MILWAUKEE (AP) -If the Green Bay Packers want to guarantee themselves a win this weekend, all they have to do is make sure John Van Alstyne lowers his team flag before kickoff.
The 43-year-old production engineer flies the faded flag in his front yard all week but takes it down just before the start of each Packers game. Three times this season he forgot to lower it - each time he was out of town - and those same three weeks the Packers suffered their only losses.
``It's all my fault,'' joked Van Alstyne. ``I'm attributing their losses to me.''
Maybe it's not just him. Plenty of fans are convinced - with varying degrees of resolve - that their clothes, their beer, even their teddy bears determine whether the Packers win or lose.
Green Bay hosts the New York Giants on Sunday in the NFC title game. The winner advances to Super Bowl XLII to face either the undefeated New England Patriots or the San Diego Chargers.
Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle will be doing his part to generate good karma for the home team. According to spokesman Matt Canter, Doyle plans to wear the same lucky Packers sweat shirt and hat he wore last Saturday when Green Bay beat the Seattle Seahawks 42-20.
``He loves the green and gold. This is just a fantastic team with the best quarterback ever,'' Canter said. ``He'll be cheering them on with a small degree of superstition.''
Joe Sampson will be cheering them on with a slightly greater degree of superstition. Sampson lives in sunny St. Augustine, Fla., far from the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field, but he's sure his team owes some of its success to his weekly rituals.
They start the night before the game. The 26-year-old real estate agent sleeps in his Packers pajamas, then wakes up on game day to coffee in his Packers mug. Then he watches the game at a friend's house, always in the same lucky chair.
What's weird, he says, is that he isn't superstitious in any other aspect of his life.
``I'm usually a pretty levelheaded person - that's why saying these things out loud sounds kind of silly - but on Sunday you're just a kid,'' Sampson said.
Superstition in sports is certainly nothing new. Fans know that mentioning a no-hitter while it's in progress will jinx the feat, just as they know their favorite basketball player will clank a free throw when the announcer says, ``This guy never misses.''
Most fans also realize deep down - as much as they pretend otherwise - that their obsessions and quirks really have nothing to do with the action on the field. But that doesn't stop them from having fun with their routines.
Rudy Mayer of Natchitoches, La., is one such realist. On game days, the 54-year-old materials manager wears a jersey honoring quarterback Brett Favre or linebacker A.J. Hawk. His prognosticating dogs decide which one.
Mayer plays a Frisbee game with the pair, one always on ``offense'' and the other on ``defense.'' The winner determines which jersey he dons.
``But I don't believe for a minute that it has any effect,'' he wrote in an e-mail, ``and they are only about half-right.''
The stakes are higher in Jake Klug's jersey decision.
The Springfield, Ill., man uses a complex rotation of three Favre jerseys from high school, college and the NFL. If the Packers lose one week, he wears a different jersey the following week. If the team wins, he keeps that jersey for a second week.
The agonizing decision comes with a two-game winning streak - does he risk exhausting all the luck in one jersey by wearing it for a third straight game, or try his luck with a fresh one?
``There have been times (my wife doesn't know this) that I have stood in front of the closet for 10-15 minutes trying to decide which one to wear,'' he admitted in an e-mail.
The fans said most of their rituals are mainly for fun. But that doesn't mean they'll ease up this weekend, especially with the stakes so high.
Van Alstyne's Packers flag is coming down.
``It's hanging out now, but it WILL be removed on Sunday,'' he vowed.

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