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

Within 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 develop into a fabled a part of the game’s lore.

If, for instance, a workforce is on a win streak, superstitious gamers would possibly be sure that to placed on their uniforms precisely as they’d in earlier weeks: left sock first, then the precise sock; left pant leg earlier than the precise pant leg, and so forth.

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

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

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

Philadelphia middle Jason Kelce, for example, likes to hearken to Christmas music earlier than video games, even in September.

Why?

“To take the seriousness out of issues,” Kelce stated. “I need to hear one thing joyful. It lets me return to childhood reminiscences — joyful instances.”

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

“My spouse is superstitious sufficient for each of us,” Kelce stated with fun. “If we win a sport, she’ll do every thing the identical that she did the week earlier than. Identical routine within the morning at dwelling because the week earlier than. Drive the identical path to the stadium because the final week. The entire thing.”

Giants quarterback Eli Manning at first insisted he had no particular pregame ritual. Then he remembered the T-shirt he wears below his gear. Throughout every of the 16 common season video games, Manning wears the identical T-shirt. (It’s laundered after every sport.)

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

“I get that one prepared early, simply get the sleeves minimize to the size I need and simply be sure that it’s snug and I’m good with it in all types of various methods,” Manning stated as if he have been explaining how he selected which home to purchase and dwell in. “Then that T-shirt is on the loop going ahead. All 16 video games.”

He added: “However I don’t actually have any superstitions.”

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

“These sorts of rituals are nonetheless quite common,” stated Giants lengthy snapper Zak DeOssie, who like Manning is a 15-year veteran of the N.F.L. “How will you ignore it? Clearly, we’re all professionals and work laborious to develop sure expertise, however the sport is performed with a humorous formed ball that takes loopy bounces. All the athleticism on this planet can’t and received’t management these bounces.

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

Alternatively, Washington kicker Dustin Hopkins willfully retains the next energy in thoughts earlier than video games for a special purpose.

On arrival on the stadium, Hopkins will get adjusted by a chiropractor. He then has the energy and conditioning coach use a rolling pin-like machine to loosen his muscle groups after which takes a bathe to verify he’s, as he stated, “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 through that complete time — from chiropractor to area purpose makes an attempt — he’s praying. Amongst 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 attempting to keep away from a special 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 a type of pregame soccer issues the place guys prefer to butt heads or slap a helmet, however I hate when individuals hit my helmet,” Weddle stated. “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 immediately: ‘Don’t ever do 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. Earlier than each sport, Giants linebacker Alec Ogletree makes certain he munches from a bag of Twizzlers — and solely Twizzlers, not another licorice. A number of hours earlier than each sport when the grandstands are empty, Washington broad receiver Jamison Crowder methodically walks the size of the stadium area by himself twice. He then sprints throughout it twice. The purpose, he stated, is to really feel the karma of the place.

“Every area and each stadium has its personal really feel however you’ll by no means grasp it when the place is full and 70,000 persons are screaming at you,” Crowder stated. “It’s important to exit when it’s quiet. Simply you and the sphere.”

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

“He went onto the sphere and visualized himself making performs whereas operating sure cross routes,” Snead stated of Rice. “It makes you snug within the surroundings.”

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

“I’m afraid a pregame ritual might add to the nervousness of the second,” Redskins defensive finish Ryan Kerrigan stated. “What if I made a decision to eat a sure meals earlier than each sport however one week we’re in Philadelphia and so they don’t have that meals? What would I do then? I’d be extra pressured.”

However 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 should not resistant to its pull.

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

“It’s superb, since you won’t have been in that stadium for some time, however we wouldn’t dare change our habits,” stated Steratore, who’s now a CBS guidelines analyst.

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

“Earlier than we received there, the attendant put identify tags on the lockers for the crew,” Steratore stated. “We pulled all of the tags off the tops of the lockers and organized them so we have been dressing the place we at all times dressed.”

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

“All people had one thing they did as a result of it’s a technique to prepare for the sport,” stated Theismann, who performed within the N.F.L. for 12 years. “I used to be most likely probably the most superstitious.”

Early in his profession, Theismann performed properly 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 lodge 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 at all times learn Individuals Journal cowl to cowl.

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

“We had a Redskins emblem close to the locker room door and for 12 years on the best way out I hit that emblem for good luck and by no means stated a phrase,” Theismann stated. “However on the evening I received harm, I hit that emblem — and doubtless as a result of we within the midst of a awful season — I stated: ‘Tonight, your life’s going to alter.’ ”

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

“It’s attention-grabbing to consider it now,” Theismann stated. “Modified the routine and my life actually did change fully.”

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