I fell off the wagon Sunday night with the New England Patriots somehow trailing the Denver Broncos 24-0 at the half. Maybe yet another Bud Light commercial did me in. But this isn't about alcohol -- I don't drink.
This is about, "It's only weird if it doesn't work." About #What'sYourSuperstition. About the in-my-face commercials based on people repeating bizarre rituals because they're convinced they change the outcome of games.
Public confession: I have become addicted to a laughable array of these "game-changing" behaviors. I hit bottom on Saturday, Oct. 19, when my better half, Ernestine, threatened to leave me after I blamed her for jinxing my guy, Johnny Manziel, and causing the injury he suffered to his throwing shoulder.
Three days later, when we began speaking again, I vowed to cure myself. No more jinx or un-jinx rules. No more lucky/unlucky sitting/standing spots. No more superstitious insanity.
"From now on," I told her, "I'm just going to relax and watch the games."
I might have put a bad word in front of "games."
You see, my game-watching life is far more complicated than most. For years I wrote newspaper columns mostly about the teams in my city. There was no cheering in the press box, and I fought to remain objective. Now, debating Stephen A. Smith two hours a day on "First Take," we pick dozens of games a week. Nearly every game I watch, I'm terribly aware my oversized pride is at stake on TV and Twitter.
I admit I get psycho-competitive. I would rather a kindergartener beat me at "Jeopardy" (my favorite game show) than Stephen A. Smith (or Stephen Naismith, as I call him because he thinks he invented basketball) beat me on an NFL or college football game. So while I do root for my favorite teams growing up -- the Oklahoma Sooners and Dallas Cowboys, and for my alma mater, Vanderbilt -- I root just as crazy hard for my PICKS.
I sometimes feel like a degenerate gambler, except I bet something far more precious to me than money -- credibility laced with pride. When I lose a game, I get shamed on national television.
So, over my nine years on "First Take," I have fallen deeper and deeper into the delusion that, from my living room near Bristol, Conn., I can change games being played from College Station to Foxborough. Forgive me, Ernestine, I crumbled Sunday night after you went to bed.
I'm not sure I've ever been more dumbfounded by a first half than I was by Sunday's nightmarish Peyton Manning 24, Tom Brady 0. I had to sit (still) and watch Stephen A.'s Super Bowl pick (Denver) embarrass my Super Bowl pick (New England) in its own backyard. Impossible! Unbearable.
As the second half began, I broke my vow. I got up and stood in one of my inexplicably lucky spots, in front of but just to the left of the TV. You know what happened.
I left that spot only twice the rest of the game, during commercials, to use the bathroom and to brush my teeth. (I have to be up by 5 a.m.) I even quit tweeting because I didn't want to jinx a second half even more dumbfounding than the first. Impossibly, Brady's passes pierced the raw wind for 21 third-quarter points. The Patriots won on an overtime field goal after a blunder by Wes Welker, a receiver I've said many times on the air "my" Patriots would not miss.
I saved the Patriots, Ernestine!
I know: I am sick. I consider myself a reasonably intelligent guy. Made straight A's in high school (except for driver's ed and typing). Won the Grantland Rice Scholarship to Vandy. Graduated with a double major in English and history. So how could I allow myself to believe the utterly preposterous: That from my living room I CAN REVERSE THE FORTUNES OF PEYTON MANNING AND TOM BRADY?
Uh, because my superstitions so often have worked?
Ernestine asks me, "How can you believe in God" -- I definitely do -- "and believe in all this hocus-pocus?"
Great question. I wouldn't even consider praying for the teams I pick to win. But maybe I feel better if I convince myself some silly thing I'm doing is helping my team win. Maybe I just need to imagine I have a little control over maddeningly uncontrollable games.
(I'm undergoing self-therapy as I write this.)
That day during Johnny Manziel's game against Auburn, Ernestine committed a big no-no. She came in from running errands and sat down beside me in the midst of a game that was going surprisingly, sensationally for me. NO! Instant jinx.
A&M, leading 31-24 early in the fourth quarter, had driven to second-and-goal at the 10. Surely even A&M's sorry defense could make 38-24 stand up.
No exaggeration: The moment Ernestine sat down, Johnny Football scrambled hell-bent up the middle for the end zone, was stopped at the 2 -- and a defensive end fell hard on Manziel's right shoulder. It looked game-losing, season-ending bad.
I blew up. "I TOLD you …"
She blew up. "How can I change a game in TEXAS?"
I blew up more when A&M lost 45-41.
Three times early in our relationship, she said to me during the second half of a crucial game: "Oh, you've got this one." All three times I lost. Now, that's at the top of the taboo list.
Ernestine is a saint.
She shakes her head at me when I get texts from friends during games congratulating me on my pick and I say, "I'm dead." Yet she admits she has watched this jinx doom me several times.
Sometimes when a game is going south, I opt for the Watched Pot Never Boils Theory and simply quit watching. Invariably, works like a charm.
Sometimes I've started watching a game lying on the couch with my head resting on my hand. If my team immediately takes control, I will watch the entire game in exactly that same position with my hand completely asleep.
I know, I need professional help.
My all-timer occurred on May 6, Game 1, Golden State at San Antonio, my preseason pick to win the West. My Spurs were down 16 with four minutes left in regulation. I gave up. My pick had lost Game 1 at home to a dangerous band of young sharpshooters.
I had brought my golf clubs inside to wash them after a recent vacation. I stood at the sink with the hot water running -- 9 iron, 8 iron … -- only able to listen to the game coming from the living room. True story: The longer I stood there with the hot water running, the hotter the Spurs got.
They finished on an 18-2 run, forced overtime and finally won in double overtime when Manu Ginobili arced home a 3-pointer that nearly skimmed the rafters. Only then did I turn off the water and leave the sink, to do the Harlem Shake in the living room.
Ernestine, I saved the Spurs!
Yet … after Manziel's injury nearly ended us, I promised her no more hocus-pocus. Last Saturday, I "relaxed" on the couch as Manziel played at LSU. Three or four times, Ernestine came in, sat next to me, then left. I was "cured."
Johnny Football played what had to be the worst game of his life, going 16-of-41 with two interceptions as A&M (and I) got humiliated 34-10. My pick: A&M 45-44.
I'm sorry, Ernestine, I do these weird things because they so often WORK. I'll be watching Auburn upset Alabama standing in my lucky spot, in front of but just to the left of the TV.