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Never mess with a winning streak

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Damn, the Earthquakes played well last week – and we won, we actually won!  Despite some spectacular saves, Wondo and Corrales squeezed two goals past Chicago’s Sean Johnson, and we bade a not-so-fond farewell to that thirteen game losing streak. In a cathartic post-game ceremony, Wondo helped bury sundry losing streak mementos under an RIP marker in the dirt in front of Kara’s cup cake truck at Buck Shaw stadium.  In the excitement of last Saturday’s win, in an unfortunate malapropism, the San Jose Earthquakes’ hastily written Facebook entry read: “Now that the winless streak has been buried, it's on to the next one!”, to which I screamed “Noooo - let’s build a winning streak!”  Let’s not get ahead of ourselves: technically, one game does not constitute a winning streak, but we have at least taken this first step to start a new one.

Winning streaks are revered by players of many sports and many engage in a diverse range of pre-game rituals - superstitions even - to maintain them.  In the 1989 baseball movie Bull Durham veteran catcher Crash Davis tells rookie pitcher ‘Nuke’ Laloosh “never mess with a winning streak” and to respect the streak “because they don’t happen that often”.  When they do happen, many players develop obsessive pre-game routines; it's an integral part of their compulsion to win and they try everything possible to keep winning.  Even British anthropologist Desmond Morris weighed in on the subject when he wrote ‘The Soccer Tribe’: “[Players] seek additional aid of a kind their trainers and managers cannot give them – the supernatural aid of superstitious practices. They have no idea how such actions can help, but they perform them all the same, ‘just in case’. They frequently call them ridiculous and stupid, but they dare not omit them”.

I suspect that in the back of every player’s mind, as he’s pulling on his favorite unwashed shirt, is the most cited example of a successful pre-game ritual (if you believe in this kind of thing): the one that won the 1998 World Cup for France.  Les Bleus became superstitious about goalkeeper Fabien Barthez's dome when team captain Laurent Blanc kissed the keeper on his bald head and France went on to win the game.  After that first victory, the pre-game ritual was maintained, and Barthez was planted with kisses from his team mate before each subsequent game, all the way to the final.  Other notable superstitions include Chelsea captain John Terry, who always pees in one particular urinal at Stamford Bridge - if it’s taken then he waits, even when others are free.  Former England striker Gary Lineker didn't shoot at the goal during warm ups because he didn’t want to waste a goal, preferring to save them for the game.  My own favorite comment on the subject came from journeyman Adrian Mutu, who said “Curses cannot touch me because I wear my underwear inside out”.

Some of these rituals extend beyond eating the same pre-match meal or putting on your socks in a particular order.  England captain Bobby Moore insisted on being the last person in the dressing-room to put on his shorts before kick-off.  This did not go unnoticed by team mate Martin Peters, who was fascinated by the way Moore stood around holding his shorts, waiting for everyone else to finish dressing.  Peters would wait until Moore had put on his shorts, before taking off his own again.  At this point a frustrated Moore would feel compelled to take off his own shorts, and wait until Peters had re-dressed completely before he could put his own shorts back on.  This tends towards more obsessive compulsive behavior, a trait to which David Beckham has already confessed.  Beckham has such a thirst for symmetry that he will discard cans of soda to maintain an even number in his refrigerator, and their labels are all lined up and facing outward – not really a pre-game ritual, but I surmise that there's a comprehensive, three page, game day checklist (laminated) waiting before each game for the Galaxy club house manager.

Coaches have also been known to maintain their own superstitions.  In 2006, Manchester City was having a bad run of luck and manager Stuart Pearce could not say no to his seven year old daughter (curiously named Chelsea) who insisted that he took her toy horse Beanie as a good luck mascot to the touchline.  After City won the match, superstition took over and Beanie ended up alongside him in the technical area for several games until City were eventually defeated.  Beanie was considered so successful by the City fans that his (or her) name was chanted for many games during that successful run.  Meanwhile, superstitious French coach Raymond Domenech took players’ star signs into consideration before selecting his team, which drew criticism from the players who'd been left out simply because they were born on the 'wrong' date.  This French soccer superstition wasn’t nearly as successful as the Barthez smooches; we all remember what happened to the French team at the 2010 World Cup – no kisses from Anelka.

The Earthquakes are working on another streak – four consecutive sellouts - and I wonder how the fans’ hopes for a long and fruitful winning streak will be sustained in the remaining home games by superstitious pre-game rituals.  Perhaps we will notice that Frank Yallop has a lucky Wondo bobble-head tucked under his arm as he kisses Jon Busch’s new, clear, plastic mask.  Yes, I think Jon will be under peer pressure from his superstitious team mates to keep his teenage mutant ninja turtle mask on until we lose - it really works with his green shirt.  I will dress in my lucky socks (unwashed): left one first and the right sock inside out.  I will line up the labels on the beer bottles at the various vendors around Buck Shaw and consume any leftovers that might make up an odd number – a tough job but someone has to do it.  Pre-match fare will be a pulled pork sandwich and fries (no garlic; dipped in mayo - it’s a Euro-thing), and then I’ll continue directly to the cup cake truck, whereupon I will carefully eat all of the delicious lemon icing first in a counter-clockwise direction, and taking care not to spill on my lucky T-shirt (also unwashed).

Will any of this ‘stuff’ make a difference to the length of a potential winning streak?  Probably not, but I will participate in my own new rituals.  Just in case.