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Two O-linemen run a route tree
Offensive linemen really want to be skill players. Hours before each game, Pro Bowl center Travis Frederick and Pro Bowl right guard Zack Martin will play catch on the field as a warm-up to their normal warm-up. But it's not just playing catch.
"It evolved into running around a little bit and then we decided we were going to run some routes, so now it's become a full-on route tree. Not every route but, by the time it's over, we probably each run seven or eight routes," Frederick said. Who's the better quarterback? "The better combination is Zack throwing the ball to me, although it goes back and forth depending on the day." -- Todd Archer
Bennie Fowler shuns the shield for Jerry West
The wide receiver wears NBA socks any time he steps on the field, whether it's practice or a game. Fowler, who was released by the Giants on Tuesday, has at least 20 pairs (hundreds over the years) of these white, slightly-higher-than-ankle socks that bear the NBA logo. He first discovered these socks when he was in high school through Detroit Pistons legend Joe Dumars, who had endless packs at his house. Fowler was best friends with Dumars' son, Jordan. It was love at first sight with the socks Fowler has now worn for each of his 59 career NFL games.
"They're the most comfortable socks," Fowler said. "Anytime you put them on, they feel like brand-new socks. They've changed [over the years] but they're still thick." -- Jordan Raanan
Jake Elliott has a slice each of pizza, cheesecake
The Eagles kicker has eaten the same meal -- a slice of pizza and a slice of cheesecake -- the night before each game dating to his freshman year of college at Memphis, after a 56-yard attempt bounced off the crossbar and through the uprights in a win over South Florida. Looking for karmic meaning, he tied it to the meal he had the night before and has made it a ritual.
He's had some close calls over the years, like the night before the Rams game in 2017 when the restaurant was slow delivering the dessert.
"They had cheesecake, but it wasn't coming out, and I was kind of freaking out," he told the Inquirer. "Made sure they got it done." -- Tim McManus
Don't forget the whipped cream for Chris Thompson
The third-down back must eat the same breakfast every Sunday before games: waffles, with blueberries and raspberries and whipped cream and then an omelette filed with bacon, peppers, cheese and avocado. The hotels have accommodated him every time -- except for one.
"One time at the hotel they didn't give us whipped cream and they couldn't get me any," Thompson said. "My whole mood was thrown off from there. I couldn't get any. I don't remember how I played, but I remember just being mad that morning." -- John Keim
Matt Nagy goes silent, types out call sheet
The Bears coach keeps it simple the night before a game. He sits in his hotel room, turns off the television or other outside distractions, and sits at his computer to type out his call sheet for the next day.
"Everybody's a little different in how they handle it," Nagy said. "Some guys will sleep; others will watch a movie; others will go for a walk. And a lot of guys just like to clear their minds. Me, I type out my call sheet. However you do it, just do it, don't change anything." -- Jeff Dickerson
Kenny Golladay sticks to pregame catch routine
Golladay doesn't call it a superstition, but the Lions' top receiver does have a pregame routine, going through an intentional catch circuit to get ready -- something he started in the pros.
"Pretty much catching the ball from each angle, you know, high ball, low ball, just out of the framework of your body so that way when that ball comes up on you during the game, it isn't new to you," Golladay said.
He does between eight and 10 reps in each spot to get his hands warmed up and ready. To do this, he enlists the help of former South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson -- now Detroit's character coach. This is something Golladay started last season after he felt through what he wanted his pregame routine to be his rookie year. -- Michael Rothstein
Pregame meal means salmon salad for Davante Adams
The Packers' locker room doesn't seem overly superstitious, and Adams said he's been asked this question often. "I almost want to develop one so I have something for you," the Pro Bowl receiver said. But he did start a pregame meal routine that dates to 2014.
"I eat the same thing every game -- a salmon salad with cucumber, shredded cheese and ranch. I did it for the first time before the Patriots game my rookie year, and I stuck with it."
Adams had six catches for 121 yards in that game, the first time he went over 100 yards in his career. -- Rob Demovsky
Harrison Smith heats up pregame meal with a shot of Tabasco
Before every noon kickoff, Smith eats the same pregame meal, starting with a cup of coffee, half of a plain bagel and a shot ... of Tabasco. The Pro Bowl safety downs a healthy-sized shot of hot sauce and sometimes skips actual sustenance altogether because it can be hard for him to work up an appetite before games.
"It wakes me up," Smith said. "I can't have too much coffee or I'll cramp up easily, but the hot sauce is mandatory."-- Courtney Cronin
Chocolate milkshakes get Matt Bryant ready
The night before every game, the 44-year-old kicker has to drink a chocolate milkshake. It started in Bryant's rookie year with the Giants in 2002.
"First of all, I love chocolate shakes,'' Bryant said. "I went into this little dining hall [as a Giant] and saw a sundae station. I asked, 'Is that for us?' And they were like, 'Yeah.' Then I was like, 'Is that free?' And they said, 'Yeah.' So I made me a chocolate shake. For the last 17 years, I've had a chocolate shake before every game.''
Bryant said he was shake-less just one time while playing for the Buccaneers (2005-08) but had an equipment guy run and get him one to keep the streak alive. -- Vaughn McClure
Ron Rivera has a homemade cookie before every home game
Rivera's wife cooks him the same breakfast every game day. It's cinnamon toast and ham. Stephanie Rivera also gives her husband a peanut butter and oatmeal cookie before every game. -- David Newton
Saints D-linemen make restaurants rich
Every Thursday, a rookie defensive lineman buys lunch for the rest of the position group -- a tradition that started even before Cameron Jordan arrived in 2011. But it's the restaurant rotation that has gotten especially superstitious in recent years.
The Saints' defensive linemen start the season at Buffalo Wild Wings, then switch to Wingstop after a loss, then switch to Sonic after another loss. That meant 10 straight weeks at Wingstop last year during their 10-game win streak. And that meant a return to Wingstop once the playoffs started.
"We went based on record," defensive tackle Taylor Stallworth joked. -- Mike Triplett
Peyton Barber's parents lead him in prayer
Barber prays with his mother, Lori, father, Ken, and girlfriend, Paloma, before every game. He has been praying with his family before games since high school.
"We all hop on either a three-way or four-way [phone call] before games. My girlfriend has been coming to all the home games for a while now and my mom usually comes to all my games, so we'll usually just buzz my dad in. ... That's right before we walk out before the game. We have to pray. My mom usually leads it, my dad will join in and then my mom will close the prayer." -- Jenna Laine
A last-minute wardrobe change for a Cardinals starter
D.J. Humphries isn't one to sit around in his uniform before the game, waiting to take the field. The Cardinals' left tackle doesn't start getting dressed until 15 minutes before he needs to take the field for warm-ups. Until then, he's in the training room getting his body worked on. But when it's time to start getting dressed, Humphries isn't lackadaisical. It takes him two minutes to put on his knee brace. Once that's on, it's clear sailing. Humphries said he needs 7-8 minutes to get fully dressed.
Even though Humphries is comfortable with getting dressed in a such a short amount of time, it still stresses out right guard J.R. Sweezy every time.
"It's just pulling stuff up after I put my knee brace on," Humphries said. "I don't know why people make it a rocket science. We've been doing the same thing since we were 8 years old."-- Josh Weinfuss
John Johnson's pregame routine includes long bath
The safety takes a bath before every game. Home games, it's easy, with a bathtub in the team hotel. Away games can be a bit more challenging because some hotel rooms don't come with a tub. If that's the case, Johnson must wait until he gets to the stadium and climb in the hot tub.
How long does his bath last? Between 15 and 30 minutes, depending how disciplined he was climbing out of bed, and how long it takes for him to wrinkle up. Johnson listens to Meek Mill, Future and Drake to clear his mind. How long has he been doing this? "Since I got in the league, every game," Johnson said.
Last season, his pregame ritual helped him intercept a team-best four passes. Through four games this season, he has a team-best two interceptions. "I'm not superstitious," Johnson said. "But I do it just in case." -- Lindsey Thiry
Game-day letters from Dad getGeorge Kittle fired up
Before each game, Kittle has a ritual he says is important in helping him get into game mode. Bruce Kittle, George's father, has been writing Kittle a letter before every game since he was a sophomore at Iowa.
Each letter contains words of inspiration, thoughts from the previous game, notes on the opponent and what Bruce calls some "pretty significant" trash talk as well as a variety of pop-culture references. The first thing the tight end does on game days is read that letter to get in the right frame of mind.
"I read that, I know, 'Hey, it's game day, lock in,'" Kittle said. From there, he head-butts a wall on the way to the field and his transformation is complete. -- Nick Wagoner
Punter drinks coffee with chocolate milk before games
All-Pro punter Michael Dickson used to have some pregame traditions with his teammates at Texas he described as parodies of superstitions. One was that they'd pour a few ounces of orange Gatorade into cups, cheers with each other and take them down as if they were shots of alcohol. Now, his drink of choice on Sundays is a cup of coffee with chocolate milk as the substitute for creamer. He has that with every pregame meal.
"If I didn't do it, I'd still be fine but I just like doing it," he said. -- Brady Henderson
Frank Gore checks the mirror to see who's 'Bad'
Most players listen to music before games, and Gore is no different. But what sets the future Hall of Fame running back apart are the two songs he must hear before every contest: "Bad" and "Man in the Mirror," both by Michael Jackson. He'll listen to a variety of music in the locker room -- often not even listening to the lyrics, just the rhythm. But those songs are the last he plays before he steps onto the field because each stresses the importance of self-reflection and self-value.
Football is a team sport but, as Gore said: "It all starts with you."-- Marcel Louis-Jacques
Specialist nails his routine
Long-snapper Taybor Pepper has to cut his fingernails exactly two days before every game. He does so because feels he gets his best grip on the ball with his nails at that length. He says long nails don't have a great chance of affecting his snaps, but he does it to avoid getting his fingers "caught in another player's jersey and ripping a nail."
He also says if he doesn't cut his nails two days before, he won't cut them the day before because there's a risk of them being too short. "Two days before is the perfect length," Pepper said.-- Cameron Wolfe
Tom Brady's shoulder pads older than some teammates
Brady still wears the same shoulder pads that were first issued to him during his freshman year at Michigan in 1995, a revelation first made on the "Quick Slants"podcast on NBCSports Boston. Brady was well into his third year wearing them when Patriots rookie cornerback Joejuan Williams was born in December 1997.
Brady said he has experimented with other shoulder pads, but has always come back to his "Douglas 25Ls," mainly because he's gotten used to the shape and feel.
"Once you find something you like, you stick with it," he said.-- Mike Reiss
Special-teamer preps in DIY sauna
Special-teams captain Rontez Miles turns the hotel shower into a makeshift steam room the night before every game. After bed check at 11 p.m., he takes two big towels and puts one on the shower floor, the other over his head and back. He puts the water on full blast for about 20 minutes and sits down with his back against the wall.
"It's calming, it's soothing, it helps you get to sleep," he said. "It's one of the best feelings ever. I've been doing it going on seven years now."-- Rich Cimini
Justin Tucker channels his inner 'Prime Time'
Tucker has a pregame routine that pays tribute to childhood idol Deion Sanders. The Baltimore kicker lays out his entire uniform -- even including his underwear -- on the floor in front of his locker.
"It's not a superstition, it's a ritual," Tucker said with a smile. "I think I'm superstitious about calling things superstitious. Laying my uniform in the shape of a guy on the floor started as early as elementary school when I playing soccer. I was inspired by Deion Sanders. So, Prime playing for the Dallas Cowboys, I knew that was one of the things he did. I thought it was really cool. I always saw myself as a DB at heart. I always modeled my game after Prime playing at recess in third and fourth grade."-- Jamison Hensley
B.W. Webb needs a hot bath
When Webb walks into a hotel room on the road, the cornerback immediately checks to see if it has a bathtub. Since his college days at William & Mary, the tub is mandatory and the bath routine is precise. The essentials: hot water, Epsom salt, the same calming scent from Bath & Body Works, a phone call to his girlfriend. After exactly 15 minutes, Webb exits the tub, puts on a towel and walks down the hall to get a Gatorade. Sometimes, the logistics require extra effort.
On the Bengals' season-opening trip to Seattle, Webb switched rooms with rookie tight end Drew Sample so he could have a tub. "I just had to," Webb said. "I didn't feel right." -- Ben Baby
Baker Mayfield needs a new lucky T-shirt
Since his sophomore year of high school, Mayfield had worn the same undershirt in every game -- prep, college and pro -- which his former high school teammate Conner Floyd, now an actor in Hollywood, had given to him.
The homemade T-shirt, originally intended for Lake Travis players in 7-on-7 leagues, however, finally ripped last season, making it no longer wearable. Mayfield said he has been hunting for a new lucky shirt but hasn't found an adequate replacement just yet. -- Jake Trotter
A daily car trip in Pittsburgh
Offensive linemen David DeCastro and Alejandro Villanueva always carpool to work, and the rare days they don't feel incomplete. The routine of hopping into one of their pickup trucks at 7 each morning began as a way to beat traffic -- two or more can use the high-occupancy vehicle lane. But the time together has grown a friendship.
"We talk about just about everything," said Villanueva about the nature of the car trips. The close-knit offensive line also won't kick off without a late-week hangout session at center Maurkice Pouncey's house for ribs, treatment and conversation. -- Jeremy Fowler
Benardrick McKinney starts left to feel right
When the linebacker gets dressed for games, he has to "put everything on left first. My left sock has to go on before my right sock. My left shoe has to go on before my right shoe. If not, I feel like it's bad luck."
McKinney doesn't remember when he started this ritual but said he has long given himself "weird" rules to follow. --Sarah Barshop
Darius Leonard doesn't deviate from his weekday menu
The linebacker took on an "if it's not broke, don't try to fix it" mentality as the tackles continued to pile up every week during his rookie season. That's why he ate the same two meals for breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday early in the 2018 season, when he led the NFL in tackles with 163. Two scrambled eggs with cheese, a waffle, two turkey sausages, apple juice and a smoothie for breakfast. Two scoops of mashed potatoes and a piece a salmon for lunch with no deviating on either meal throughout the week.
"I'm very superstitious," Leonard said. "It's worked for me. I eat all the simple stuff that doesn't hurt my stomach before practice, and it's in practice where you become better." -- Mike Wells
Smooth Teddy P gets Marcell Dareus ready for Sunday
Dareus likes to tune out the music being played in the locker room by putting in his headphones and listening to what he calls old-school R&B. The defensive tackle said he will occasionally put some new artists on his playlist, but the bulk of it is rhythm and blues from the 1960s to '80s.
He'll have some Marvin Gaye and Al Green too, but there's one person who is always on the playlist: "Teddy P [Pendergrass], always," Dareus said. "I like old school. They bring it back." -- Mike DiRocco
Delanie Walker used to put faith in his socks
The tight end used to wear the same socks for games. The superstition started in high school when he used to wear Marvin the Martian socks. The Martian socks became Mule socks when he got to college at Central Missouri University, where the Mule is the mascot. Walker wore the same ones in college and kept them when he started his NFL career with the 49ers.
Things changed once he got to Nashville. "I had them for like 10 years. The equipment staff threw them away," Walker said. "After that, I lost the superstition."-- Turron Davenport
Superstitious about not being superstitious
Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. might have spoken for many of the Broncos when he said, "I don't think we have many superstitions, like real superstitions where somebody can't go here, can't step there, has to do something a certain number of times or anything like that. At least I haven't seen it. How about high socks? I got to have my high whites.''
Harris said he "doesn't feel quite right" unless he has his white socks pulled up as high as possible on game day. And what if he didn't -- could he still play at the level that has earned him four Pro Bowl trips? "I don't know, I don't want to try that," he said.-- Jeff Legwold
Chris Jones' gloves smell like 'a dead animal' ... but they work
Jones wore the same pair of gloves during his NFL-record 11-game sack streak last season. He was without a sack until a Week 5 game against the Jaguars. The defensive tackle tried a new pair of gloves and recorded one, so he wore the pair the next week and had another sack. He didn't change gloves again.
"My gloves smell like a dead animal, but I won't change them up because I'm very superstitious," Jones said. "I won't change the gloves at all. My teammates hate them. You can smell me coming."
Jones also ate the same meal at the same Kansas City restaurant with the same two people -- fellow Chiefs lineman Xavier Williams and former teammate Jarvis Jenkins-- every Monday for lunch.
"Even if I'm not hungry. I have to get the same meal, which is a chicken sandwich, a milkshake -- milkshakes are delicious -- two chicken breasts and three orders of fries,'' Jones said. "I don't eat all of this. It's just the fact that I got it one time, had success with it, and I feel like if something's not broken, why fix it?'' -- Adam Teicher
Travis Benjamin takes pregame meditation lap
Since joining the league as a fourth-round pick for the Browns in 2012, Benjamin has taken a pregame lap around the field on game days, both for the functionality of getting his body warm and the meditation of getting his mind focused on the game. He said he keeps his head down as he runs, counting each yard marker as he passes it. Benjamin said the lap helps warm up his legs and get out some nervous energy before the game.
"Just taking that lap, it gives me a feeling of the field, no matter what stadium I'm in," he said. "I can remember back in my days in Cleveland I was taking a lap around the field."-- Eric D. Williams
Josh Jacobs never takes off his No. 8 necklace
The rookie running back wears his favorite No. 8 as a diamond-encrusted, 14-carat medallion dangling from his necklace and never takes it off, he said.
"When I got to wear 8 in high school, I had a breakout year," said Jacobs, who wears No. 28 for the Raiders. "Same in college. I can't wear 8 in the league, obviously, so it's just symbolic. It's also my birth number [he was born in 1998], so that's kind of weird. ... It's just literally my favorite number, so I just feel like I play better with it. I don't know how to explain it; it's just something about the 8 that just, it puts me mentally in a different place. I take showers in it, everything."-- Paul Gutierrez
Kittle starts every game day with letters from his dad
George Kittle shares the story behind his dad's letters that he reads before every game, and how the 49ers want to approach the rest of the season after starting 2-0.