Christmas Music, Twizzlers and Long Walks: The N.F.L.’s Obsession With Superstition

In the N.F.L., the place the wait between most video games is an extended, charged week, tales of eccentric pregame rituals within the ultimate jittery moments earlier than kickoff have grow to be a fabled a part of the game’s lore.

If, for instance, a crew is on a win streak, superstitious gamers may ensure that to placed on their uniforms precisely as they’d in earlier weeks: left sock first, then the suitable sock; left pant leg earlier than the suitable pant leg, and so on.

Or, a motivational signal above the locker room door might be thought of a good-luck attraction and be tapped, or slapped, as everybody exits the room. A crew may additionally file onto the sphere in the identical numerical order week after week — all within the search of optimistic juju.

But that is the trendy N.F.L., a multibillion greenback enterprise celebrating its centennial subsequent season. Surely, mystical rituals are abating within the analytics period, proper?

In truth, they’re as entrenched because the laces on the soccer. At finest, they’re evolving.

Philadelphia middle Jason Kelce, as an illustration, likes to hearken to Christmas music earlier than video games, even in September.


“To take the seriousness out of things,” Kelce mentioned. “I want to hear something happy. It lets me go back to childhood memories — happy times.”

Kelce did concede he’s listening to much less pregame music in an effort to chop again on sure repetitive behaviors, though perhaps not for the obvious causes.

“My wife is superstitious enough for both of us,” Kelce mentioned with fun. “If we win a game, she’ll do everything the same that she did the week before. Same routine in the morning at home as the week before. Drive the same route to the stadium as the last week. The whole thing.”

Giants quarterback Eli Manning at first insisted he had no particular pregame ritual. Then he remembered the T-shirt he wears beneath his tools. During every of the 16 common season video games, Manning wears the identical T-shirt. (It is laundered after every sport.)

During the preseason, Manning fastidiously picks out the T-shirt — from dozens of candidates — that shall be his “gamer” undergarment.

“I get that one ready early, just get the sleeves cut to the length I want and just make sure it’s comfortable and I’m good with it in all kinds of different ways,” Manning mentioned as if he had been explaining how he selected which home to purchase and stay in. “Then that T-shirt is on the loop going forward. All 16 games.”

He added: “But I don’t really have any superstitions.”

Some gamers brazenly acknowledge their devotion to elaborate pregame rituals, together with the time-consuming, pedantic left sock/proper sock development that’s apparently nonetheless in vogue.

“Those kinds of rituals are still very common,” mentioned Giants lengthy snapper Zak DeOssie, who like Manning is a 15-year veteran of the N.F.L. “How are you able to ignore it? Obviously, we’re all professionals and work onerous to develop sure expertise, however the sport is performed with a humorous formed ball that takes loopy bounces. All of the athleticism on the earth can’t and received’t management these bounces.

“So you’re figuratively praying to the soccer gods, hoping they’ll be in your aspect that day.”

On the opposite hand, Washington kicker Dustin Hopkins willfully retains the next energy in thoughts earlier than video games for a unique objective.

On arrival on the stadium, Hopkins will get adjusted by a chiropractor. He then has the power and conditioning coach use a rolling pin-like machine to loosen his muscular tissues and then takes a bathe to verify he’s, as he mentioned, “awake.”

Hopkins can also be persnickety about double-checking that each helmet chin strap or shoe string will not be worn or frayed. He jogs onto the sphere and warms up with about 30 kicks.

And throughout that total time — from chiropractor to area objective makes an attempt — he’s praying. Among different issues, Hopkins prays for the protection of his teammates, his opponents and himself.

The veteran Baltimore security Eric Weddle, in the meantime, is purposefully making an attempt to keep away from a unique longstanding pregame ritual — the on-field scrum the place gamers leap up and down in a circle and ceremoniously, often violently, bang into one another.

“That’s one of those pregame football things where guys like to butt heads or slap a helmet, but I hate when people hit my helmet,” Weddle mentioned. “I inform them to get away from me.

“It’s a ritual however guys know to maintain me out of it. If a rookie or a brand new man hits my helmet, I inform them straight away: ‘Don’t ever try this once more.’ I don’t have to get psyched up for the sport; I’m already fairly motivated.”

Some gamers’ rituals are fairly straight ahead. Before each sport, Giants linebacker Alec Ogletree makes certain he munches from a bag of Twizzlers — and solely Twizzlers, not another licorice. Several hours earlier than each sport when the grandstands are empty, Washington vast receiver Jamison Crowder methodically walks the size of the stadium area by himself twice. He then sprints throughout it twice. The objective, he mentioned, is to really feel the karma of the place.

“Each field and every stadium has its own feel but you’ll never grasp it when the place is full and 70,000 people are screaming at you,” Crowder mentioned. “You have to go out when it’s quiet. Just you and the field.”

Baltimore receiver Willie Snead does one thing virtually transcendental as effectively, fastidiously making his approach across the total area. It is a ritual he discovered from Jerry Rice, who holds a lot of the league’s pass-catching information.

“He went onto the field and visualized himself making plays while running certain pass routes,” Snead mentioned of Rice. “It makes you comfortable in the environment.”

There are, nevertheless, some gamers who swear off a pregame routine of any type.

“I’m afraid a pregame ritual could add to the anxiety of the moment,” Redskins defensive finish Ryan Kerrigan mentioned. “What if I decided to eat a certain food before every game but one week we’re in Philadelphia and they don’t have that food? What would I do then? I’d be more stressed.”

But religion in superstitious customs, one thing noticed in civilizations for a lot of centuries, has a robust attract. Even the N.F.L.’s sport officers aren’t proof against its pull.

Gene Steratore, a longtime referee till his retirement this season, mentioned crew of officers will all the time costume in the identical lockers they used the final time they had been assigned to work at that stadium.

“It’s amazing, because you might not have been in that stadium for a while, but we wouldn’t dare change our habits,” mentioned Steratore, who’s now a CBS guidelines analyst.

Steratore recalled that one 12 months at Foxboro Stadium in New England, a brand new attendant was assigned to the officers’ locker room.

“Before we got there, the attendant put name tags on the lockers for the crew,” Steratore mentioned. “We pulled all the tags off the tops of the lockers and arranged them so we were dressing where we always dressed.”

But Joe Theismann, the previous Washington quarterback and the N.F.L.’s most respected participant within the 1983 season, mentioned that he believes the N.F.L.’s ritualistic habits, whereas nonetheless patently evident, have ebbed barely. The gamers of his period, Theismann insisted, had been obsessive about pregame rituals and how they may affect the result of video games.

“Everybody had something they did because it’s a way to get ready for the game,” mentioned Theismann, who performed within the N.F.L. for 12 years. “I was probably the most superstitious.”

Early in his profession, Theismann performed effectively after having eaten a banana cut up the evening earlier than the sport. For greater than 150 N.F.L. video games thereafter, he insisted on having a banana cut up the night earlier than any contest, even when meant going into resort kitchens and making the dessert himself.

On sport days, he additionally had a meticulous routine for placing on his uniform, and he would then lie on a mattress of towels he constructed in entrance of his locker, the place he would all the time learn People Magazine cowl to cowl.

He altered his ritual solely as soon as as a professional, in 1985.

“We had a Redskins logo near the locker room door and for 12 years on the way out I hit that logo for good luck and never said a word,” Theismann mentioned. “But on the night I got hurt, I hit that logo — and probably because we in the midst of a lousy season — I said: ‘Tonight, your life’s going to change.’ ”

In the sport that evening in opposition to the Giants, Theismann broke his leg in two locations. He by no means performed soccer once more.

“It’s interesting to think about it now,” Theismann mentioned. “Changed the routine and my life really did change completely.”

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