Most of Harvard's coaches--men who emphasize the role of scientific training and hard work in building their teams--appeal to unscientific superstitions when the time for competition comes.
"I'm a strict believer in hard work," explains tennis and squash coach Jack Barnaby, "but I'm also a strong believer in crossed fingers. It makes me think I'm really working hard." Barnaby's chief creed is that "the better team usually wins," but nevertheless he gives luck a good deal of credit for athletic success.
The kind of luck Barnaby considers especially potent in sports contests is the "It never rains, it pours" philosophy. For example, several years ago we had a really great tennis team. "Inside of one week," says Barnaby, "we lost six of the top nine players." A broken leg, a broken back, a broken neck, the flu, and sick relatives were among the afflictions suffered.
"However, over a 20 year period," says Barnaby, "a coach's total record is just about what he deserves."
"If I see I'm going to walk under a ladder, I'll walk around it just to be orthodox," notes the coach. In his youth he admits to having "avoided the cracks in the sidewalk" whenever he took a walk.
Boxing coach Henry Lamar is probably the only man in the University with a "lucky" barber. He has been going to "Jimmy" since 1939, when his coaching career began. Immediately Lamar's teams caught fire. One day the coach thought he could save some time by going to another barber, and the Crimson boxers lost. Lamar has never again been unfaithful.
Jimmy is also patronized by President Conant and football coach Lloyd Jordan.
As far as tonsorial talent goes, Jordan says, "I'll wait for Jimmy too. He's a good barber." But Jordan has had no indication that his barber has been a big aid to the football team.
Lamar has a better reason than most people for associating luck with the progress of his career. Years ago, on his way to the Junior championships, heavyweight division, Lamar dug a penny out of the street. He carried it with him all the time, enjoying a concurrent winning streak. One day in Braves Field the streak ended abruptly, not more than an hour after Lamar had lost his lucky penny. "I'm not superstitious, just careful," says Lamar. Nevertheless, the coach is sure to always "spit in my hat when a black cat crosses my path."
Track coach Bill McCurdy gets worried when he feels too good. Although he attests to being "versus superstition," McCurdy does admit one ritual he performed faithfully in the days when high jumper Ty Smith was on the team. "Every time he jump, I'd turn away," confessed the track coach. But McCurdy maintains that he hasn't been coaching long enough to develop any real superstitions.
On the other hand, Stuffy McInnis, coach of the Crimson nine, has lots of superstitions and is proud of it. The squad has already learned not to leave any crossed bats around, at least where Stuffy can see them. The coach also makes a practice of tipping his hat to a truck loaded with either hay or barrels.
Stuffy still recalls how Eddie Collins of the Red Sox kept a wad of gum on the button of his cap until he had two strikes against him. Rip Sowell of the Pirates would never go to shortstop position without touching third, and Tris Speaker, centerfielder for the Bosox, would construct a neatly drawn line in front of the plate each time he came up to bat. Stuffy has a lot of respect for a good superstition.
Repeat Item of Clothing
Probably 50 percent of the coaches wear again some item of clothing they had worn at a winning meet. Typical examples are Hal Ulen and Bill Brooks, who coach the varsity and freshman swimming teams respectively. Ulen restricts himself to repeating a tie, but Brooks will repeat his entire outfit.
Anyone who attended the Eastern Intercollegiate Swimming Championships, held here last month, had the opportunity of watching the downfall of a Yale superstition.
For several years Yale backstroke champion Dick Thoman made it his custom to jump into the pool last, before the other swimmers lined up to begin the race. At the start of the 100-yard backstroke on the final day all the swimmers dove in except for Thoman and Don Mulvey, who paced back and forth, neither one looking at the other and neither willing to be the first to go in. Finally Mulvey plunged into the pool, Thoman followed, and the race began. Later in the afternoon the whole procedure was reenacted, with Mulvey outlasting the superstitious Thoman. Mulvey won the moral victory, even though Thoman opened up a big lead and Yale went on to win.
It isn't any superstition that makes Lloyd Jordan avoid black cats. "I don't like cats anyway," he explains. In fact Lloyd Jordan claims to be entirely free of superstitions. "Even if I wanted to wear a rabbit's foot, my dog woudn't let me," notes the football coach.
Jordan doesn't even have a prejudice against the number 13--"as long as the other team has 12." "In fact," says the coach, "any number that comes along. I'll take."
In sharp contrast to an unsuperstitious head coach, line coach Ted Schmitt insists on wearing the same suit to every game. "Sure he does," says Jordan, "it's the only one he has."