The Wichita Eagle – Jul 7, 2007 – Jeffrey Parson – {John Murray, one of the nation’s foremost sports psychologists, said “attribution research” looks to discover what players perceive as the cause of their performance or success}

John Elway will not throw a touchdown pass today — unless it’s in pregame warmups with the Arena Football League team he owns. Mickey Mantle will not hit a home run today — unless he does it, you know, at a makeshift field in Iowa.

Emporia’s Clint Bowyer could win the Pepsi 400 tonight, however, and that could be pretty great. How cool would it be for the 07 car to be sitting in victory lane on 07/07/07?

But the connection between this interesting date and sports goes far beyond guys who famously wore No. 7 on their backs. The real bond is what that sparkling number represents to so many: good fortune or luck.

That’s because we can be sure of this much: At a field or on a court somewhere, whether it be in front of thousands of fans or empty windows, a girl, boy, woman or man playing a game will get a lucky break today.

It might be a fortuitous bad hop on the infield or a shanked wedge that clangs beautifully off the bunker rake or just “his lucky day” for the guy whose jumper looks like Jim Furyk’s golf swing, yet is finding all net.

Luck is part of sports, an inherent factor. After all, we normally understand — or are told by people who seemingly have no lives in Las Vegas — who should win.

Yet we never really know for sure, thanks in great part to the luck factor. It’s why we watch, why we still cheer, why we have hope.

In the details

Perhaps strangely — or, if you prefer, fortunately — luck often creates the glorious moments we’ll never forget.

After all, Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw forced a pass that could have been intercepted in that 1972 AFC divisional playoff game, the California football team was basically just blindly throwing the ball backwards at one point against Stanford in 1982, and North Carolina State’s Dereck Whittenburg shot a long airball in the final seconds of the 1983 NCAA Tournament final.

Yet we got “The Immaculate Reception,” “The Play” and Jim Valvano looking for a hug.

Even if it does not lead to a highlight or championship, luck can change everything in an instant or make the difference over an entire season.

John Murray, one of the nation’s foremost sports psychologists, said “attribution research” looks to discover what players perceive as the cause of their performance or success.

Too often it’s luck, or as Murray describes it: “an irrational and illogical form of dealing with stress.”

“For thousands of years, humans have sought to find a supernatural cause for things they can’t control or understand,” Murray said. “With all the unknown in sports, there is so much anxiety, and that’s a breeding ground for superstition.

“Thinking it’s luck gives you a feeling of security when there is nothing but insecurity involved.”

Nowhere is that more true than baseball, where superstition is religion. With so many games and a success-failure ratio off kilter with just about every other sport, luck is not only revered but respected.

Remember Crash Davis in “Bull Durham” explaining the difference between hitting .250 and .300 in a season?

“Just one more dying quail a week,” he sums up, “and you’re in Yankee Stadium.”

The number

In numerous religions for numerous reasons, seven is considered a blessed or lucky number. There are people obsessed with it.

Dan Tompkins of Maine tries to get the amount he pays for gas to end with seven every time.

“It’s like, ‘If I end in a seven, I won’t have any accidents, or it will be a good trip,'” he told the Morning Sentinel of Waterville, Maine.

On the opposite coast, Tony Joyce owns the Lucky 7 Sports Bar & Restaurant in Kirkland, Wash. To celebrate 7/7/07, he is bringing back the prime rib dinner special he abandoned about three years ago.

The price: $7.77, of course.

Asked if he thought such an unusual combination of date and his establishment’s name would result in a banner night, Joyce bluntly answered, “No.”

He might be on to something. Perhaps the No. 7 is overrated in sports, too.

Did you know Mantle wore No. 6 when he first joined the Yankees? Then he was sent back to the minors. When he returned, No. 6 was taken, so he went with No. 7.

Bowyer is No. 07 because it plays off the “Ol’ No. 7” slogan of sponsor Jack Daniel’s.

Joe Theismann wore No. 7 because Notre Dame would not allow him to be No. 10 due to an old policy that quarterbacks wear single-digit numbers.

Theismann is one of three quarterbacks to start the Super Bowl wearing No. 7, but how lucky were any of them really?

Elway’s first three Super Bowls resulted in crushing defeats by a combined 136-40 score.

After winning the Super Bowl with the Redskins in 1982, Theismann returned the next year and was beaten 38-9 by the Los Angeles Raiders. Plus, he was just kicked out of the “Monday Night Football” booth because it was more important to ESPN to find someone to click with Tony Kornheiser, a newspaper columnist, for goodness sakes.

Ben Roethlisberger of the Steelers followed up his Super Bowl victory by nearly dying in a motorcycle crash, which was shortly followed by an emergency appendectomy.

And we won’t even get into the luck of the most famous quarterback currently wearing No. 7, Michael Vick.

Speaking of illegal gambling, though, triple-7 is the winning result on a slot machine, which one can play next to the large sports books in Las Vegas.

And that’s where this date matters the most, to be honest. No, not with sports but in marriage.

Las Vegas is abuzz with what might be a record day for weddings. Many chapels are booked from midnight to midnight, and David’s Bridal, the nation’s largest retailer of wedding gowns, is estimating about 70,000 weddings across the country today.

Spurs guard Tony Parker and new wife Eva Longoria beat 7/7/07 by a day, though, tying the knot Friday in Paris.

So Parker married one of the world’s hottest actresses less than a month after being MVP of the NBA Finals.

Some people are just lucky, no matter the day.

Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.