Very superstitious

Sometimes you just have to root for the team you picked to win

Updated: November 28, 2013, 7:28 PM ET
By Skip Bayless |

Peyton Manning, Tom BradyJim Rogash/Getty ImagesSure, Tom Brady might have been able to win without Skip Bayless standing in his lucky spot. Or not.

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.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Soobum Im/USA TODAY SportsIt's hard not to believe your better half just jinxed Johnny Manziel when he leaves the game injured.

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.

Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty ImagesSpurs guard Manu Ginobili made five shots the whole night -- one of them the game-winner -- in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.

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.

Skip Bayless

First Take host
Skip Bayless joined ESPN after a career as a sports columnist that includes stops in Miami, Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago and San Jose. He can be seen Monday through Friday on First Take.


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