Get this: People actually believe that the Washington Redskins win football games because they are talented athletes with great game plans.
Don't they know it's because Duke Zeibert is wearing his Gucci tie? Or because Donald Sigmund claps three times and yells, "Go team go!"? Or because Joe Theismann put his socks in his jockstrap?
Superstition goes back as far as, well, anything else in this world. Crossed fingers, good-luck charms and, of course, a well-practiced routine have secured many a victory, whether it's in a political or athletic arena. This afternoon, when the Redskins clash with the San Francisco 49ers, some fans will sit in one particular chair while watching the game on television. Others will wear that lucky sweater. Only certain hors d'oeuvres will be served. And then there's that age-old and scientifically proven method of winning: If their legs are crossed when the team makes a great play, They Cannot Uncross Their Legs!
Wardrobe plays an integral part in whether we win or lose. Restaurateur Zeibert, lifelong fan of the 'Skins, pal to the team's owner and keeper of the Super Bowl trophies, wears a particular tie. "Last week they won, so I'll wear the same tie I was wearing then," he says. "It's a Gucci. A tan Gucci. A very attractive tie if I do say so myself."
The patrons may not know it, but Joe "Little Joe" McGovern, bartender at Georgetown's Champions sports bar, wears boxer shorts with tiny Redskins insignias all over them. "I wear them for every game," he says, "but nobody sees them except my honey bunny."
Dominique's owner Herb Ezrin, a Washington native with season tickets since forever, has what he calls his "lucky hat." It's just like thousands of others: a standard-issue burgundy baseball cap with a gold "R" embroidered above the brim.
"I don't go to a game without it!" he exclaims.
Touchdown Club President Charlie Garnett always wears some combination of burgundy and gold, whether it's a gold blazer over burgundy pants with burgundy and gold shoes, or one of his tailored burgundy suits with a gold necktie and socks or, for evening affairs, one of his three burgundy and gold tuxedos.
Garnett says that he doesn't wear them to bring good luck: "I am convinced they are going to win every game!"
And then there's Sigmund. He wears a full Indian headdress that is decorated with loads of souvenir Redskin buttons that he's collected over the years. "I know that when I wear it," he says, "generally, we win the game." Last week in Philadelphia, one of those tough Eagles fans swiped it off his head. "That's the City of Brotherly Love for ya," he snipes. But rest easy. He's gotten it back and will be wearing it around the house today.
He also has an official NFL-approved Redskins uniform and a special raccoon coat. Anything else?
"When they are on offense, I clap three times and yell, 'Go team go!' That works pretty well. And sometimes, crossing legs brings on good luck -- as long as there's a trend."
Fans are not the only ones obsessed with the extraordinary effects of ritual.
"I was a nut. A certified sicko," confesses Theismann. "I would venture to say I was as superstitious as you could find."
Superstitious? Joe, Joe, Joe. This is monomania.
"My whole routine started on the night before the game, usually Saturday night. I would have to have a banana split. If the hotel didn't have one on the menu, I'd go to the kitchen and make one myself."
This is a real coup, finding out what a player does before the game. "We would never share these things with anyone," the former quarterback confides. "That was taboo. Bad luck."
So it started with a banana split. Go on.
"It actually begins before that. You have to sit in the same seat on the plane. That's a must," he says. "And the guy who's sitting in the seat next to you has to be the same guy -- especially if you're winning."
Former safety and current Justice Department attorney Mark Murphy concurs.
"Oh, yeah. Same Seats," he says. "I always felt sorry for a new player who came in and sat in your seat. Same Seats."
There was a ritual to get to a home game too. Theismann used to ride to RFK Stadium with defensive tackle Dave Butz and kicker Mark Moseley. Butz would drive his van. Moseley would sit in the passenger seat. And Theismann would lie down in the back and read.
"Let me tell you about Dave," says Theismann. "Dave Butz would drive down the road trying to run over dead animals. The bigger the animal, the better play... . I'd be laying in the back and I'd hear this thump thump. And Dave would say, 'Oh, Man! Joe, I hit a groundhog! What a great day it's going to be.' Or 'It was a squirrel. It's going to be a so-so day.'
"And Mark wore his 900 socks," says Theismann. "Well, not really. He wore like 13 socks, all in a particular order."
So, they're in the locker room. Time to suit up -- always in the same order. Shirt off, then shoes, then the socks, then pants.
"Then I'd change out of my underwear and into my jockstrap," he says. "I'd take each one of my socks and stick them in my jock."
"Then I'd go into the equipment room and bring out a stack of 30 towels and stack them up in front of my locker, like a little bed. I'd put my game plan on one side and I'd put my People magazine on the other. I'd lay down for 40 minutes."
Time out: Theismann always read People just before a game. Cover to cover. He'd buy it early in the week but save it.
Finally, in sequence: "I'd take my socks, which were resting comfortably in my jockstrap, I'd take them out and put them on -- normally my right on first. Then I'd take my game pants and put my right kneepad in, then my left kneepad, then my right thigh pad, then my left. But not put them on. They were put on last."
Then came the T-shirt, shoulder pads and jersey in that order. Then the pants. Then the shoes, right one first.
"Then I'd sit at my locker for about five minutes and study the game plan and create a mental image of how the game would go.
"Oh, and I never picked my helmut up by the nose guard. I always palmed it. Then I'd put my fingers in the ear holes and spin it around like a six-shooter. Then put it on."
Then came the two most important things of all:
1. The Hanky.
"All my clothes were hung in a specific place in my locker and my pants were closest. In the right back pocket would be my hanky. I'd pull it out and blow my nose. Then I'd put it back, making sure the hanky was completely tucked back in the pocket."
2. The Touch.
"Right above the door there would be a Redskin logo I'd have to slap for good luck." Sometimes, he says, he would forget and during team introductions, he'd dash back into the locker room and give the sticker a high five.
"No matter how good they were or what we were doing," says Theismann, "if we weren't doing well I was sure it was because my hanky wasn't tucked in."