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As soon as the clock expired in their game against Central Michigan, the Michigan Wolverines shifted their focus to the Notre Dame game looming on the horizon.
They will do everything in their power to prepare for the Fighting Irish. The coaching staff will spend numerous hours poring over their own game film while other coaches break down the Irish. The players will go over scouting reports and game plans all week in search of an edge. But there's one thing they won't be ready for: Joe Morand will be wearing his socks inside-out.
Morand is one of college football's many superstitious fans and is a lifelong Notre Dame supporter. His contribution to the team is turning his socks inside-out before most major games. The tactic has worked well, but has drastic consequences when ignored. Case in point: Near the end of Ty Willingham's first season, he had Notre Dame ranked in the top 10 going into a winnable game against Boston College. Morand went to the game on that cold Saturday wearing two pairs of socks to keep warm. Neither pair was worn inside-out. Notre Dame lost, beginning a slide for Willingham that ultimately led to his dismissal.
"I blame myself for Tyrone Willingham getting fired," Morand said. "I apologize to Ty. I think I ruined his career."
The superstition started at the end of the '93 season, when he accidentally put his socks on inside-out. Notre Dame won, so he continued to flip his socks whenever he thought the Irish would need that extra boost. It's how most superstitions get started, according to sports psychologist Dr. Richard Lustberg.
"It's paired association," Lustberg said. "At one particular point in time if something good happens and you're wearing something or doing something, you're going to keep doing that. Superstitions are intermittent reinforcement, which is the most powerful form of reinforcement, scientifically. It provides emotional comfort to fans and helps to allay fears."
Any fear Michigan fans have of Morand's socks should be allayed by Taylor McGurk and his holy Michigan flag. McGurk has owned the flag since the age of 9, and has it with him for every game. The magic of the flag started when he was younger. The flag, which was a gift from his grandmother, was proudly displayed in a shrine in his room. From the ages of 9-17, whenever Michigan came up with a good play, he'd run upstairs to the flag shrine to thank it. If the Maize and Blue needed a score, he'd run up the stairs to give it a quick pep talk. He guessed that every game would involve no less than 50 trips upstairs to honor the flag.
"I'd talk to it, get it pumped up like it was my Michigan spirit," McGurk said. "The trips upstairs were like my sacrifice to the team."
Now that he no longer lives with his parents, the flag sits next to him on a chair during games or comes into the stadium with him when he scores tickets to the Big House. The flag is the long-standing superstition, but he's gone through a host of others.
Of course, if all else fails, he simply tries to strike a deal with a higher power.
"I don't know who I'm talking to, but I'll just go over the agreement in my head," McGurk said. "I'll just say, 'If we win, I'm not going to consume alcohol for a month,' or 'If we score here, I'll wear maize and blue for three weeks straight.'"
Sounds crazy, but he claims it paid off in a big way in 2004. After agreeing to spend the next month without alcohol, Michigan came back to beat Michigan State 45-37 in a triple-overtime thriller. Then again, that monumental comeback might have been spurred on by the Triangle of Victory.
Created as a way for three band members to stay close together -- by two guys standing in the row behind the group leader -- the Triangle of Victory helped Michigan come up with some big wins. During the multiple-overtime game with Michigan State, the triangle was broken up, explained formation creator Jordan McClellan. After the Spartans took control of the game and built a sizable lead, he scrambled to recreate the Triangle of Victory. The rest, in his eyes, is history.
"Superstitions provide a way you can feel involved in what happens on the field," he said. "It gives you something physical, something to hold onto, a way to do your part."
McClellan also tries to do his part by wearing his authentic Charles Woodson jersey for every game. "It makes me uncomfortable without it, you'd feel like the reason the team lost was because of you," he said.
That's when it can start to become a problem, according to Lustberg.
"When you have the overwhelming feeling that you have to do it or you'll be uncomfortable and break down mentally, that's a compulsion," Lustberg said.
There are a lot of people who have superstitions whether they know it or not, Lustberg added.
"Everyone has daily routines, maybe they get up, then shower, then eat, etc., and people don't even realize they are routinized," he said.
That's what happened to Michigan fan Todd Harwood. The night before every game, he hangs up his lucky jersey and then simulates the game on his PlayStation 2.
"It gives me a boost of confidence if I make some big plays or have some big hits, but whether I win or lose isn't important," he explained.
The morning of the game he listens to the same CD ("It's All About Blue" by the UM Marching Band) in his car on the way to watching the game with the Los Angeles alumni club. Finally, he makes sure to call his uncle (who's even more superstitious and won't go into the stadium without calling Todd) before kickoff.
"You know how if you leave the house without brushing your teeth, you will feel funny?" he said. "I feel the same way if my routine is broken. My wife sees it as an important hobby. I think it's a little more serious."
Harwood owns his own business with his wife and compares the stress of being a small-business owner to that of being a Michigan fan.
"It's really like having another job," he said.
So is it healthy? Is it healthy for someone to be so obsessed with their team that they worship a flag during a game or feel they're to blame if a loss coincides with a broken superstition? That depends on the individual, according to Lustberg.
"If the superstition doesn't interfere with your daily life, more power to you," he said. "It starts to be a problem when it affects the people around you. If your wife and kids are expecting you home after a game, but it's your superstition to go to Joe's Bar after a win and come home late, that's bad. If you show up at work the next day in black and silver face paint, that's bad."
Ohio State fan Matt Insley's superstitions have occasionally affected others. He has to get into the stadium early enough to see the band play in order to avoid cursing the Buckeyes with bad luck. His superstition once forced him to trick his fiancée into coming to the game early by telling her the game started an hour earlier than it really did. They were two of the few fans in the stadium that early.
"She was, oh, not happy," Insley said. "She would've hemmed and hawed and made me late if I didn't do it, though."
When his fiancée said she wanted a fall wedding, Insley pulled out the Buckeyes media guide to find an open date. They are now planning to get married in June 2008.
Even coaches fall prey to superstitions. Tennessee's Phil Fulmer carries a locket his wife gave him in his pocket on the sidelines. Iowa's Kirk Ferentz used to be big on watching what tie he wore -- until he went 1-10 in his first season as head coach.
"The good thing about going 1-10 is that it lets you get rid of some superstitions," he said. "I came to the conclusion that ties didn't have much effect on the outcome of the game."
Still, nearly all coaches agree on one thing: If fans have superstitions that work, keep doing them.
"Part of the fun of college athletics is having your rituals and routines," Fulmer said.
The rituals and superstitions play a key role for fans, according to Lustberg.
"They go to be entertained and fill their emotional needs," he said. "Still, some fans can lose perspective; it's just a game."
Don't tell that to Auburn fan Charlie Wemyss, who has relied on his lucky blue student recruiter's shirt outside of the gridiron. He's had it at weddings, and sabotaged a costume party by wearing it over his costume (the hosts created a "worst costume award" just for him) just to help his team. But the Republican also wore it the night of the last presidential election, and during the birth of his son.
Georgia defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said it's all about doing what makes you comfortable.
"You have fun with it but deep down you really know it's not going to help you win," he said.
Either way, come Saturday, Joe Morand will be wearing his socks inside out. Michigan better be ready.
Mark Chalifoux is a freelancer for ESPN.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sound off to Page 2 here.