Sports and rituals go hand in hand. Some players refuse to change their socks when they’re on hot streaks; others refuse to shave. Michael Jordan always wore his college shorts underneath his NBA uniform, Wade Boggs always dined on chicken, and former Detroit Tiger Mark Fidrych ate the dirt on the mound whenever he pitched.
Teams are no different. The Red Sox play “Sweet Caroline” during the eighth inning at every home game. For the Yankees, it’s “New York, New York” after every game, win or lose.
Some teams have taken it a step further and have rituals only for when they win.
When Red Auerbach ruled the sidelines as head coach of the Boston Celtics in the 1950s and 1960s, he liked to light up a cigar once it was clear that his team was going to win.
In 2008, the Celtics were finally an elite team again after nearly two decades of mediocrity. Aware of the psychological effect of Auerbach’s cigar ritual on both the Boston fans and the opposition, they wanted their own version of the victory celebration. In keeping with the modern era, where flash and flamboyance rule the basketball world and smoking is usually banned anyway, the Celtics reached back to the ’70s and unearthed a video clip from the old Dick Clark series “American Bandstand,” accompanied by the Bee Gees’ classic disco anthem “You Should Be Dancing.”
The video, which featured a bearded dancer wearing a several-sizes-too-small T-shirt with “Gino” on it, became an instant favorite with the Celtics fans.
“It was one of those things that just took off,” Thomica Hightower, a Celtics intern, explained. “They were just showing some old clips from ‘Bandstand,’ and they got a loud response. Really, it was just an accident that it happened.”
The song was chosen because it encourages fans to stand up and celebrate. “There is no major reason other than it’s a classic disco song that goes along with the footage well and it always gets fans up out of their seats and dancing,” said Heather Walker, the team’s director of public relations. Indeed, the video of “Gino” is often intercut with footage of fans dancing in the stands, some trying to re-create his smooth moves.
On the other side of the country, whenever the Los Angeles Lakers, the Celtics’ archrivals, win at home, the upbeat sounds of synthesizers and keyboards fill the Staples Center with Randy Newman’s ode to the City of Angels, “I Love L.A.”
According to the team, the decision to go with Newman’s somewhat satirical social critique of Los Angeles as a post-victory anthem was based on positive fan response. “It was just kind of organic,” said Lisa Estrada, director of game operations for the team. “It started back when we were still at the Forum,” where the Lakers played until 1999, “and it just kind of took off. It stuck with the fans and with the team.”
Estrada said Newman’s live performance of the song during the team’s 2002 title celebration was when the song really jelled with the team. “I don’t know what to say,” said Estrada, who conceded that, based on the lyrics, the song wasn’t the feel-good anthem it seemed to be. “It just works for us.”
For the Red Sox, what works is a three-song lineup of “Dirty Water” by the Standells, “Tessie” by the Dropkick Murphys and “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night.
“Tessie” has special meaning “because it’s about the Red Sox winning their first title,” said Sarah Logan, the team’s senior manager of video and scoreboard operations. The original “Tessie” was recorded in 1903 by the Royal Rooters and rerecorded by the Dropkick Murphys in 2004. Later that year, the Red Sox finally broke their 86-year World Series drought, a period that began in 1918, which happened to be the year the Royal Rooters stopped performing.
Sentiment is also the reason that whenever the Philadelphia Phillies win at Citizens Bank Park, the scoreboard plays a video of the late Harry Kalas performing Frank Sinatra’s “High Hopes,” inspiring many fans to sing along. “High Hopes” started out as a way of honoring Kalas, the Phillies’ legendary play-by-play announcer, who died last season. Kalas had famously sung the song after the Phillies won the 1993 National League championship and again in 2008 after the team won its first World Series since 1980.
“We decided to do it as a way to remember him,” said Elizabeth Seiple, an intern with the Phillies. “We figured the fans would appreciate it, and they did. After the response, we started doing it after every win. We’d ring a bell, and then the video footage would play on the screen.”
Seiple, however, isn’t sure whether it will become a tradition for the team. “I’d expect to see it for at least the first game of the season, and if it becomes something that fans really want or start to expect, then I’d imagine it would continue,” Seiple said.
But at least one fan hopes that it won’t continue, preferring to save “High Hopes” for special occasions, like the playoffs. “I like that they did it last year, because of the timing of his passing,” said Steve, a 27-year-old engineer who asked that his last name not be used. “However, it is not a tradition that I hope to be continued after every win. I fear that by playing that song after every win, it will desensitize us to the meaning and jubilation the tradition is supposed to be carrying.”