At the football game between Washington and Green Bay at FedEx Field on Sunday, I was amused by thoughts of the superstitions in play.
One was the notion that when the Redskins lose their last home game before a presidential election, the incumbent party in the White House is also going to lose. (This has been the case since 1936.)
Washington lost to Green Bay, 28-14, which means we should wake up today with President-elect John F. Kerry. But I sense an occult caveat this year: Game day fell on Halloween. That could have a kind of trick-or-treat effect on the game as an election oracle, depending on what votes got stuffed into or stolen from those ballot boxes.
The other superstition involved what I call the "curse of the Redskins" and the team's ghastly name, which should have been left behind at the turn of the 21st century. Say what you will, the team is haunted, and the fans are going mad. A change in the team name would go nicely with a change at the White House.
But, alas, there are gluttons for punishment among us.
I sat with a group of fans in maroon and gold jerseys bearing the names and numbers of their favorite players. "Defense, defense," they yelled in a spontaneous roar when Green Bay had the ball.
At one point, Packer quarterback Brett Favre threw for a first down, and it was as if a gut punch had knocked the wind out of those in the stands -- except for one fan who cried out, "Oh, Lord, have mercy."
(Voters whose candidates lost yesterday no doubt know the feeling.)
After the Washington offense failed to score repeatedly, the fans started up again.
"Ramsey, Ramsey," they yelled, as if under a spell, urging Coach Joe Gibbs to bring in Patrick Ramsey, the starting quarterback in last year's losing season.
There were thumbs down all around for quarterback Mark Brunell, who has taken much of the blame for the team's pitiful, 2-5 record so far this season. Even Coach Gibbs was not exempt from ridicule.
"Hasselbeck," a fan shouted, referring to backup quarterback Tim Hasselbeck. "Go slap Joe upside the head, and tell him to put you in."
A few years ago, after the home team racked up 17 penalties in a losing effort, I jokingly asked Floyd "Red Crow" Westerman, a Dakota Indian and human rights activists, if he thought the Washington team was cursed.
"We like to think of it that way," Westerman said. "There is karma that comes around when people are disrespected and arrogant, and it develops discontent within the ranks."
How many changes in players, coaches and owners will be made before the realization sets in that none of that will make a difference in the spirit of the team. Disrespect will lead to discontent as long as we caricature Native Indians as mascots; as long as the team band marches around as imitation Indians, playing white American takes on "warpath" music; as long as the cheerleaders (who, once things started to go sour, couldn't get the fans into the game to save their little hot pants) continue calling themselves "Redskinettes."
According to a story in The Washington Post yesterday, "Washington is the only team in the [National Football Conference] yet to score 100 points this season and the team [has] yet to reach Gibbs's weekly goal of three touchdowns in a game. They have scored just 10 total touchdowns in seven contests and have been held to fewer than 20 points in each game."
The Post article also said: "Brunell has completed just 37 percent of his third down passes this season -- worst among NFL quarterbacks -- which helps explain why the Redskins are ranked 30th overall in third down efficiency."
What do all of those sports stats mean? On the bright side, they mean less singing of that awful "Hail to the Redskins" touchdown song.
In the last century, a lot of people could get away with feigning ignorance about the name's racist origins. But now the team, like the nation, must wake up to the new realities of the 21st century, leave behind outmoded ways of seeing the world and its people and make fresh starts in new directions.
Sunday's prognosticating football game suggested that a change is coming. As for the curse on Washington's team, only a change can lift it.