Whatever you did to help Penguins win Cup, it worked

There's a reason why the word "fan" is short for fanatic, and his name is Sy Nazif.

Mr. Nazif, a Los Angeles attorney and Pittsburgh Penguins aficionado, must watch the 1986 Rob Lowe clunker movie "Youngblood" before every game.

Think he's nuts?

"I didn't watch it before Game 5, and we all know what a disaster that was," said Mr. Nazif, 34, a former North Hills resident.

And you thought baseball was a game full of hexes, jinxes and superstitions? As the Pens have risen in the hockey world, its fans -- at least the Pittsburgh variety -- have developed their own elaborate set of hedges against failure: stinky jerseys, special earrings, street hockey sticks placed just so on top of TV sets.

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Tom Snyder, a former Pittsburgher now living in Cheyney, near Philadelphia, puts on his special Primanti Brothers shirt -- "to feel close to the 'Burgh" -- before each game.

Without washing it.

Since the Pens kept winning, he couldn't put it in the laundry "so it was a little rank after two months. As soon as Game 7 was over my wife made me throw it in the washing machine," he said.

Audrey Chmiel, 55, of Penn Hills, must sit on a specific spot on her couch in her Max Talbot jersey -- and wear Penguins earrings "so I won't jinx the team."

Ms. Chmiel, whose sons, Bernie and John, played for the Pittsburgh Hornets while attending Central Catholic High School, must also end every conversation with "Go Pens."

Jennifer Jeffers, 36, of the South Side, says her ritual varies a bit, as do those of her friends.

"For the finals, I have a hot dog and a can of Pepsi and watch at least one period by myself at home," which has resulted in a Penguins win each time she has done this. Her sister, on the other hand, has a homemade Stanley Cup that must be on their dining room table.

Still skeptical? The one game where Ms. Jeffers and her sister couldn't perform those rituals, the Pens suffered "a devastating 0-5 loss. So in a way, I feel partly responsible."

Superstition has always been a part of sports -- for the players and the spectators who love them.

In the 2000 book "Sports Culture: An A-Z Guide," researcher Amy Shepper argued that superstitious behavior creates "an element of empowerment for televised sports viewers by creating a dynamic in which the fan interacts with the sports event on the other end of the television screen."

That sense of vicarious identification is also an emotional comfort to fans trying to keep control of their environment, adds sports psychologist Dr. Richard Lustberg on his Web site, www.psychologyofsports.com.

Superstition, he says, is a "paired association. If something good happens and you're wearing something or doing something, you're going to keep doing that."

Indeed, Mr. Nazif's "Youngblood" superstition started way back in 1992, the last time the Pens won a Stanley Cup championship.

His sixth viewing (he skipped Game 5, remember) was before this year's Game 6. He made his brother, who lives in Pittsburgh, go out and buy the DVD and watch it, too.

"And wouldn't you know it, it worked," Mr. Nazif said, noting that he texted all his friends in Detroit before Game 7 urging them not to worry, "We got this one locked up. Aaron and I watched 'Youngblood' again last night."

Mr. Nazif's brother, Aaron, and his friends, have their own ritual. Whenever the announcer says "Fedotenko," you have to yell, "Fedotenko!"

They claim it is surprisingly effective, and bad luck if not followed religiously.

"I understand that they tried it a few times during the regular season as a drinking game, but no one could make it through the second period," Sy Nazif joked.

Andrew Balas, 42, of Gettysburg, not only must sit on the middle cushion of the sofa, he also credits the Pens' victory to a practice jersey his wife got him for Christmas. After wearing it for the first two games in the series against the Washington Capitals, he threw the shirt on the chair across the room, where it stayed for the remainder of the playoffs, along with his street hockey stick, which rested, just so, atop the television.

That's not all, said Mr. Balas.

"The whole family wore game jerseys for the first game of the final, and then the jerseys went back in the closet and we made sure not to wear anything with the Pens logo during the games."

See? It worked.

Mackenzie Carpenter can be reached at mcarpenter@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1949. First Published June 16, 2009 4:00 AM


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