28 June 2010

Athletes and How Superstitious They Can Be



I do not know if there is an athlete in the world who is not superstitious. In sport, it is not normal not to have superstition. In many ways, sport is not unlike gambling. In most cases, there can only be two results to a game. That is why those in sport – as in gambling – find all sorts of objects which they perceive to be sources of luck or find omens even in the most mundane of occurrences.

In many cases, the superstitions border on the ridiculous. I have had players, in the past, who would not wash the jerseys they wore in a winning game if there was another game to be played the next day. Can you imagine how foolhardy that was? I mean, a sweaty shirt begins to smell as soon as it dries up! Overnight pa! Believe me, the smell is enough to drive invading aliens back to their home planets!

I also used to have a player who wore what he called his lucky brief to matches; and he would fret if it was not in his cabinet when he was about to leave home. The lucky brief, if I may so describe, was worn out and torn in several places. In fact, I thought that player would have done better not to have worn one at all, seeing as I did that it made him look like the son of a pauper.

Then, there were those who had preferences for certain numbers to wear on their jerseys. This was problematical – for them – because in my teams, as per footballing tradition, I always numbered players according to the positions they played in. If one so much as objected to the number he was assigned – well, I would always think of a unique way of saying I did not goddamned care!

Sometimes, the lads could find superstition even in the way they sat in vehicles on the way to games. If we won, the next time we traveled, somebody would always insist “proper seats.” That meant, of course, for everyone to find the exact seat they were on the last time we traveled. If we lost, the lads would naturally mix the arrangement up.

Personally, I observe no pre-game rituals for luck; nor do I tend to hold on to any objects. I do have this thing about seeing crows before a game, though.

This is, of course, not very original. Even in Ancient Greece, they rather tended to look at the poor crow as the bearer of death. It is not very difficult to imagine why, black that the crow is. In Pinoy superstition, I have heard it said that seeing a crow brings malas.



That was why, in 1983 – in my first regional competition with the football team – the last thing I needed to see before we left for a knockout match was a crow. Yet, as I was about to board the jeepney that would take us to the stadium, there it was crossing the sky just above.

Stupid crow – I thought to myself; even as I mentally kicked my own butt for looking up in the first place. I had that sinking feeling in my heart as we traveled to the stadium; albeit, I did not breathe one word to the lads.

We lost the game, of course – as though to justify my fears earlier. Moreover, we had a perfectly legitimate goal disallowed because the goalkeeper hooked the ball out of the goal. How the referee could have failed to see that the ball had crossed the line, only that ulagâ referee could have explained.

In retrospect, we would probably have lost the game, anyhow. My team, then, was still so hilaw. I, myself, was still trying to get my tactics right; and since my team was made up mostly of juniors, we were as yet unable to cope with the physicality of the game.

I still blame that crow to this day, though…



Six years later, I brought a much stronger team to Calapan for another regional tournament – with real hopes of bringing home the championship. I was aghast to see the playing field! I mean, in most bad football fields we played in, we would see grass where in patches it was nakalbo. This field we were due to play a tournament in was the exact opposite. It was a gravel field where – in patches – may tumubong damo.

As the lads stretched in preparation for our first match, ah-ah… May uwak na naman… The crow flew right above us on the way to a row of trees towards the end of the field. I tried to thrust the crow away from my mind, but before long, ah-ah… Meron na naman

I remember thinking to myself, “Ah-ah… Kainamang malas areh…” Then a couple of crows came one after the other… Tsk! I remember thinking to myself, “Makauwî na kayâ…” Then, I started thinking, “Madami-dami ‘atâ ang mga lintek…”

When yet another one flew above, I followed it with my eyes to where it perched atop a tree. That was when I realized, that line of trees – that was where they nested! Somehow, I found the thought very comforting…

We did go on to win our first match; and although we lost once on the way to the finals, the team I brought with me always had more than enough win the championship. We did so in style! So much for superstition, then?

[As a footnote to this story, earlier this decade, a couple of crows which flew around the football field filled me with a sense of dread. The feeling stayed with me till I got home. Later in the night, a text message started circulating that one of my colleagues was gunned down at the gas station in front of the school by a lone gunman. He died later at the hospital.]

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