Athletes are an quirky breed, and it seems like everyone has their own unique pregame routine. Sometimes it’s a motivator, sometimes a relaxer, and sometimes it’s getting every bit of competitive edge you can.
In the late 1970’s one of the most feared cornerbacks in the NFL was Oakland’s Lester Hayes. He went with the Raiders to two Superbowls, and was a five-time Pro Bowl player. He was also a big fan of Stickum, a glue-like substance used to improve one’s grip. Similar to pine tar on baseball bats, in Hayes’ case the application was such that he didn’t necessarily intercept passes as much as they stuck to him like a pest on flypaper. The NFL adopted a rule in 1981 called the “Lester Hayes Rule”, that forbid the use of a sticky substance on any part of the player’s body or uniform. Seems that it was good for catching footballs, but made the post-game handshake somewhat regretful.
Hayes wasn’t the only pro to be a fan of sticky stuff. George Brett hit a 2-run homer in the 1983 World Series that should have won the Royals a game over the Yankees. New York Manager Billy Martin, knowing that Brett was a fan of the tar, asked the umpire to take a look at the bat after the hit, and the umpire ruled that it was overly stickified. Brett was declared out and proclaimed the first major leaguer to hit the “game-losing home run.”
But it’s not always about getting an edge. Sometimes it’s just a bit of home-brew luck. Soccer player Laurent Blanc kissed the bald head of goalkeeper Fabien Barthez before every game leading up to the 1998 World Cup – which his France squad would go on to win.
Remember our blog about superstitions? Turk Wendell, pitcher for the Mets, liked to hit the mound with fresh breath. He had a vigorous brush before every game, and even brushed his teeth in between innings.
John Henderson likes for someone to smack him across the kisser just before he leaves the locker room for a game. Maybe it’s like a boxer absorbing some sparring blows. Only problem is, Henderson is a 6’7” 330 lb defensive tackle in the NFL. Now who wants that job?
Cricket is a curious sport involving a ball, a bat, and pins. It is somewhat like baseball, but it isn’t. It has some commonality with tennis, but it doesn’t. Fielding players are called “bowlers”, but aside from the “pins”, called wickets, it has nothing in common with bowling. It is played on a pitch, like soccer or rugby, and involves a crease, like hockey. It has little else in common with those sports either. Cricket players (Cricketers? Cricketeers? Chirpers? Jiminys?) have their own set of quirks. South African Neil McKenzie put every loo seat in the clubhouse down before entering the gentleman’s fray, and prepared for his battle by taping his bat to the ceiling. He later spent some time being treated for his obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Sometimes the preparation is a bit of showmanship, meant to inspire the crowd or intimidate the opposing team. Take for example the New Zealand All Blacks. One of the most feared clubs in rugby, they start each match with a Maori War dance. To be honest, I wouldn’t want to engage in physical contest with those guys. Maybe it’s the dance, and maybe it’s because they’re huge and made of muscles. Not sure.
And of course there is LeBron James’s well-known powder toss. Just before every game, James takes a clump of chalk powder (used by many players to keep good control on the ball – not unlike chalking a pool cue) and throws it up in the air in a now signature little cloud. You may have seen it depicted on a certain billboard. You know…before they took it down when James became the NBA’s favorite villian.
Other teams have mass-hysteria rituals. John Brown University fans launch a tidal wave of toilet paper at their team’s first bucket. Great for the fans, but it’s a free basket as it earns them a technical every time. Perhaps a better move is the fan participation stunt of biblical proportions performed prior to every Lawrence Central Catholic High basketball game in Massachusetts. A fan dressed as Moses approaches the horde of red-clad boosters and “parts” the Red Sea to sprint to the top of the bleachers and begin a team spirit chant. We can’t vouch for the quality of Moses’ shave, but it gets the fans riled up.