Full Contact 6/5/2006

Austin 2006: Doug English, (UT and Lions) Bill Engvall, Me, Tonjua Swann, (The Eliminator) Gary Valentine (King of Queens) and Kenneth Sims, (UT and Patriots)
Austin 2006: Doug English, (UT and Lions) Bill Engvall, Me, Tonjua Swann, (The Eliminator) Gary Valentine (King of Queens) and Kenneth Sims, (UT and Patriots)

Rituals and superstitions

I just finished shooting my first movie...I know what you're thinking already. No, the big boy didn't go Hollywood on ya, it just was a great opportunity, to shoot some big guns and blow up stuff. Sigmund Freud would have had a field day.

During the movie I had the pleasure of working with one of Texas' best actors, Kelly O. Jackson. One day, when we were asked to rehearse a scene together, he said that before we started, he had this pre-acting ritual of grabbing a cup of coffee and talking to the family. With coffee in hand, I followed him to the side of the building, where he proceeded to introduce me and chat with his "family." The only problem was, the family he was talking to, was painted on the side of the building. At this point I asked myself, "What kind of weird, Hollywood, acting thing did I get myself into?" I heard about these actors, but I really didn't believe all the stories.

Just as the Dolphins might have had to overlook the quirkiness of a Ricky Williams, because Kelly was a true performer, I was going to play along and not run for the door. The next day, when I was reflecting on our acting rehearsal and how I was truly humbled, I started to giggle. You want to know why? Because, when I was in the NFL, we did the exact same thing, and probably more eccentric than sharing a cup of "Joe" with some painted stucco.

If I were to guess, I'd say at least 95%+ of the NFL players have some type of pre-game habit/ritual or superstition. For some, they really believe it works, for others it's a comfort thing. Sort of like playing at home vs. away; the more routine and familiarity you have, the less distracted you will be.

So what's your pre-big event or pre-game ritual? As a kid in Pop-Warner or high school, mine were simple. I ate the same meals before games and put my knee/thigh pads in my game pants in a specific order. What a goof ball I was! I could have gotten a scholarship to USC if I'd put the left knee pad in first.

When asking local high school kids their specific rituals, I was amazed at what I heard. Some wore the same under-the-pad T-shirt throughout the year. Oh, I forgot, they don't wash it either. Some listen to the same song right before kickoff. Others have a certain ankle taped first, etc. What neophytes! It's all about the correct blueberry syrup!

As I evolved, the rituals evolved to less superstition and more into comfort. I'd still eat the same stuff but now I'd get to the stadium at 9 a.m. for a 1:00 p.m.game. At the stadium I'd take a shower, shave and get taped. What, you don't think it was logical to want to get cleaned up and spotless right before I was to get muddy, bloody and bruised? The remaining 3-plus hours were spent on playing certain mind games, in order to work myself into an emotional frenzy.

Even today, I remember how the shower routine became a must. I was in college and it was just before the spring game. It's a huge game to perform well in, if you're thinking about earning a starting spot in the Fall. Anyway, I had a great game and became the starter. Ta-da! The pre-game shower was set in stone for the next 12 years.

The year we won the Super Bowl, one of my coaches had started a routine and just happened to include me in it. Somehow, we were both eating pre-game meal at the same time every Sunday morning. The more and more we won, the more and more he would make sure I was there in the morning. Part of his ritual was to always eat a big filet mignon, topped with one of the largest globs of butter you've ever seen. Even today, if I'm really quiet, I can still hear the sound of his arteries hardening.

Some guys needed to stop by their house to visit the wife. Others just had to speak with their kids via the phone; others had to go home for a hug right before battle. Regardless of player's quirks, almost all of us accompanied our days with prayer. It's amazing how there are so very few atheists, just before entering the fox hole.

I really enjoyed seeing some of the NFL greats go through their routines. The Hogs, or offensive linemen, led by Russ Grimm and Joe Jacoby, would always lumber on the plane, toting an ice chest with two cases of beer for the trip. If you asked them, I'm sure they'll deny any superstitions and go for old reliable, "fluid replacement."

On away trips, I even had a head coach require that the bus take the entire team over to the stadium, just to walk on the field. When asking one of the older vets why the coach made us go through this major waste of time, he pointed to the corner of the stadium. To my amazement, there was my head coach, relieving himself on the corner of the turf/field. His ritual, similar to my Great Dane Kramer's, was to mark this territory as his. His goal, in its animalistic simplicity, was to take an away game, and turn it into a home game, in less than one minute. So, on every away game from then on, I would always look for his routine. Besides knowing where not to stretch, at least I could time when to start heading to the bus.

I think the one that has stuck in my mind, was a time I just happened to interfere with one of my teammate's rituals. Saturday night before the game, we always had a brief walk-through at Redskin Park. After the walk through I asked one of my close friends if I could catch a ride back to the hotel. Though it was only two miles away, he looked at me like I was crazy and said, "I've never done that before." "Never done what, had a human being in your car before?" After a few uncomfortable minutes, this All-Pro friend of mine said, "Sure, jump on in." The next day all went as planned, except for his dreaded knee deciding to hyperextend. As he was carted off the field on a stretcher, I saw him scanning the sidelines for the scum bag that he thought "caused" the injury--me. As he's rolled away he finds me, we make eye contact. He points and says, "I told you, I'll never do it again!" Needless to say, after the game and after he cooled down, I had to tell him about the value of butter and a killer steak.