Game Day Rituals (Part V)

I previously told you how Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer author Warren St. John had caused marital discord in my household.  That occurred shortly after I started reading his book.  

I since have finished Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer.  Having done so, I now want to tell you how Warren St. John may have saved my marriage.  

Warren St. John, marriage counselor to the college football blogosphere.

All right, that's a bit of an exaggeration.  I must confess, however, that, for the last year and a half, I have blamed my wife, Susan, for costing the Bulldogs the 2004 national championship.  

As you know from my four previous postings upon the subject, I am big into game day rituals and pregame superstitions, as are many sports fans.  Among the good luck charms in which I repose a modicum of trust are the drawstrings to the trash bags we use in our home.  I insist upon using trash bags with red drawstrings.  

Absolutely crucial to a successful football season.

During a trip to the grocery store in the late summer of 2004, my wife bought a new box of trash bags without paying the slightest bit of attention to the color of the drawstrings.  It should be borne in mind that the Bulldogs were the preseason favorites to win the S.E.C. East, strong contenders for the conference championship, and even considered a possible dark horse in the national title race.  

All the talk in Bulldog Nation that summer was based upon the understanding that a third straight division crown was a given and the real question was whether Georgia would be in the B.C.S. championship game.  

At a Bulldog Club meeting shortly before the season started, I heard fellow fans talking about this being the year and discussing plans for attending every game because "we might not lose any."  The pastor who opened that meeting with a prayer not only petitioned the Almighty to bestow His blessings upon us but explicitly beseeched the Lord to make one of those blessings a championship.  

Virtually on the eve of what was understood throughout Bulldog Nation to be a special season just waiting to unfold in all its majesty and glory, my wife went to the grocery store and brought home trash bags with orange drawstrings.  

I was stunned, shocked, appalled, and aghast.  I may actually have used the phrase, "What were you thinking, woman?"  

We sounded a lot like the Bunkers, only without all the ethnic slurs.

Naturally, I insisted that we return them.  In fact, I demanded that she give me the receipt so that I could get in the car and take them back to the store right then, lest the taint of the orange drawstrings sully the carefully-cultivated mojo-maximizing atmosphere I had so scrupulously crafted and maintained in our home.  

Susan would have none of it.  It wasn't so much that she thought I was wrong (although I am sure she did not then give credence to the possibility that her poor choice of trash bags might adversely affect the Bulldogs' upcoming season) as it was that she simply didn't want to make another trip to the store.  

Rather than debate the wisdom of my contentions, Susan shrewdly chose instead to persuade me with a position I would consider plausible.  "If we use trash bags with orange drawstrings," she argued, "doesn't that connect the color orange to the trash, so that we'll beat the teams that wear orange because we're taking out the trash?"  

Like Adam when offered the apple, I wavered.  Susan, after all, had been responsible for Georgia's quadruple-overtime victory over Auburn in 1996---remind me to tell you that story some other time---so perhaps her judgment in such matters was to be trusted.  I relented.  We kept and used the trash bags she had purchased.  

The Red and Black went 10-2 and did not appear in the S.E.C. championship game or in a B.C.S. bowl game.  Georgia's two losses were to Tennessee and Auburn . . . two teams that wear orange, the very color we had chosen over red when we opted to use those accursed, jinx-lined trash bags.  

I have tried not to blame Susan for costing our alma mater a national championship.  I have tried not to think about it and I only rarely bring it up, but, honestly, I have always believed that my wife was responsible for depriving the 'Dawgs of the 2004 national title.  

One of the questions on the Rammer Jammer Fan Devotion Quiz should be:  "Has this book ever helped you resolve a divisive issue in your relationship with your spouse?"

My opinion was changed, though, when I read this passage in Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer, to which I have added emphasis at the pertinent point:  

I've got a red and white Alabama shaker in my hand, my first in nineteen years, since Alabama's 7-0 loss to Notre Dame in Birmingham, when it was proven beyond a doubt that shakers for me are bad luck.  I'd told Chris and Paula about the shaker curse on our first weekend together, when we compared superstitions, and Chris remembers.  He gives me a condemning look, then glances toward the scoreboard:  it's my fault.  My explanation---that I thought maybe this particular superstition had expired---falls flat, and causes even me to cringe.  The Alabama-Auburn game isn't the time to test the will of the gods.  I'd always thought of superstitions as all-or-nothing propositions---they either worked or they didn't.  In Chris's view, superstitions are cumulative; there's a kind of cosmic superstition ledger---if I use a shaker, some Auburn fan has to lapse as well, to cancel me out---and the most pious side wins.  It's like an election:  it's easy to think your vote doesn't count, until a close race.  Chris yanks the shaker from my hand and flings it in the puddle of Coca-Cola and bourbon at our feet, like a preacher casting away demons.

Viewed in this light, Susan's transgression becomes more forgivable.  While it remains possible that she is to blame for Georgia's 19-14 loss to Tennessee, there simply is no way my wife can be held accountable for the Bulldogs' 24-6 loss at Auburn.  

Her "vote" (cast by and through her lapse of judgment when purchasing trash bags with orange, rather than red, drawstrings) may have counted against the 'Dawgs when they played the Volunteers, since the game was close, although it is difficult to believe that a single miscue on Susan's part caused everything that went wrong in that game, from the Bulldogs' flat play to the referees' atrocious officiating.  

However, it is inconceivable that Susan's debit in the "cosmic superstition ledger" was so great that it caused the debacle on the Plains, in which what was expected to be a close contest turned into an absolute rout in which the final score did not begin to tell the real story of how dominant the Tigers' performance truly was.  

In retrospect, I must acknowledge the possibility that this wasn't entirely my wife's fault.

Susan gets credit for making the difference in the 1996 Auburn game---after all, unless you're playing Arkansas, you can't get much closer than a quadruple-overtime game, so her contribution to the cause almost certainly made the difference between winning and losing---but she cannot be deemed liable for the disaster of the 2004 Auburn game.  

I now doubt whether Susan is even guilty of causing Georgia to lose to Tennessee, but, even if I held her accountable for that setback, I can live with falling to the Volunteers once in a six-year period.  In the long run, though, there's a good chance I would have considered it unpardonable that she caused the 'Dawgs to lose to Auburn.  I love my wife, but I also hate Auburn, so I'm not sure I ever could have let that one go.  

Now, however, I know better.  Chris Bice is right; it is sheer arrogance to presume that I and I alone control the destiny of the 'Dawgs, that my action or inaction is solely and singly responsible for the outcome of any given game.  

Rather, I, like every devoted fan---and, for that matter, like every coach and player---am but a single cog in a larger machine, each with its role to play but only a small part of a much greater whole.  I may influence the outcome, both tangibly and intangibly, but I cannot ascribe to myself or to any other single person all the credit or all the blame.  

All right, I admit it; the rest of you bring a little something to the table, too.

To believe that my failings as a fan are themselves the only cause of a loss is as nonsensical as to believe that a placekicker's missed field goal is the lone reason for his team's defeat.  Every player on every play makes some small contribution to the outcome and, in any game close enough for a missed field goal to matter, there were numerous missed opportunities that affected the outcome, any one of which might have made the difference.  

So it is with game day rituals and fan superstitions.  Should you wear the right colors, choose the proper accessories, observe the requisite rituals, turn the Uga statue in the correct direction, feast on the flesh of the enemy, and buy trash bags with red drawstrings?  Absolutely . . . but it isn't all on you, either way.  

The team can still lose, even if I do everything right, and the team can still win, even if I do everything wrong---not, I would hasten to add, because pregame rituals do not work (for they do), but instead because each of us has a unique role to play as a fan and no single booster is any more important than any other.  

The superstitious fan is not the last noble Roman defending the bridge against the onslaught of the Visigoths, nor is he the sole pinprick of light piercing an otherwise all-consuming darkness; his is a voice in a grand chorus, he is a rower belonging to the team whose collective effort slowly moves the barge toward its intended destination.  Think of it as "The Million-Man Mojo."  

Don't flatter yourself.

It is tempting for a Georgia season ticket holder to fancy himself the fan equivalent of the Lone Bugler, whose clear pure solo from the corner of the south stands sounds the echoing, poignant peal signaling the start of another battle between the hedges, but it must not be forgotten that, once the scoreboard montage concludes and the ball is kicked off, the trumpet player who was privileged to open the proceedings with a lonely rendition of the battle hymn goes back to sit with the rest of the band.  To paraphrase Janet Jackson, we all are part of the Bulldog Nation.  

That realization has caused me to feel a greater sense of kinship with the 92,745 other souls who occupy Sanford Stadium on an autumn Saturday and allowed me to forgive my wife for a devastating loss that was not, in fact, her fault.  

I now am able to let go of my anger and put the blame where it belongs . . . with Auburn.  I hate Auburn.  

Now that I think about it, it's all the fault of this jug-eared jerk.

This is why you should buy Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer and read it.  It will make you feel good about being a fan.  

Go 'Dawgs!  

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