There are few spheres of life that inspire us to cling to strange superstitions and rituals more than sports. Perhaps it’s because sports like football, basketball, hockey, etc. straddle an excruciating line where the outcome of a game seems dictated as much by fortune as it is by plays.
But, these superstitions aren’t all excruciating rituals that involve wearing the same ragged T-shirt you wore a decade ago when your team made the playoffs. Some are unique celebrations rooted deep in a team’s legend. Superstitions and rituals are often as interwoven into a team's or athlete’s identity as the biggest wins and losses from past eras.
And, it’s not just the fans who get compelled by our ancient lizard brains to do things we know are silly—athletes sometimes have even more bizarre superstitions than their fans. These are the weirdest superstitions and rituals in sports.
During his NBA career, point guard Mike Bibby's nervous habit of biting his nails took on a life of its own. He was often spotted on the bench ferociously gnawing on his nails—obsessively picking at them and making everyone around him nervous in the process.
Eventually he figured out a way to streamline the picking and center himself via the use of nail clippers. It got to the point where every time Bibby parked his butt on the bench, someone would hand him a set of nail clippers so he could immediately get down to the other business at hand—addressing his cuticle situation.
There's nothing scarier than a large man who actually gains strength by being beaten on. But that's exactly what forever Jaguars defensive tackle John Henderson is. At 6'7 and upwards of 350 pounds, Henderson could be described as nothing short of a monster.
And this monster had a very particular way of getting psyched up for a game. Henderson would have a Jags assistant trainer straight up b*tch slap him across the face, as hard as possible. I guess if someone that big demands you smack him across the face, there's nothing you can do but smack him across the face.
But my first reaction when someone hits me is to freak out and hit them back…I wonder if that trainer was ever afraid Henderson would give him one back at some point.
LSU coach Les Miles is one of the most colorful characters in all of sports. With his lively press conferences and friendly disposition, he's kind of the anti-Nick Saban. Seriously—try to picture Nick Saban munching on grass he picked from the football field during pre-game activities. You can't, can you?
It's much easier to picture Les Miles munching on grass he picked from the football field during pre-game activities, because we've actually seen him do it. Miles said his pre-game ritual "humbles (him) as a man" and that "it lets (him) know that (he's) part of the field and part of the game." Alrighty then.
Want to know which grass tastes the best? Well, it's the grass in Tiger Stadium…duh. Of course he'd say that—he may be a little crazy, but he's certainly not stupid!
At most major sporting events, throwing objects onto the field of play is a practice sparked by bad officiating and other perceived grievances. However, when it comes to hockey, throwing stuff on the ice is a celebrated spectacle reserved for special moments.
While the tradition of tossing hats on the ice after a hat trick is shared by all teams, the Red Wings and Panthers have their own unique rituals tied to specific people and events.
Detroit Red Wings: As horrifying as the idea of octopus carcasses raining down from the stands of an arena sounds, it’s one of the most recognizable NHL traditions. “The Legend of the Octopus” started when a Red Wings fan threw one of the critters onto the ice during a playoff game in 1952—it represented the eight wins needed to secure the Stanley Cup during the era.
After the incident, the Red Wings swept the playoffs, and the ice crew at Joe Louis Arena has been dealing with the mess ever since.
Florida Panthers: The “Rat Trick” started in 1995-1996 season when Panther winger Scott Mellanby killed a rat in the locker room before the home opener and then scored two goals later in the game. The team went all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals that year, losing to the Colorado Avalanche. The legend snowballed into the tradition of throwing plastic rats onto the ice after every goal scored by the Panthers.
The “Rat Trick” grew into such a ridiculous act of fan-fueled mayhem that the NHL made the franchise stop selling the toy rats at the arena, along with the threat of a delay-of-game penalty.
Prior to Super Bowl XLI in Miami, the pre-game ritual of Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher was revealed to the public. It doesn't involve crushing skulls or busting heads or anything else you might imagine a future Hall of Fame linebacker does to prepare for a football game. Urlacher likes to keep things chill in the hours leading up to a big game.
In the morning, he unwinds for an hour by watching his favorite fishing show on television. Once he gets to the stadium, Urlacher zones out and listens to music for awhile. And he always like to enjoy a pre-game snack—two cookies, preferably of the chocolate-chip variety.
Sounds kinda nice, huh?
Apparently retired major leaguer Kevin Rhomberg was an exceptionally superstitious guy, at least according to former pitcher Rich Mahler who confessed that Rhomberg was the single most superstitious player he had ever encountered. Mahler said that if anyone touched Rhomberg, he would have to touch him back.
Which is kind of strange, but not nearly as strange as the fact that Rhomberg refused to make a right turn on the diamond. Apparently he shunned the right turn because when you're running bases, you're only turning left. I guess turning right would throw off the natural order of things?
Kudos to anyone who caught the Zoolander reference in the slide title.
Athletes are always looking for new ways to get a leg up on the competition—particularly when it comes to speeding up recovery time from injuries. Some players resort to performance-enhancing drugs, but former Angels teammates Steve Finley and Darin Erstad had a more mystical approach to healing.
Finley reportedly received a pouch of healing minerals from a former Diamondbacks teammate during an injury plagued season. Both players both wore the minerals around their necks and the results speak for themselves.
Finley's batting average rose dramatically as he hit .350 over three months. Erstad had a hitting streak of his own and a precious stretch of injury-free play.
Dirty, smelly articles of clothing are among the more unpleasant superstitions that an athlete can cling to. After all, for athletes, sweating and physical exertion are a major part of their job description.
Which means their unwashed laundry is likely going to get stinkier at a much faster rate than…say…my laundry would. Assuming that a long night of scotch drinking doesn't count as rigorous physical activity—and I don't think it does.
But sometimes visible stink lines emanating from an athlete isn't enough to change their filthy ways. For example:
Steve Kline: Former Giants pitcher Steve Kline had a "dirty hat" tradition in which he would wear the same hat all season without ever washing it. He took pride in his grody hat and enjoyed seeing the new depths of filth it could reach by the end of each season. Kline said the dirt kept him grounded and reminded him where he came from.
Serena Williams: If there's anything that's going to get nastier from constant unwashed wear than a hat, it's a pair of socks. At least tennis great Serena Williams only wears the same pair of socks throughout a single tournament run, rather than 162 straight matches! Williams has blamed a change in her routine for tournament losses, so she tires to be vigilantly stinky.
The playoff beard is definitely a weird superstition. It's particularly hard to understand if you're a lady, like me, who has to suffer through the playoff beard cycle a few times a year. Or even worse—the playoff beard's creepy uncle—the playoff mustache. ::Shudder::
The playoff beard is unique, in that it's something that fans and athletes can do together to support the team. But here's the thing about playoff beards: They don't work. Only one team in each sport and one fan base wins a championship each year. So all the other playoff beards are miserable failures.
I'm beginning to think that the playoff beard isn't even a superstition at all. But rather an excuse for men to stop shaving for an extended period of time, because for some strange reason all the women in their lives have just accepted the playoff beard as something legit. That's right! I'm on to you boys.
It’s quite understandable why NASCAR drivers would embrace certain superstitions. While a hockey or football player may weird it up with dirty socks or some other smelly ritual, they’re merely trying to stay healthy and/or win a game.
For NASCAR drivers, a bad day could very well mean a fiery crash. So, it’s a good idea to hedge your bets.
No Peanuts in the Shell: An old superstition that dates back to the racing era before World War II, peanuts in the shell are almost never sold at or around a NASCAR event. Peanut shells are considered bad luck and according to racing lore, peanut shells were always found in the smoldering remnants of a badly wrecked car.
No $50 Bills: While the legend says that two $50 bills were found in the shirt pocket of champion racer Joe Weatherby after he was killed in a crash in 1964, no one knows how much the tale is rooted in truth. Regardless, $50 bills are non grata in NASCAR.
According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, Minnie Minoso, who played for the White Sox in the 50's, had an interesting way of combatting a hitless game. Apparently he blamed the bad mojo on his uniform and wore it in his post-game shower to wash away the stink of the game.
After his unorthodox shower, Minoso had three hits in the next day's game. His teammates were sold on his methods and following the game they all piled in the shower with their uniforms on.
Hey—it's only crazy if it doesn't work!
Hall of Fame slugger Richie Ashburn had his own way of keeping a hot streak hot. Anytime he had a particularly good day at the plate, he would be sure to use the same bat for as long as the success would last. And Ashburn went to extraordinary lengths to remain in possession of his lucky bats.
Concerned that equipment managers couldn't be trusted to keep his bat separate from all the other bats, Ashburn would take his bat of the moment with him each night. He even made room in his own bed for his lucky bats—when it doubt, treat your bat like a special lady.
Much like the Madden Curse, the Sports Illustrated cover jinx has an irrational foundation. Some people swear it exists, and those people have five decades worth of evidence to back them up. But there is no bigger link between appearing on the magazine and finding misfortune than there is between that shirt you wore the last time your team lost.
There are a lot of athletes and a lot of issues of Sports Illustrated. Any misfortune that an athlete or a team suffers after appearing on the cover is simply a coincidence—is what a completely rational human being should probably say. So I've said it.
That being said, I've read through the impressive list of incidents attributed to this so-called jinx. And I have to admit that they make a pretty compelling argument. There were 12 incidents in 2012 alone! I'm starting to think there might be something to this jinx after all.
See the whole list here.
If you want to know the secret to making it into the Baseball Hall of Fame, 2005 inductee Wade Boggs might tell you it has something to do with poultry. In 1999 he revealed his entire career had been fueled not by steroids, but by chicken!
Legend has it that during his rookie season Boggs recognized some kind of correlation between his chowing down on chicken and games with multiple hits.
He stuck to his superstitious diet religiously and his wife accumulated more than 40 chicken recipes for the 3,000 chicken meals she was tasked with producing each season.
I don't think that any article of clothing has magical powers—and that goes double for dirty draws. Not that anyone is wearing dirty draws, I just find it hard to believe that underwear has any impact on your performance on the court. But that's just my opinion. There are at least two famed basketball players, one substantially more famed than the other, who think otherwise.
Michael Jordan: Whatever thoughts I have on magical shorts, they don't apply to His Airness—because whatever he did, it clearly worked. Early in his career, Bulls great Michael Jordan wore slightly longer shorts than other players because he needed to make room for his lucky North Carolina shorts, which he wore under his uniform throughout his career.
Jason Terry: Celtics guard Jason Terry's underwear superstition dates back to his days playing at Arizona. He and a teammate made a habit of sleeping in their uniform shorts the night before a game. When he made it to the NBA, Terry adjusted is routine slightly—now he wears the shorts of his opponent the night before a game.
Pitchers are a strange breed and it doesn't get much stranger than retired pitcher, and noted weirdo, Turk Wendell. According to the Wall Street Journal, Wendell had no shortage of superstitions, quirks and rituals.
His most recognizable identifier is the necklace he wore, which was made from the teeth and other various body parts of animals he had hunted. Wendell was known to draw three crosses in the dirt on the mound before pitching and insisted numbers in his contracts ended in 99—his jersey number.
He also would eat four pieces of licorice during games that he pitched and would brush his teeth in the dugout in between innings—but only "after taking a flying leap over the baseline."
Wow. That is pretty specific stuff. I imagine his mind is like some kind of strange, OCD prison of his own making.
The first rule of pitching a no-hitter is that you DO NOT talk about pitching a no-hitter.
The second rule of pitching a no-hitter is that you DO NOT talk about pitching a no-hitter!
Among baseball fans and players, silence during a potential no-hitter is like a sixth sense. Apparently, the mere mention of of the word "no-hitter" is more than enough to immediately stop it in its tracks.
It's a difficult thing for non-baseball people to understand, but I think this 1996 article from the Los Angeles Times really does it justice. Here's an excerpt:
Seconds before Trosper delivered the first pitch to Herrera, Stockton made a most-untimely utterance.
"He said, 'Guys, Tanner has a no-hitter!' " Trosper said. "Everyone was like 'Shut up, Ricky!' "
No sooner had the words left Stockton's lips than the ball left Herrera's bat. Reaching for an outside fastball, Herrera poked a triple to right field.
"I had that feeling like, 'Oh, no. He's gonna get a hit,' " Trosper said.
Trosper retired the side to salvage the shutout. But he missed out on every pitcher's dream.
He missed out on his dream all because some jagoff talked about pitching a no-hitter. Your parents were wrong—words do hurt.
When former New York Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi broke out of particularly gruesome hitting slump in 2008, he revealed that the secret to his success was…a gold thong.
Not only did he pony up to using the lingerie to spark his performance at the plate, but he also divulged that it’s something he’s done in the past.
His teammates were so impressed that a few decided to try it for themselves, including one Johnny Damon—who rationalized the decision by claiming that the...um...mechanics of the thong stop a hitter from focusing too much on their “hands” or “balance.”
Suuuuuuure, Johnny Damon.
Boys and their sticks—one of life's great mysteries.
Wayne Gretzky: You don't become the hands-down consensus greatest player of all time, like Wayne "The Great One" Gretzky, without knowing how to take care of your equipment. Although, Gretzky may have gone a little above and beyond when it came to babying his stick.
After diligently applying friction tape to the blade of his stick, he would finish off the process by putting baby powder on the "relieve some of the tape's stickiness."
Gretzky didn't like other sticks touching his stick and said that the baby powder was "essentially a matter of taking care of what takes care of you."
Bruce Gardiner: During his rookie season with the Senators in 1996, a veteran told former NHL forward Bruce Gardiner that he would only succeed if he learned to get his stick dirty and advised him to dip it in the toilet.
Initially he resisted, but ultimately relented after an extended scoring slump. The toilet trick worked and Gardiner went on a hot streak after employing the toilet tactic.
Gardiner didn't want to overwork the porcelain hockey Gods, so he didn't overdo the dunking. After making it a daily a ritual for awhile, he eventually cut back and only used it as a slump-busting weapon.
The weirdest thing about the Madden Curse is that it seems to be actually exist. Rationally, we all know that there's no real correlation between appearing on the Madden cover and the cataclysmic collapse of so many once-promising NFL careers.
But there is a lot of anecdotal evidence to support this theory. Here are just a few players who have fallen victim to the dreaded curse:
Daunte Culpepper: The season after appearing on the cover of Madden 2002, the former Vikings quarterback went 5-11 and broke the record for the most fumbles in a season. He blew out his knees in 2005 and never returned to form.
Michael Vick: After appearing on the cover of Madden 2004, former Falcons quarterback Michael Vick broke his leg in a preseason game, which kept him out all season. It was the same year his dog-fighting ring came to light.
Donovan McNabb: Former Eagles Donovan McNabb quarterback landed the cover of Madden 2006 and incurred a sports hernia on the first game of the next season. McNabb played hurt all season until a torn ACL mercifully ended his year early.
Shaun Alexander: After his MVP season in 2006, former Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander landed the cover of Madden 2007. Alexander suffered an early-season injury which caused a sharp decline in his production—he was out of football just over a year later.
Peyton Hillis: An inexplicable choice to begin with, former Browns running back Peyton Hills someone landed the cover of Madden 2011 after a flash-in-the-pan season in Cleveland. He's done exactly zilch since.
In 2008, the coaches of Zimbabwean soccer team Midlands Portland Cement came up with a less than brilliant plan to "cleanse the team of bad spirits" of some bad losses prior to their next match. Players were instructed by coaches to wade into the Zambezi River near Victoria Falls.
It seems they were either unaware or unconcerned that the area chosen was off limits to swimmers because of the strong current and because it's infested with crocodiles and hippos. In all there were 16 players that entered the water, but only 15 made it out.
Everyone managed to dodge the man-eating wildlife in the area, but one succumbed to the current and drowned. The players later told authorities they had felt forced into the ridiculous ritual. Hopefully, next time someone speaks up before they wade into the Zambezi River.
Collectively, Cubs fans are suffering from a severe case of the crazies. But let's not beat up on them too hard—it's been 105 years since their beloved Cubbies last won the World Series—that cannot be easy to deal with. It's no wonder they've concocted a few fictitious villains to help explain away the seemingly unending failure.
The Curse of the Billy Goat: Apparently stems from a local bar owner who was booted out of Wrigley Field during the 1945 World Series because people complained about the smell of his companion—a goat. He and the goat left, but not before putting a curse on the team. Of course a guy on a date with a goat is also a wizard.
The Curse of the Black Cat: Locked in a tight division race, the Cubs met the Mets in September 1969 for two critical games. Early in the game, a black cat mysteriously appeared from the stands at Shea Stadium and sauntered past the Cubs dugout. The Cubs lost the game and later the division. The Mets won the World Series.
The Curse of Steve Bartman: Steve Bartman, as you may recall, is one of many Cubs fans who attempted to catch a foul ball in Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS. Fan interference prevented a potential Cubs catch, which would have had them four outs away from winning. The Cubs somehow managed to lose the game and then the series and all of Chicago irrationally blamed Bartman.
This is why you should never engage a Cubs fan—you never know what kind of crazy you're going to get in return.
Hall of Fame net minder Glen "Mr. Goalie" Hall holds the NHL record for consecutive games started—his 502-game streak is one of the most unbreakable records in all of professional sports.
If you ever saw him before a game, you'd never have guessed he'd hold such a record. That's because Hall was known to throw up before most games—but don't worry! He totally did it on purpose.
According to Hall, the ritual started while playing junior hockey and it was only occasional to start. Eventually it became a regular event because he felt he played better with extreme pressure.
Hall has said that at some point, it didn't feel like he was "giving everything (he) had" unless he made himself vomit.
That is a level of dedication that most of us will never begin to comprehend.
When it comes to smoking and drinking, it's hard to believe that these activities impacted anyone's game in a positive way. Take it from someone who has tried to brave the gym after happy hour more than a few times—it's not easy! But hockey players are a different breed and if anyone is going to turn this notion on its ear, it'd be them.
Stan Mikita: Blackhawks great Stan Mikita's pre-game ritual was to flick a lit cigarette over his left shoulder before taking the ice each night. The Chicago Tribune rightly pointed out that such a thing wouldn't fly today, but nobody even blinked an eye in the '60s.
Pelle Lindbergh: Late Flyers goalie Pelle Lindbergh had an intermission brewski ritual. In between periods, Pelle insisted on a particular Swedish beer called Pripps and he would only drink it if there were two ice cubes—no more, no less. And his beer had to be hand-delivered by the same trainer every night.
Pretty badass stuff for a couple of professional athletes—but, as most bad habits do, they came at a cost. Mikita was diagnosed with oral cancer in 2011, he began seeking treatment immediately and his prognosis is good.
Lindbergh wasn't so lucky—he died in a high-speed car crash at age 26. Lindbergh was drinking with teammates in the hours prior and his blood alcohol level was 0.24 at the time of his death.
Let me just start by saying there is no evidence to suggest that urine has any mystical powers. Nor is there any medical to suggest that recycling your own urine provides any positive health benefits. But those facts don't seem to carry any weight with a few athletes who are a wee obsessed with pee. For example:
Barry Fry: If a gypsy curses your club, English football manager Barry Fry is the guy you want to call. While managing Birmingham City, Fry supposedly broke a long-standing gypsy curse on the club by urinating in all four corners of the St. Andrew's pitch. What kind of weak-ass curse can be broken with pee?
Sergio Goycochea: Retired Argentinian goalkeeper Sergio Goycochea had a knack for stopping penalty kicks during his career. His secret? Relieving himself right there on the pitch before every single kick. Maybe it made him a better goalie, or maybe the sight was jarring enough to knock the opposition off their game.
Moises Alou: During an interview in 2004, former Cubs outfielder Moises Alou told an ESPN reporter that he urinates on his hands to toughen them up. Never mind the fact that, according to Slate, urine is more likely to soften skin than harden it. Way to go, pee hands.
Lyoto Machida: Ah yes, the pièce de résistance of pee! In a 2009 interview, MMA fighter Lyoto Machida revealed that he drinks his own urine each morning "like a natural medicine." Yes, that's disgusting. And, no, I wouldn't say it to his face.