NOTE: From 1999-2005 I served as a public address announcer for the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche. With hockey starting again this week, it seems like an appropriate story to tell. There's more where this came from if you want to buy me lunch. J
It was never good when the big red phone rang.
As a public address announcer for the Colorado Avalanche, I stood on the ice in the home team’s penalty box. Yes, it was always a great view of the game, but it wasn’t always fun. Public address in the National Hockey League is a fast-paced job requiring intense focus. When I made a mistake, and I made plenty, 19,000 people knew instantly.
If the mistake was bad enough – mispronouncing a name, incorrectly reading an advertisement – the big red phone, sitting on a table beside us in the box, would ring and the furious PR department would launch a four-letter barrage.
“It’s Old Chicago Pizza, not Old Chicago’s, you _____!”
I made plenty of mistakes over the years, but one apparent mistake was simply a case of me doing what I was told.
“Never let the scoreboard show one team ahead by more than three faceoffs,” my manager told me on my first night.
I ran one of the scoreboards in Pepsi Center in addition to my announcing duties; a smaller board tracking how many faceoffs each team won.
“Never a bigger difference than three?” I asked. “So if one team is winning the faceoffs 20-4, the scoreboard should read 7-4?”
“You got it,” he replied. “Keep a tally of the accurate faceoff count and adjust as we go, but don’t ever allow one team to be ahead by more than three.”
“OK,” I said and paused. “But can I ask why?”
“It drives Roy crazy,” he said.
Goaltender Patrick Roy is one of the greatest players in NHL history and a Hall of Famer, but apparently needed me to manipulate the scoreboard to keep his focus on the puck.
My first night on the job, I realized Roy’s quirk would be a problem for me. As the faceoff disparity grew, the scoreboard became embarrassingly incorrect.
RED PHONE: Ring…
“Why do you guys have the faceoffs scoreboard incorrect again?” It was a member of the national media upstairs. He was annoyed by the inaccurate information. “Are you guys not paying attention? Get your head in the game.”
“I’ll look into it.”
I looked at my boss. He nodded, expressionless.
Every night it was the same thing.
Real faceoff total: Avs – 27; Penguins – 13
Scoreboard: Avs – 16; Penguins 13
“What the ______ are you guys doing down there?”
“Can we get someone else to run the board?”
“Are you too overwhelmed to do this correctly?”
For years, I appeared like the incompetent guy who couldn’t pay attention to a single faceoff.
Ring… Ring… Ring…
“Yeah, I’ll try to do better. Sorry.”
I felt like I deserved a little credit and fantasized about naming myself as one of the night’s “Three Stars” after one of Roy’s stellar games. But I didn’t.
You’re welcome, Patrick.
I never was given a clear reason why Roy required our “Faceoff Game.” But I have suspicions. Superstition is as ingrained in pro sports as Xbox with my teenage boys.
In fact, one of the reasons the Avs liked me is the team won the first nine games I announced.
As if I had anything to do with the game, other than Roy’s scoreboard ruse and hyping the crowd.
It’s not just in pro sports. It’s a fixture in human culture. We breathe superstition. We carry out routines believing they may impact some unrelated aspect of life. I’ve been known to turn off a football game wondering if the fact I'm watching is somehow making my team lose.
As a baseball playing kid, I had my routine dialed in. Five swings in the on-deck circle, strut to the plate, don’t step on the chalk lines, tip the helmet, tap the plate, try to look mean and… if I didn’t get a hit, slightly change things. Maybe six swings in the on-deck circle will do it this time. And try to look meaner. I never could look mean enough to get my batting average where I wanted it.
Exploring the Deeper Truth
There are no grouchy Christians allowed on this blog, but I do think it's worth examining our superstitious habits.
Superstition potentially can lead to a classic human error:
Human beings continually attempt to make God impersonal.
Superstition's tacit belief is faith in an impersonal force or set of rules needing appeasement. It is transactional, not relational.
The anti-relational impulse is plainly seen today in phrases like “I’m just spiritual” or “in touch with the universe” or the belief that “all gods are really just the same.” Think for a moment about how those statements are spiritually impersonal and anti-relational. Try telling your wife “all women are really just the same” as a relational experiment. I’m sure she’ll love it.
Ice Your Superstition
Telling Jesus “all gods are really just the same” is a tough sell to a guy who gave his life on a cross due to his intense (and frankly perplexing) love for you and me. Jesus is infinitely more loving, caring, powerful and wise than us and is directing “all things for the good of those who love him…” (Romans 8) That sounds better to me than magic tricks and crossed fingers. Why do we need superstition when we have him?
Read the stories of Jesus today. Watch what he says and does. Wouldn’t you want him in control of your life? Why settle for a spiritual generic brand in a universe controlled by a unique All-Powerful Relational Being? Practicing an impersonal spirituality makes as much sense as trying to start a fire with a match when you live on the surface of the sun.
Being superstitious is the equivalent of obeying the rules to a game that doesn't exist. There is a more logical and personal game to be played. Don't outsource elements of your life to superstition because you believe God is unconcerned with your small issues. "The Universe" won't have your back, but Jesus will.
My time in the home penalty box taught me many lessons but perhaps none more important than this:
Put your superstition on ice.
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