Sports games are long. MLB and NFL games regularly last four hours and NBA games can push three. It can’t be easy for athletes to keep their focus, especially when they’re huffing and puffing on the sidelines. The key for many athletes to stay focused is to first hone their focus with their pre-game rituals. Here are some of the best, worst, and weirdest.
You won’t believe what Yankees catcher Jorge Posada used to do before squatting behind the dish!
Michael Jordan’s Past is also His Present
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Michael Jordan is arguably the greatest NBA player to ever play. There are rumors that as a child he would shoot 100 free throws in a row in his driveway before going to bed. Whether that’s true or not, one thing is true, Jordan never forgot his past. In fact, the reason he played in such baggy shorts was that before every game he would put on his University of North Carolina shorts for good luck. That’s right, Michael Jordan would play in both his college team’s shorts as well as his Bulls’ shorts! There is no confirmation whether he would also wear his Space Jam shorts.
Ray Lewis Yells Gibberish
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Ray Lewis was an incredible linebacker and team leader. Winning the Super Bowl in both his rookie and final season in the NFL was no small task. Lewis, to his credit, was not a small personality either, using his energy, lion volumed yell, and sheer presence to pump himself up, as well as his Baltimore teammates during his pre-game speech. Asked about it, quarterback Joe Flacco claimed he never understood a thing Lewis yelled but knew the fiery linebacker meant every word. In Lewis’ case, his volume spoke louder than his words ever could.
The linebacker coming up next didn’t have time to speak between cookies.
Brian Urlacher Never Says No to Chocolate
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Brian Urlacher recorded 1,229 career tackles in his NFL career. At 6’4″ and 258 pounds, every one of those tackles must have hurt. Before games, however, Urlacher was a gentle giant, choosing relaxation over adrenaline. What was his weapon of choice? Chocolate chip cookies and country music, of course! How else do you think he made eight Pro Bowls? Knowing he had to watch his figure, Urlacher also practiced self-control, limiting himself to two cookies pre-game. He had his preferences too, only munching on Famous Amos snack cookies while jamming to Keith Urban. Truly a diabolical union that helped lead to a sure-fire Hall of Fame career.
Wade Boggs Earned His “Chicken Man” Nickname
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One of the most superstitious Baseball superstars of all time was Wade Boggs. The Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame third baseman had the same pre-game ritual for all 162 games he played a season. Sitting at his locker before a game, Boggs would eat fried chicken and write the word “chai” over and over again. The Jewish word translates to life, something the fried chicken must have filled him with as he finished his career with more than 3,000 hits.
While Boggs was scarfing down fried chicken, another athlete had a much weirder ritual a few hundred miles north.
New York Mets Reliever Turl Wendell Hops His Way to the Mound
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Steven “Turk” Wendell must have believed in the power of the Easter Bunny during his playing days for the New York Mets. The quirky reliever did not have a pre-game ritual per se, but he did have a pre-appearance superstition. For an MLB reliever, that’s basically the same thing. As he would come out to the mound to pitch, Wendell would leap over the baselines. Stepping over the white line and messing it up would have been back luck. Even stranger, Wendell wouldn’t go an inning without brushing his teeth.
Then again, brushing one’s teeth is more sanitary than what our next athlete did…
Jorge Posada Takes Washing His Hands to New Heights
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During the Yankees dynasty of the 1990’s and early 2000’s, two things were certain; Mariano Rivera would close the game and Jorge Posada would catch the final out. Posada, for his part, would tell you there was a smelly reason he was so good. Before every game he would urinate on his hands, claiming it helped build calluses. Oddly enough, Moises Alou would do the same thing, but only in the offseason. Who knows if the science behind the theory is sound, but Jorge Posada behind the plate was perfectly sound as the ball would hit his glove for strike three.
Kobe Bryant Puts On A Show For The Ages
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Kobe Bryant’s name will live on for as long as the NBA exists, maybe longer even. The “Black Mamba” became more than just a player in his 20-year career, he became a legend. His greatness extended the length of his career, which he ended by scoring 60 points in his final game. Before that game he performed his pre-game ritual one last time, walking on the stadium floor four hours before tip-off. It’s there, alone, he could focus, only caring about the sound of the ball hitting wood, the backboard, the rim, and the net. This was Kobe Bryant’s peace, his “calm before the storm.”
Kobe Bryant never played a game without his ritual, just like this next athlete would never start a game before eating his signature meal.
Ryan Vogelsong Eats His Way To The World Series
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The San Francisco Giants won their second World Series in 2012, and journeyman pitcher Ryan Vogelsong was a big part of that. Originally drafted by the Giants in 1998, he shuffled around the minor and major leagues before coming back home in 2011 and cementing his spot in the team’s rotation. In 2012 he would live out his childhood dream, pitching 5.2 shutout innings in game three of the World Series. When asked about the secret to his late career success, Vogelsong thanked the power of enchiladas. The night before every start, including the postseason, Vogelsong would eat the same enchiladas from the same restaurant. In 2018 he will be inducted into the Giants wall of fame, proving his pre-game meal was worth every calorie.
Calvin Johnson Goes Full Downward Dog Pre-Game
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Retiring from the NFL while still in his prime, former Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson was the best at his position for short time in the league. He credits yoga as the reason he tortured opposing team’s secondaries. Introduced to Johnson by Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton, Johnson knows yoga isn’t for everyone but says it worked for him. He would practice yoga before games and during warm-ups, using it to relax, stretch, and relieve physical pain. The only pain it didn’t relieve was losing, which is the reason it is believed he retired at just 30-years-old, missing out on his chance to get into the Hall of Fame.
Mia Hamm Ties Her Shoes Right Over Left
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Easily the greatest women’s soccer player of all time, Mia Hamm is also one of the greatest athlete’s of all time. Being the face of American soccer couldn’t have been easy, and Hamm reportedly had quite the superstition to deal with her anxiety, especially before games. When she would lace up her cleats she would have to tie them right lace over left lace every time. If the ritual was broken she would have to start over or face the consequences of playing a terrible match. Considering her two World Cup championships, that mishap rarely happened.
If you think that’s obsessive, just wait…
Neil McKenzie Never Leaves The Toilet Seat Up
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Not a name familiar to American sports fans, Neil McKenzie is a famous South African cricket player whose pre-game ritual was too strange not to share. As a way to prepare himself for a game and rid himself of any bad luck, McKenzie would tape his cricket bat to the ceiling of the locker room and put the toilet seat down on every toilet. What’s really nutty is that he would not just do this before every game, he would do it before every at bat! In 2004 he was cut from the national team and returned in 2008 claiming he had recovered from his self-diagnosed obsessive-compulsive disorder.
LeBron James Gets White Stuff Everywhere
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LeBron James is nothing if not one of the most polarizing figures in sports today. The Cavaliers homegrown superstar once belted the city of Cleveland for the sunnier beaches of Miami. After enduring years of hate, he returned to open arms and brought the city its first professional championship in the modern sports era. When he originally left Cleveland, he also left behind his pre-game ritual, a powder toss designed to pump himself up. Not finding the success he wanted in Miami, James brought the powder toss back and won multiple NBA championships. In fact, LeBron James has appeared in every NBA finals for the last eight years. It’s obviously all because he chooses to toss powder before every game to rid the air of bad mojo!
Still, some basketball players take their rituals a step further.
Kevin Garnett Bangs His Head For Glory…Literally
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Kevin Garnett will make the NBA Hall of Fame, he just might not remember the career that got him there. You see, Garnett has one of the more violent pre-game rituals, choosing to bang his head into the padding around the hoop before every game. While that might not sound very concussion-inducing, it is in fact repeated head trauma for 82 days a year, more if his team made the playoffs, which they usually did. In fact, Garnett made the playoffs 14 times in his career, winning one championship. He might have a violent pre-game routine, but it unquestionably helped him earned his spot in the NBA Hall of Fame.
Curtis Martin Puts His Faith In The Lord’s Hands
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Curtis Martin is the fourth-leading rusher in NFL history with 14,101 career yards. Over the course of an 11-year career, he averaged 12,800 yards per season. If someone were to ask him what the key to his success was he would give the obvious athlete answer of “God.” Unlike most athletes, however, Martin took his devotion to the lord a step further. Sitting at his locker before games, Curtis Martin made it his regular practice to read Psalm 91, a more passive entry in the Bible asking followers to declare their trust in the lord. That trust helped lead Martin to one of the greatest careers for a running back in league history.
Our next athlete believed something other than God helped him run fast.
Usain Bolt Will Talk About Anything EXCEPT Running
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Usain Bolt’s legacy is undeniable. He regularly made track races non-competitive with his blazing speed. He was, after all, the fastest man in the world. Before a race, though, Bolt wanted to talk about anything other than the sport he was revolutionizing. A few of his favorite things to talk about were music, women, and cars. We assume he liked his cars fast, but won’t ask to be safe. The reason Bolt refused to talk about racing before a race was simple, he didn’t want to overthink it. All he needed to win was his natural speed, a truly special physical gift.
Jill Kintner Flicks Rocks With Her Coach
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Another lesser-known star with a big pre-game routine, Jill Kintner is a BMX Olympic medalist and four-time BMX world champion. She keeps her routine simple and tight, prepping with her coach, she drinks half an energy drink and rides up the chairlift to where the race will start. Once there she checks her equipment; goggles, elbow pads, and shoes. After the basics, she flicks rocks with the front wheel of her bike, really getting herself in the zone. Right when all that ends she moves to the gate and starts her race. Maybe not the craziest pre-game routine, but the devil is all in the details on this one, and those details mean everything to Kintner.
Rebecca Rusch Goes Back To Her Childhood
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Three-time mountain biking 24-hour solo world champion Rebecca Rusch puts on a show for her neighbors before every race. Undoubabltly one of the best competitive mountain bikers in the world, Rusch takes her routine straight back to when she was kid imagining herself winning the big race. We are not lying either, sitting on her bike in the driveway outside her house, Rush pretends two little stone pillars are the finish line. She visualizes the win as she rides through, going as far as to raise her arms in celebration of her pending victory.
Not a bad way to get ready to race, not as weird as kissing your teammates before games either…
Laurent Blanc Kisses His Goalie For Good Luck
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France is soccer world power. The most recognizable face of French soccer is Zinedine Zidane, who once headbutted an opponent in the chest during the World Cup. A lesser-known French player is Laurent Blanc, a member of the 1998 French team who had one of the best pre-game rituals ever. Before every match, Blanc would hunt down the team’s goalkeeper, Fabien Barthez, and plant a big fat kiss on his bald head. Barthez must not have minded, and the pre-game routine worked as the 1998 French men’s club won the World Cup that year. This routine goes down in the pre-game ritual Hall of Fame!
A.J. Griffin Gets Ready To The Rhythm Of His Heart
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Texas Rangers pitcher A.J. Griffin is multi-talented and uses his many skills to help prepare for a game. Much like Usain Bolt and Brian Urlacher, Griffin doesn’t want to think about the game before he has to. To help take his mind off things he plays guitar. While his teammates warm up on the field taking batting practice and playing long-toss, A.J. Griffin hangs back and lays down a few sweet licks. One of his favorite bands to play is Led Zeppelin, whose tabs keep him focused on anything but Baseball. The strategy worked while in Oakland for the first two years of his career, although his last two years in Texas might have him strumming a new tune with an ERA over 5.00!
Chrissie Wellington Likes To Laugh Before She Gets Serious
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Finishing up our list of pre-game rituals that range from the unique to the weird is three-time world Ironman champion Chrissie Wellington. Knowing how seriously she takes her sport, she prefers to stay lighthearted and loose during her pre-game ritual, watching family-friendly movies and writing poetry. Her favorite movie to watch before a race is “Seabiscuit,” the same name she gave her race bike. When she needs a little extra help, she writes down the words to Rudyard Kipling’s poem, If on her water bottle. The inspirational poem by the author of The Jungle Book tells the reader to have faith in themselves no matter what. The faith that Wellington has in herself, and this pre-game ritual, has taken her far in her profession. In fact, all the athletes on this list used their pre-game rituals to achieve success in their incredibly stressful and competitive sports. Who knows, maybe one of their rituals will work for you too!