Friday the 13th showing up on the calendar is sort of like a relative from out of state who likes to visit.
You know it is coming. You don’t plan for it. When it happens, you are thankful you aren’t superstitious and cross your fingers that nothing bad happens.
Friday is the first Friday the 13th in September since 2013. The last Friday the 13th during high school football season came in October 2017.
“When I coached football, I didn’t like to play on Friday the 13th,” said Billy Miles, who was an assistant football coach for many years at Austin. “If we had to play on Friday the 13th, I sure didn’t want to be the favorite. I wanted to be the underdog. I’ve seen some strange things happen in games on Friday the 13th.”
Superstition surrounding this date is believed to have originated from the story of Jesus’ last supper and crucifixion. There were 13 people present for the last supper. Jesus’ crucifixion was on a Friday. The fear of the number 13 has been given the scientific name triskaidekaphobia.
The number 13 is not really popular in football. Dan Marino did wear 13 during his hall of fame career as quarterback for the Miami Dolphins. Tua Tagovailoa is making 13 a popular number for Alabama football fans.
A check of the rosters of area high school teams finds just a few with players assigned No. 13. Some teams have it assigned to young players, who are probably waiting to assume another number when older players graduate.
Austin and Decatur both have senior defensive backs wearing No. 13. Tarik Sykes wears it for the Black Bears. Cole Cagle wears it for the Red Raiders.
“I wear it because it was my number from playing youth baseball,” Sykes said. “I’m not superstitious, so I’m glad to wear it.”
When Austin junior receiver Tre Shackelford stepped up to get his varsity number when he joined the program a year after Sykes, he wanted 13. That’s the number his father James wore when he was an Austin running back in the 1980s. Tre even has 13 in his Twitter handle.
“Coach (Jeremy) Perkins said 13 was taken, but he said he had a good number for me,” Shackelford said.
Shackelford took 4 and is quickly making it a famous number for the Black Bears. Next season after Sykes has graduated; Shackelford could use senior privilege to request a change to 13.
“I don’t know about that,” Shackelford said while stopping short of suggesting that a number change might not be good for luck.
Number of honor
Wearing No. 13 at Decatur has become a badge of honor since Jere Adcock has been head coach. His predecessor, Steve Rivers, didn’t allow anyone to wear 13.
“I always thought it was a cool number for a defensive player,” Adcock said. “I always thought some opposing players might get a little spooked seeing a No. 13 coming at them.”
Matt Dawson and Sam Burnthall were All-State selections wearing 13 for the Red Raiders. Others who have worn the number for Decatur are Scott Littrell, Peyton Littrell, Stefan Mancuso and William “Bullitt” Jackson.
“I think of it as an honor to wear 13,” Cagle said. “I don’t think it’s unlucky to wear it because some pretty good players have worn it for Decatur.”
“Everybody who has ever coached football is superstitious,” retired coach Joe McDaniel said. “I don’t care what they say. If you coach long enough, you are going to want to do everything you can do to be successful.
“That means you have to do some things that are superstitious like wear the same clothes the next week after a big win. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
East Lawrence head coach James Moore recalls a season when he was working in Mississippi. He coached the first game of the season in shorts and a T-shirt and his team had a big win. The following week, he planned to go back to his usual game attire of khaki pants and a polo shirt.
“The players told me I couldn’t do that. They said it was bad luck,” Moore said. “I had to wear the shorts and T-shirt again. We won our next seven games with me wearing the same shorts and T-shirt. It got pretty cold on Friday nights before our winning streak stopped.”
Retired Athens head coach Allen Creasy said it's bad luck to be superstitious, but he didn’t take any chances during his coaching career.
“I always said, ‘It probably doesn’t matter, but what if it does?’ ” Creasy said.
When the playoffs begin, the head coach of each team is required to attend an Alabama High School Athletic Association meeting on Saturday morning in Montgomery. The meetings continue each Saturday during the playoffs.
“If we won on Friday, we always made sure to stop at the same gas station or places to eat on the trip back to Montgomery the next day,” Creasy said. “It probably didn’t matter, but what if it did?”
One year a young assistant coach drove the Athens coaches down before the first-round meeting. Athens won and the same young assistant coach had to drive the coaches back to Montgomery for the second round meeting. This time the assistant was ill, but Creasy wouldn’t change the routine.
“It took us a little longer to get to Montgomery that day because we had to stop so many more times,” Creasy said.
In 2000, Athens was in a third-round playoff game at Homewood that was played during a heavy rain.
“It rained so hard at times you couldn’t see across the field,” Creasy said. “I had on a rain jacket at the start of the game. It was the first time I ever wore a jacket of any kind during a game.
“We played so bad in the first half that when we came into the locker room I threw the jacket in the corner. I never wore a jacket again.”
Homewood beat Athens, 24-13. It was just the second loss of the season for the Golden Eagles.
Creasy was tested six years later when Athens played in the 2006 Class 5A state championship game at Legion Field in Birmingham.
“It was 18 degrees that night,” Creasy said. “I didn’t wear a jacket. It probably didn’t matter, but what if it did?
“We weren’t going to let the cold be a factor. I let our players wear long sleeves under their shoulder pads. That was it. We had practiced in it all week because we didn’t have anywhere else to practice. We were used to it.”
Athens’ opponent, Eufaula, came dressed for cold weather. The players wore sweatshirts with hoods under their shoulder pads.
When the head coaches met before the game, Creasy was without a jacket. Eufaula coach Don Klagus had on a parka with a fur-lined hood.
“He asked if I wasn’t cold,” Creasy said. “I went back and told my coaches that we got this game.”
Athens won 10-7.
Honoring a friend
Decatur Heritage head coach Steve Meek is like many coaches who see more superstition involved in coaching baseball.
“I don’t call it superstition. I call it tradition. There are certain traditions you don’t mess with,” Meek said. “I don’t step on the baselines. You wear the same clothes during a winning streak.”
Meek does have one football related … tradition. It’s only football related because he and former East Limestone head football coach Phil Cavnar were best friends as students at Austin. Cavnar died of a heart attack at age 44 in 2005. Meek was a pallbearer at his funeral.
Meek, Cavnar and some other friends would visit suspected haunted houses at night during their high school days. On one visit there was an encounter with a white horse.
“As we were running away from the horse, Phil stops and draws an x in the air four times,” Meek said. “He said it was for good luck.
“Whenever I’m out driving around, if I happen to see a white horse, I draw an x four times on the windshield for good luck.”
That begs the question: “How many times does Meek actually see a white horse?”
“You would be surprised,” Meek said.