If the 49ers emerge as kings of the football world, head coach Jim Harbaugh surely will heap praise upon the remarkable talents of his players and the astute game plan of his coaches.
But he also might want to give props to Victor Apodaca for donning his lucky red jersey. Or Maddy Rundin for her perceptive choice of bar stools. Or Joe Neto for bringing loads of good karma with his magical wrestling mask.
Sure, they may not score any touchdowns or intercept any passes this afternoon, but don't you dare discount their heartfelt contributions to the team. They and other superstitious 49ers devotees have devised plenty of strange ploys, chants, curses and game-day habits specially designed to bring the Baltimore Ravens to their knees.
"I know it's all very silly," Rundin says of her superstitious ways. "But if you really love your team, it sort of makes sense in your head."
And so far, Rundin, 24, has a strategy that works. A lifelong resident of Lafayette who recently moved to enemy territory in Southern California, she found herself scrambling three weeks ago for a prime locale from which to see the 49ers playoff game against Green Bay on TV. She and two friends wound up in a Santa Monica bar, where they watched the Niners whip the Packers.
Not wanting to disturb that positive energy, Rundin and her pals returned to the bar the following week, arriving before it opened to assure that they could nab the exact same seats and sit in the exact same order. Moreover, they even wore the same shirts, pants and shoes they had on the previous week.
The result: San Francisco topped Atlanta to advance to the Super Bowl.
"I take it seriously, and I believe in good luck," says Rundin, who has yet to be placed on the 49ers' payroll. "I try my best to send positive vibes to the team, even though I may be very far away."
Naturally, Rundin plans to be back at the same bar and in the same seats for Super Bowl Sunday. Every sports fan knows that you don't mess with a streak.
Sports fans, of course, have been superstitious forever, though many of them choose to remain in the closet when it comes to their bizarre habits. After all, how do you explain your scraggly "playoff beard" or that L.A. Dodgers voodoo doll to nonbelievers? They just wouldn't get it.
But lately, sports superstitions are being celebrated more than scorned. A series of comical Bud Light commercials have taught us that it's best to turn your beer bottles label-side-out whenever the Raiders are attempting a crucial field goal. And along the way, we've been reassured that "It's only weird if it doesn't work."
And then there's the Oscar-nominated film "Silver Linings Playbook," in which Robert De Niro portrays a very rabid, very superstitious football fan who just can't watch the games without having his lucky handkerchief nearby and the TV remote control pointed a certain way.
"I loved that movie," Rundin says. "I could totally relate to where that character was coming from. Plus, it made me feel better about my own habits."
Victor Apodaca can relate, as well. Two weeks ago, the Concord resident was watching in horror as the 49ers fell behind 17-0 to the Falcons when he realized he wasn't wearing his all-powerful Frank Gore No. 21 jersey. Apodaca hastily slipped on the garment; minutes later, Gore scored a TD. The 49ers, of course, went on to win.
"If I didn't put that jersey on, the Niners may not have made it to the Super Bowl," Apodaca says, tongue planted firmly in cheek.
In order to create even more good mojo, Apodaca and his wife, Linda, have built what they call a "shrine" to the 49ers in their living room, consisting of team gear, souvenirs and news articles. There are certain rules that come with it.
"No one is allowed to remove items from the shrine," Apodaca says solemnly. "We don't disturb the shrine for any reason."
Joseph Lyberger, Joe Neto and Mike Popham bring similar reverence to their superstitious rituals. For every 49ers game, Lyberger, a Gilroy resident, keeps close by a team blanket that his late father gave him as a kid. He places both hands on the blanket for a pass play and touches his foot to it for a field-goal try.
"But I only do it for crucial situations -- when it really counts," says Lyberger, who refuses to wash the blanket until the season is over.
Neto, meanwhile, professes deep faith in a red and gold wrestling mask he purchased while on vacation in Mexico. The San Jose resident asserts that, when he wears it, the Niners almost always win.
"If, for some reason, I don't have it with me, I kind of panic," says Neto, a longtime 49ers season-ticket holder.
Popham, a San Jose resident, has a very different approach: basically becoming a striptease artist during certain games. If the 49ers are losing, he removes whatever shirt or jersey he's wearing and dons another and another -- until momentum changes.
"Of course, deep down, I realize there's no logic to it, and it really has no effect on the game," he says. "But I don't want to be responsible for them losing. I want to feel like I did my part."
According to Lisa Gray, a Livermore-based therapist, it's that sense of interactive commitment that spurs superstitious fans.
"People, particularly Americans, don't like to be helpless, or in situations where we're not in control," she says. "So when you watch a game and have no affect on the outcome, that's a hopeless feeling. When people wear their lucky shirts or hats, or whatever, it makes them feel like they have some personal agency. ... We like to believe we can affect change."
But for superstitious fans like Desiree Finau and Marilyn Tomlin, it's a strategy conducted in reverse. They both believe that they possess negative energy and it needs to be harnessed.
Finau, a San Mateo resident, noticed that the 49ers tend to "screw up" when she's watching. So she leaves the room and watches the games from her kitchen -- which affords a limited view -- while staying active by cooking or washing the dishes.
"I have to keep moving. The moment I stop moving, the team stops doing well," she insists. "It's bad juju."
At least Finau gets to see the games. That's not an option for Tomlin, a Martinez resident, who argues that her favorite teams lose "90 percent of the time" when she watches in person or on TV.
"It's so bad that my family will call me and order me to stop watching," says Tomlin, who plans to spend Super Bowl Sunday either shopping or checking out a movie.
"I really want to watch, but I can't," she says. "It's too darn important."
That's what's called taking one for the team.
on game day
Lucky clothing or wearing the same clothing as during a previous win
Shedding unlucky clothing if the team is doing poorly
Lucky chairs, or places to watch the game.
Lucky costumes or masks.
Not watching the game.
Growing playoff beards.
Voodoo dolls of other team.
Shrines to their teams.
Refusing to wash articles until end of the season.