The Power Of The Shorts

I have written about superstitions on different occasions.  Since I had a long career in coaching, I am pretty sure most coaches carry a big bag of strange behavior that can only be labeled superstitions.  My assistant coaches often called these behaviors mental illness. Who am I to argue?

I know exactly where my behaviors began.  I was about five years old.  I never thought about wearing a lucky pair of underwear or not washing a pair of socks in case I’d be washing wins out of them.  My dad handed me a cheap key chain.  I had no idea what was a key ring, and I certainly didn’t have any keys.

It was what attached to that key chain.  It was a fuzzy foot of a small rabbit.  I now know that it wasn’t a real rabbit, but when my dad told me it was a rabbit’s foot, I believed every word of it.  I didn’t care that some poor, small rabbit was hopping around with three legs.

Dad informed me that rabbit’s legs were good luck.  As long as I carried that rabbit’s leg in my pocket, only good luck could find its way to my doorstep.  Maybe I was just young or maybe I was just gullible, but that rabbit’s leg never left my pants pocket, except for an occasional wash.

That eventually was the downfall of that rabbit’s foot.  I forgot to take it out of my pocket one night.  The laundry was done and so was my rabbit’s leg.  As it turned out, it was only fake fur on something that sort-of resembled bone, but I was terrified the world was about to explode. I was wrong about the explosion but now I had the mental illness called superstition.  

It got to the point of an obsession early on.  As a senior basketball player, I was very average.  Once in a while, the stars would line-up just right and I would have a good shooting game.  

One Saturday morning, a teammate and I went hunting in the mid-morning and early afternoon before a game.  We walked two or three miles and came away with a good day’s worth of game.  I think we even brought home some real rabbit legs.

That night, I couldn’t miss.  I had 28 points, my friend had a good game and we had one of the few blow-outs my team put on another team.  We had a few put on us.  Thinking with the logic of a person with the superstition illness, I figured if I went hunting before every Saturday game, I might be an all-state player.

The next week, we had another home game.  I got up the same time, but my friend took a huge chance by staying home.  It’s dangerous to not acknowledge superstitions.  The problem with this hunt was the snow was deeper, the weather colder and all the animals were in hiding places I couldn’t find.

I came home empty handed and exhausted.  That night, as I struggled up and down the court and I wore the paint off the rim.  That is when I did manage to get the ball high enough to touch the rim. I decided that killing animals was good for my basketball game, but if I got shut out on my hunting trip, I would play terrible.

Maybe my thinking was not stable, but I was smart enough to know that those animals I hunted better be moving pretty slow for me to hit them.  In truth, I was as terrible shot with a gun as I was with a basketball.  The chance of being shut out was just too great.  It was one superstition I put aside.

The Maryville Spoofhounds offensive coordinator, Matt Houchin, is a rare individual.  He really hates long pants. I’m sure he gives in when the occasion calls for long pants, but Matt pretty much believes almost every occasion is a shorts occasion.  He’s probably worse than his kids at this obsession.

Last Saturday, the weather was terrible. The wind was blowing about 30 miles per hour.  The rain was blowing in sideways.  You could see very few faces in the crowd at Blair Oaks as the hoods and stocking hats covered most of the exposed skin.

There was one exception.  Standing on the Maryville sideline was Matt Houchin. He had on a big coat the players put over their pads.  He looked miserable.  He did have some skin exposed.  That would be the skin below the knees that his shorts wouldn’t cover.

Matt can claim he always wears shorts. He might even say he is more comfortable in shorts.  Don’t let any of that fool you.  He wore those shorts so bad luck would not come looking for his offense.  I can’t prove it, but I think Matt has the same mental instability that I have.  It’s called superstition.  

I am one of the few people that can totally understand it.  I was a very low assistant football coach in the 1970’s in Milford, Nebraska.  Our football team was pre-season ranked number one.  The head coach made all of us wear coaching shorts and a purple coaching shirt.

It wasn’t the long, baggy shorts Matt Houchin wears.  These were the short, polyester shorts with the three inch waist band.  We went undefeated with two exceptions.  Wahoo Newman and Norfolk Catholic beat us.  Ironically, those defeats occurred the same week a Pope passed away.  Karma is another issue for another day.

Milford ended up playing for a conference championship on a very cold night.  By now, those nasty, ugly shorts were ingrained as superstition.  The offensive coordinator and I decided not to test fate.  We wore those shorts.

The head coach will never give us the credit, but we brought home the conference championship by suffering in very cold weather in shorts.  Superstition is a powerful force.

Matt Houchin will bring home a state championship with great play calling. He’ll have help from his defensive coordinator, Nathan Powell.  Of course, the head coach will have a hand in the state championship.  However, no one will ever convince me that those shorts on the sidelines Saturday in Columbia isn’t the real reason for a third state championship in six years.

Go Spoofhounds!

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