All over Lawrence at 4:39 p.m. today, various rituals will be set in motion as superstitious Jayhawk basketball fans gather in front of their televisions and try to achieve maximum Kansas karma.
And although people could laugh about the manifestations of their hoop hysteria this week before today's KU-North Carolina game, the same people plan to put on their game faces and shirts.
Because they had no choice but to watch last weekend's game with Arkansas in their van during a trip to McPherson, Paul and Debbie Van Saun plan to stick with that winning formula and watch part of today's game in the van even though they'll be in town.
"It looks that way," said Mrs. Van Saun. "We might have to have the van there, wherever we are, and come back and forth."
The Van Sauns and a group of friends were extremely dedicated to their superstitions in 1988, when the Jayhawks won the national championship. The basketball believers watched all six tournament games at a friend's home. Mrs. Van Saun added that the group wore the same Kansas shirts during the tournament without washing them.
"WE BECAME so superstitious as we won those," Mrs. Van Saun said. "As we got closer to the Final Four, there was a game when our friends had to be in Wichita, and the group didn't know what to do. So we had to go to a neighbor and get a key to get into their house, and the game was watched in their house, even though they were gone."
The group was caught off guard by the Jayhawks' march to Indianapolis this year, she admitted.
"This time around, we kind of weren't prepared for it to be superstitious so we weren't really keeping track of things," Mrs. Van Saun said. "One thing that seems to work is that we haven't made plans ahead of time this year."
As superstitions go, the Van Sauns do try to limit their extremes. Most of their ritual concerns locale and clothes, but they don't worry about eating and drinking the same things during the games. Mrs. Van Saun does cross four of her fingers on both hands during KU free throw attempts and does not speak in positive terms, no matter how big a lead the Jayhawks may have.
"Oh no, you never do that," she said. "No, no, no. That's not good luck."
SUCH BEHAVIOR is completely accepted by the group, Mrs. Van Saun said.
"The group we choose to watch the games with are pretty much as crazy as we are," she said. "They're all pretty fanatical."
The Van Sauns and company aren't the only people in town seriously superstitious. In 1988, Mark Buhler, now a Douglas County commissioner, watched KU tournament games in the kitchen of a friend's house with a small television (preferably black and white), drank from the same glass, and stayed by himself, away from the crowd.
"I don't think I'll ever watch a game at home with my family again," he said with a laugh, remembering that he did just that during KU's NCAA tournament loss to UCLA in 1990.
This year he has continued his solitary vigil at the home of John Bush, a man Buhler describes as real negative.
"Every time you say `Great shot,' or `We're going to win,' he's knocking on wood," Buhler said.
BUSH DEFENDED himself as a practical man.
"I'm not superstitious. It works," he said. "Look at it this year. I may be solely responsible."
But Bush did confess to Buhler's wood-knocking description.
"You can't have anything positive said," he said. "It will come and haunt you."
Buhler and Bush seem to run with a rough crowd when it comes to superstitions. While both men are in Indianapolis for today's game, mutual friend Mark Gabrick is banned by the group from tournament travel because he has never seen the Jayhawks win in post-season play.
"His last trip was in '74 to Greensboro, North Carolina, and we were horrible at the Final Four," Bush recalled. "He didn't even get to go in the arena in Kansas City. He sat outside in a trailer and watched it on TV."
BUSH SAID Gabrick accepts his sideline role.
"Mark understands the personal sacrifice he's making, but it's for the better good," Bush said. "We called him today and said, `If you really want to come you can,' and he said, `No, I can't do that, and you know why.' And I said, `Well, I understand, and we appreciate your sacrifice.'"
Control of the game seems to be the driving force for the superstitious. Bush said he feels he has control at games he attends in person, but not when watching television. And one thing that bothers Mrs. Van Saun about today's game is something she can't control: the Sports Illustrated cover jinx. KU senior Mark Randall is on the cover of SI's current issue.
"I just about died," she said when she learned of the cover. "I couldn't believe that they would choose to put KU on the cover. Any other time of the year would have been fine, but not now."