Magic for Beginners: Super Bowl Edition

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In which UB Asst. Prof and Bohemian Rhapsody columnist Marion Winik tries to figure out whether the cosmic party train will be making a special stop in Baltimore.

Greetings from a lucky apartment in Brooklyn, where Jane and I are visiting this late January weekend. Experience has shown that the typing is good here, as if words swim beneath the floor thick and flashing as trout in a clear mountain stream. So although I have been contemplating the topic of today’s column for several weeks, I thought it best to begin my work in a proven juju spot.

Among the luscious and lovely phyla of illogical thinking, my favorite are the causal fallacies. Post hoc ergo propter hoc: You said something, then I tripped — why the hell did you knock me over? Magical thinking: I can make you fall just by thinking about it. Animistic fallacy: If you fell, you must have wanted to fall. Texas sharpshooter fallacy: If you just keep talking, you’ll be right some of the time, even if you are kind of a dope.

To see causation where there is only coincidence is an understandable temptation. It is our lot in life to try to make this world work as advertised, to get the big river of good fortune flowing in our direction. If everything that happens to us is either a.) deserved by our good or bad actions or b.) completely random, well, shoot. That’s too hard on one hand and too depressing on the other.

I was born on the seventh day of May weighing seven pounds and seven ounces and I grew up at 7 Dwight Drive. If that’s not a little hint about what number to play at the casino, I don’t know what is. Similarly, I credit my brute force and fearsome practicality to the grand trine in Earth signs Taurus, Capricorn and Virgo that ruled the heavens at the time of my birth. In daily life, I take the appearance of really good parking spaces and phone calls from long-lost friends I was just thinking about as reassurance of the existence of benign mysteries the other side of the veil.

One time as we were driving to New York on 95 in stop-and-go rainy day traffic, my daughter asked out of the blue if I had ever had a serious car accident where the airbags inflated. I assured her that I had not. Five minutes later, the SUV in front of me stopped while I went, and we saw airbags all right, and smelled them too. Did you know they actually explode? Fortunately we were all fine, even the dachshund, though I had a little airbag hickey on my collarbone. A light sentence considering I was guilty of not only careless driving but of failure to heed a crystal clear warning from the universe!

When my first husband died, his mother explained to me and the boys that we should keep an eye out for pennies on the ground, as they are sent from the other side as a sign that our lost loved ones are thinking of us. Though my vision of the afterlife doesn’t quite allow for this possibility, I’ve never totally forgotten it either. I checked the always-enlightening website wiki.answers and learned that many people are receiving coins from the dead, usually at times when they could particularly use encouragement and support. Some have seen a cost-of-living adjustment in these manifestations, and are now getting dimes.

It’s not only crowd-sourced Internet forums that support our proclivity for illogic. My best friend, the one with the lucky apartment in Brooklyn, believes that if you wait a few days to do the crossword puzzle you are more likely to get the right answers because all the people who have already finished it have seeded them into the collective unconscious. She swears she read this in The New York Times, or maybe heard it in a PBS special, in a report on how various thinkers imagine that intellectual concepts “travel” with no apparent means.

The first night I stayed in my second husband’s bedroom, on an emu farm in Seven Valleys, Pennsylvania, we both noticed a tiny Tinkerbell-like light flitting around the room. We paused in our fervent caressing to watch in wonderment. After turning the lights on and off and eliminating every other possibility, I concluded it had to be a fairy. Definitely, it was a fairy, my new love agreed. This was a man who taught four sections of logic at the state university.

Everybody wants a sign, even fact-checkers and PhDs. We’d all like to know what’s coming our way, even if it’s only how many additional bummers to expect once we start the day by stepping on a piece of glass. Even better than receiving intimations is gaming the system, hatching schemes to woo destiny to our side — even if it takes causal fallacies to do it.

Which brings me, finally, to the Super Bowl. Whether or not you care about football, if you live in Baltimore, the outcome of the Super Bowl will create a citywide streak of either good luck or misfortune that will affect us all. If we all want to “win the Super Bowl,” we need to pitch in.

For controlling the outcome of televised sports events, there are numerous well-known strategies. Most involve repeating exactly what you were doing last time the team won. Consider placement of the furniture, persons watching with you, what you were wearing, snacks you served and, as Robert De Niro so beautifully illustrated in the recent film Silver Linings Playbook, position and possession of the remote.

Patterns are everything. This is why it is important to know that the Ravens have an 8-5 or .615 all-time road record in postseason, which is the highest win percentage in the league among teams that have played at least 10 postseason games. But you also want to factor in the temperature, the location of the stadium, the score at half-time, and all kinds of other historic data points that give sportscasters something to say while they make their endless karate-chop hand gestures.

When multiple patterns intersect, the ante goes up significantly — the cosmic party train could be making a special stop at your house. This is why I was so excited when I recently went through my datebooks for the last 30 years and determined that I met my first husband in March 1983 and my second in March 1998. You don’t have to be Nostradamus to see what that means: true love can be found every 15 years.

It’s 2013 and I will be taking the Super Bowl very, very personally. I think you should too, hon.

P.S. So I leave the lucky apartment and come home to Baltimore, where I continue working on my article until interrupted by a motherly mission: My daughter sends me to purchase a tri-fold poster board for her science fair project. I locate one for $9.39 at Pla-Za art supplies, but when I root through my purse for change I find only 38 cents. One clerk throws my coins in the register, searches fruitlessly in his pockets, then asks the other clerk if she has a penny for me.

“There’s one right here on the floor,” she says.


Marion Winik writes “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a column about life, love, and the pursuit of self-awareness. Check out her heartbreakingly honest and funny essays twice a month on Baltimore Fishbowl.

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  1. Loved the commentary! “Post hoc ergo propter hoc”. I thought only students from Jesuit high schools would know that phrase. I look forward to seeing your commentaries in the Baltimore Fishbowl.

    • Dustin! Read the piece you linked. You are much more knowledgeable than I but we are definitely on the same page.

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