Young men sitting on bench with helmet and football on floor.

· Article

Science Behind Football Superstitions

· Article

Science Behind Football Superstitions

“One offensive tackle insisted on being the last one on the team to eat his pregame meal. A running back required that his left ankle be taped before the trainer could touch his right ankle,” tells NFL author Michael McCormack, who lives outside of Seattle, Washington, and is the son of NFL player and coach Mike McCormack. “When my father became a pro football coach, he would never enter the stadium before a game without listening to Glen Campbell’s ‘Wichita Lineman’ song.”

Common Football Superstitions


Dr. Steve Graef, a sports psychologist and counselor in Columbus, Ohio, says it’s common for football fans to have a lucky chair, outfit or meal. Some fans will only attend or watch games with certain people for good luck and worry about jinxing the season with the wrong company. Others think losses mean their team must be cursed.


NFL players also have many superstitions. Dr. Graef describes how they may eat the same thing for breakfast before a game, drive the same route to practice, wear lucky clothing like a specific undershirt, or not wash any clothing or gear during the season. Some football players insist on putting on their uniform and equipment in a particular order every time they get dressed.


Psychology of Superstitions


Dr. Mary Ingram-Waters, associate chair at Barrett Honors College, which is part of Arizona State University, explains that superstitions offer a way to control things that otherwise seem uncontrollable. A survey from YouGov, a global public opinion and data company, found:


  • 13% of Americans consider themselves superstitious, but the percentage increases when you look at specific rituals
  • 35% of Americans think picking up a penny is good luck
  • 30% think knocking on wood is good luck


Superstitions are rituals that help people bring predictability and order where there is none. Not only do superstitions allow people to feel like they have some amount of control, they also let them feel like they are collectively doing everything in their power to bring about a favorable outcome.


“Superstitions can be deeply personal, like saying a prayer before a game, or they can be practiced collectively, like showing up at the same bar weekly to watch the home team’s games with a group of fans,” Ingram-Waters says.


Both Graef and Ingram-Waters agree superstitions are usually harmless. However, fans and players can take things too far. For example, Dr. Graef shares that some players can feel severe anxiety and distress if they cannot complete their favorite pregame ritual, like listening to a specific song. Fortunately, most people don’t let superstitions take over their lives.


Do you have a superstition? The next time your favorite team is playing, put on the lucky socks, and find comfort in knowing you’re not the only one who has football superstitions.



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