-hard fan like me, so this season we started wearing VCU gear every game,” she said. “Even if it means just carrying my VCU purse that day. And we also sing the chant songs all day long. I’m raising a future VCU cheerleader.”
McClure found out the hard way that not wearing the gear brought the Rams bad luck.
“If I did not wear any VCU gear that day, they lost,” she said. “I was out of town when VCU played Dayton and I was out shopping with family that day. I got the notification on my calendar that VCU was playing Dayton at 4 [p.m.] and I looked at myself and realized I didn’t have any VCU gear on. Thankfully, I ran out to my car and my VCU purse was in there so I brought that in. And that was a close game. I learned my lesson that day.”
Three years ago, Lee decided if she was going to be a vocal and visible Rams fan, then she was going to go all out. She bought a cheap tutu that she has worn to every game since. (This year, she replaced it with a custom-made tutu from a costume shop.)
Around the same time, Lee also started drinking a purple, sugar-free Red Bull.
“It’s about two hours before the game and it has to be that kind of Red Bull or it’s kind of chaos,” she said. “I also like to listen to the Peppas when I’m getting ready.”
But Lee’s love for the Rams goes back a lot further than three years. At age 13, Lee came to Richmond for a medical procedure at VCU Medical Center.
“That’s probably when I became obsessed with VCU,” she said.
She eventually went on to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the VCU School of Social Work, where she is an adjunct faculty member. Lee hadn’t been a fan of any sports team before, but her love of VCU extended to the Rams. “I love basketball now, too. So loving VCU basketball turned into needing to follow and keep up with basketball in general.”
This season, she’s added tap shoes to her ensemble for home games, the better to stomp with. But nothing will take the place of the tutu.
“I’ve started to think that the tutu brings luck. I’ve not gone to a home game or away game without it on for three years now. I’m a little too afraid to try it without it. I don’t know what would happen if I did.”
Michael Jordan was superstitious: He wore his University of North Carolina shorts under his Chicago Bulls uniform at every game. After helping UNC win the NCAA championship in 1982, he felt they brought him luck. Today’s VCU basketball players have their own set of creative rituals.
“Before every game I have to get two Subway chocolate chip cookies. If I don’t get my cookies, I feel like I’ll have a bad game. It all started because I had two cookies before a big high school game from Subway and I ended up having 25 points and the win so I just wanted to keep that tradition going. On the road, I try to eat chocolate chip muffins because it’s still a sweet taste. I’m a chocolate lover.”
“This past year, I made a promise to myself that my superstition was not to have one, if that makes sense. If I tied my shoes or wore certain shoes the game that I had success in, I made sure that it wasn’t a thing so I tried to wear different type of shoes or tie it a different way to make sure I was consistent in means of not having a superstition.”
“I have to wear my socks inside out. I flip them down so the Nike swoosh is upside down. It started this year actually, because I got a blister one time and IV [Issac Vann] was like, ‘Yo, you know if you turn your socks inside out, you won’t get blisters,’ and every time I did it I never got a blister again. I also like to chew gum to keep me calm during the game, even though it’s not a good thing to do.”
“Pray. That’s all I do, I just pray all the time. I don’t do any other superstitions but I think that will get me blessings. I do it on the court during the national anthem and I do self-affirmation all during the national anthem. Also, on game days, I don’t even think this is a superstition, I think just a part of who I am, but I’ll sit down and observe everything and take everything all in.”
“I try to get a win in ‘Apex [Legends],’ ‘Fortnite’ or [‘Call of Duty:] Black Ops’ before every game. That’s pretty much what I do. Right after shootaround, I go back home to play the game and try to get a win and then come to the game. I keep playing until I get a win. I usually play ‘Black Ops,’ so I’m bound to get a win in ‘Black Ops’ because there’s a lot of us. There’s been a time where I played ‘Fortnite’ and didn’t get a win, so I go play a different game to get a win.”