Athletes are a strange bunch, sometimes. The average sports season is a long grind, and those guys are basically stuck with the same group of 15-to-55 players (depending on the sport) for almost all of their time. So it’s no wonder that they start to get a little stir-crazy and come up with some strange superstitions over the course of their careers.
Superstitions come in all shapes and sizes, whether it’s a pre-game meal or a preparation ritual. Some of them are pretty standard, like baseball players not stepping on the foul lines when they walk on and off the field or a goalkeeper thanking his posts for being in the right place at the right time to prevent a goal (spoiler alert: the posts never actually move).
The superstitions on this list, however, are anything but ordinary. They range from kind of weird, to freaking gross, all the way to downright bizarre.
John Henderson Wants To Be Slapped
John Henderson was 6’7″ and 335-pounds of raw defensive tackle. He played ten seasons in the NFL, most of them for the Jacksonville Jaguars before a brief stay with the Oakland Raiders before he retired in 2011. By all accounts, Henderson was not a man you would want to start a fight with. And yet, before every single game of his career, he would ask — or demand — that an assistant trainer give him a big ol’ open hand slap across the face. He claimed that the sudden jolt of adrenaline provided by the slap was everything he needed to get psyched up for the game.
Wade Boggs Loves Chicken
Wade Boggs only hit below .300 in three seasons of his impressive 18 years in the Big Leagues. When he retired, he finished his career with a .325 batting average, one of the best in history. If you ask Boggs, he’ll tell you what during his rookie year he noticed a strange trend. Whenever he ate chicken before a game, he simply played better. So he quickly decided that chicken would be his pre-game meal. Every game. For almost every single one of his 2,440 MLB appearances. There’s even a story that his wife was basically forced to learn dozens of different chicken recipes in order to keep things interesting in the kitchen.
Don’t Cross The Mound
Baseball players are probably the most superstitious bunch, generally speaking. And of all the baseball players, pitchers may be the worst. They tend to have any number of habits, routines, and good luck tokens in place to keep them in the right groove, lest they suffer from a drop in performance and find themselves out of a job. One of the most enduring superstitions for MLB pitchers is that no opposing player should cross the mound (typically on their way back to the dugout after being thrown out).
In 2010, the well-hated Yankee mercenary Alex Rodriguez crossed the mound while Dallas Braden was pitching for the Oakland A’s. Lots of yelling and profanity ensued. However, that was the exception. Most outfield players also avoid the mound, in fear that being in an unwanted space might curse them with a slump of their own.
Brian Urlacher is the Cookie Monster
For 13 years in the NFL, Brian Urlacher was a hard-hitting linebacker for the Chicago Bears. While some might claim his successes (NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2000, Defensive Player of the Year in 2005, and eight Pro Bowl selections) were the result of hard work, excellent preparation, and incredible determination, the real reason is much more obvious. Before every single game of his career, Urlacher would down a pair of chocolate chip cookies. While there are rumors that he would sub in a different type of cookie if chocolate chip wasn’t available, the number never changed. Two cookies. No more, no less. It obviously worked.
Daniel Briere Lets His Stick Have a Nap
Daniel Briere was a small guy with big talent. The 5’9″ Quebec native had a 17-year career in pro hockey and scored hundreds of goals during it. But Briere had a weird superstition when it came to his sticks. Unlike most pros, who generally continue using the same stick during a hot streak, Briere would actually stop using a stick if he played particularly well with it. His reasoning? That stick deserved a little rest for all its hard work. After a brief day or two off, the hot stick would rejoin Briere’s roster of twigs.
Tiger’s Red Shirt
Before Tiger Woods became tabloid fodder and “just another guy” on the PGA Tour (when his numerous injuries actually allow him to swing a club, that is), he was probably the most feared guy in the history of golf. If Tiger was in the lead (or close to it) on Sunday, everyone else in contention basically packed up shop and called it a day. All those Sunday victories had some thing in common — Tiger walking up the fairway on No. 18, victory within his grasp, wearing a trademark red shirt. When asked about it in an interview, he claimed his mother told him that wearing red would cause his powers to be at their highest, since he is a Capricorn. Not sure if we believe in the power of astrology when it comes to winning majors, but Tiger’s lucky red shirt worked plenty of times over the years.
Kevin Rhomberg Doesn’t Turn Right (Or Want To Be Touched)
Kevin Rhomberg barely existed in the Majors, making his first appearance for the Cleveland Indians in 1982 and his last appearance just two years later. His playing career has a unique legacy, though, if only his incredibly strange superstitions. First of all, he refused to turn to his right when walking anywhere, preferring to only turn left even if it meant basically doing a full spin. His reasoning was that you never turn right on the base paths, so why bother in real life?
Even stranger was his compulsion for touching. If anyone (or anything) touched him, he had to touch it back and get the “last touch.” Teammates found this out and pranked him endlessly, including touching him with a ball and then throwing it into the stands (he spent two hours tracking it down and touching it back) and reaching under a bathroom stall to touch his toe (he then touched every person in the clubhouse, just to make sure). If for some reason he couldn’t get his touch back, he would mail the original offender a letter that simple said “This constitutes a touch.”
Ecuadorean Witch Doctor
Ecuador is a small South American country, with a population of roughly 16 million people. Like most countries in South America, soccer is the sport of choice for many athletes there. And although the Ecuadorean National Team has never won anything on a global stage, unable to compete with the likes of Brazil, Argentina, and the European powerhouses, they have qualified for three out of the last four FIFA World Cups.
Before the 2006 tournament in Germany, the team actually sent a witch doctor (more respectively referred to as a mystic) to all 12 stadiums in order to drive out evil spirits that would derail the country’s quest for a World Cup victory. Did it work? Well, no. Italy beat France in a final most remembered for Zinedine Zidane’s headbutt. But Ecuador did escape a group that had Germany, Poland, and Costa Rica in it, winning two of their first three games. Not bad, really.
Serena Williams Stinky Socks
Serena Williams is, easily, the greatest female tennis players to ever live. Her 23 Grand Slam titles (so far) are already a ridiculous feat, and she even won her last one (the 2017 Australian Open) while she was eight-weeks pregnant with her first child. Her dominance on the court comes with a particularly smelly superstition. Williams has stated that when she gets on a roll in a tournament (which is almost everyone tournament she plays in), she sticks with the same pair of socks for the whole thing. A major tournament like Wimbledon can run for two weeks, so that’s a long time between breaking out of a fresh pair of socks!
It’s unclear whether Serena will return to the tennis tour now that she’s becoming a mother, but hopefully she’ll try to keep up on the laundry!
Caron Butler Does the Dew
It’s scientifically proven that water is the best thing to drink before, during, or after intense moments of athletic activity. All the marketing for those other sports drinks can take a hike. But NBA journeyman Caron Butler had his own unique beverage routine that involved probably the worst option for quenching thirst. Before every game he played in the NBA, Butler would polish off a litre of Mountain Dew, the neon-green highly caffeinated soda usually associated with more extreme sports. If that wasn’t bad enough, Butler would down another liter at halftime. It worked, though. Butler was a two-time NBA All-Star and won a championship as a member of the Dallas Mavericks in 2011.
Mike Bibby Toenail Clipping During Timeouts
Former NBA point guard Mike Bibby seemed to have some sort of nervous disorder during his time in the league. Bibby was often seen biting his nails anytime he was on the bench, even chowing down on his finger tips during time outs! It got so bad that even his teammates were a little worried (and plenty grossed out). After a while, someone figured out a solution. For most of his career, whenever Bibby came to bench, an assistant or trainer would hand him a pair of nail clippers, allowing him to get to work on his manicuring habits while still focusing his coach’s instructions.
Moises Alou Gets Tough
Former MLB outfielder Moises Alou, most fondly remember for his time with the Expos and the Cubs (although he also won a World Series with the Florida Marlins in 1997), was one of the very few pro ball players who never bothered to wear batting gloves at the plate. Over a 17-year career, that a lot of wear and tear on his poor hands. But Alou claimed to have a secret method to toughen up his skin. It’s pretty gross, but Alou claimed that he urinated on his hands in order to toughen them up. We have no idea if that’s a scientifically sound method, but Alou finished his career with a .303 batting average, 332 home runs, and six All-Star appearances, so we’re not gonna knock it.
Chicago Cub Curses
The Chicago Cubs finally broke a 108-year championship drought when they came back from being down three games to one in the 2017 World Series, triumphing over the Cleveland Indians in extra innings of Game 7. Before that though, extremely superstitious Cubs fans (and players too) subscribed to a number of different theories about what was cursing their beloved boys in blue.
The Curse of the Billy Goat began in 1945 when stadium staff booted out a local bar owner who had (for some unknown reason) brought his goat to Wrigley Field to catch a game. After being ejected from the game, he apparently cursed the Cubbies to lose forever.
In 1969, the Cubs were in a tight divisional race in the last few weeks of the season. During a critical game against the Mets, a black cat appeared in the stadium and walked past the Chicago dugout. The Cubs lost the game and eventually the division, while the Mets would go on to win the World Series. The Curse of the Black Cat was born.
Finally, in 2003, the Cubs were in Game 6 of the NLCS against the Marlins, up three games to two. They were winning the game 3-0 and just five outs away an appearance in the World Series. Then Steve Bartman happened. The Marlins put up eight runs in the eighth inning, win Game 6, and went on to win Game 7 too. Bartman remains persona not grata in Chicago to this day, even after the curses were all broken in 2017.
Laurent Blanc’s Good Luck Kiss
France had never won a World Cup when it hosted the massive soccer championship in 1998. Then, for one magical month, Les Bleus captured the hearts of their home nation, as strong performances from the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Lilian Thuram, and Laurent Blanc propelled them to World Cup glory.
One of the most enduring images from that World Cup was Blanc’s lucky pregame ritual. Before kickoff of every game, the French defender would walk up to his goaltender Fabian Barthez and plant a big ol’ kiss on the top of Barthez’s bald head. A little man-on-man kissing is a strange thing to see on the soccer field, but when a good luck charm is working, you don’t stop!
Larry Walker Loves The Number 3
Plenty of athletes have a special attachment to their number. Maybe they’ve worn it since they were a kid, or wear it because of someone they once idolized. No matter the reason, no one took their uniform more seriously than Canadian baseball slugger Larry Walker. He proudly wore No. 33 while playing the Montreal Expos, the Colorado Rockies, and the St. Louis Cardinals. The number also leaked into other aspects of his life.
He set his alarm clock for 33 minutes past the hour. He once bought 33 tickets to give to charity, all in section 333. He was married on November 3, at exactly 3:33 P.M. (wouldn’t March have made more sense?) Finally, he had a joint donation built in to one of his contracts with the Rockies, setting aside $3,333,333.33 for children’s charities in British Columbia (his home province) and Colorado.
The Playoff Beard
We’re not exactly sure how or when this one started, but when a hockey team is making a run at the Stanley Cup, playoffs beards sprout up all over the ice. Taking it one step further is the die-hard fans who grow their own playoff beards while watching at home. Basically, the NHL goes beard crazy when the regular season ends and the playoffs begin.
The general thought is that it’s unlucky to shave in the middle of the playoffs, in case your team is suddenly struck by a bit of bad luck and ruins any hope of a championship. It’s not the only strange playoff hockey superstition either. Traditionally, teams would refuse to lift the trophies for the Conference Championships, saying the only trophy worth lifting was the Stanley Cup itself. The Pittsburgh Penguins, however, broke that rule in 2016 and 2017, and went on to win the Cup in both years. So it’s probably bogus.
No $50 Bills in NASCAR
This superstition feels like it’s been around forever, but you won’t find a $50 bill anywhere near a NASCAR race. They are considered the epitome of bad luck in the world of stock car racing, and if you flash a Ulysses S. Grant note around the track, prepare for dirty looks, social shunning, or worse.
Legend has it that two $50 bills were found in the pocket of racer Joe Weatherby after he was killed in a crash in 1964. This story is completely unverified, but everyone in NASCAR (both drivers and fans) seems to believe it. So no matter what you do, don’t try to pay for a round of beers at Talladega with a $50.
Minnie Minoso Showers Away The Stink
Minnie Minoso played most of his career with the Chicago White Sox, and what a fine career it was. He made nine All-Star teams and won three Gold Gloves and three American League stolen base titles. But like any great baseball player, Minoso would periodically go through slumps. After one hitless day, Minoso felt he had to do something drastic to wash the stink off his game. After the final out, he walked right into the team shower in his full uniform.
The next day Minoso had three hits, and thus a superstitious tradition was born. Apparently other White Sox teammates also adopted the ritual in order to remove the stink from their own bad play.
Richie Ashburn Took Care of His Lucky Bat
Richie Ashburn was a Major League center fielder in the late 40s, 50s, and early 60s. His Hall of Fame career spanned across three different teams (Phillies, Cubs, and the Mets) and he was one of the best hitters of his day, winning the National League batting title two different times. How did he do it? Well, according to the stories, Ashburn would find a bat that felt just right and then treat it with the utmost of care. That’s all well and good, but he went way beyond normal superstition when he started taking his bat to bed with him. That’s right, Ashburn would cuddle up with his favorite bat so that it would show him love on the field of play. His .308 career batting average suggests it might have worked.
MJ’s NC Roots
Lucky for Michael Jordan that basketball fashion changed dramatically from his time in college to his rise to superstardom in the NBA, because otherwise he may have had some problems with keeping this superstition up. His Airness wore a (shorter) pair of North Carolina shorts underneath his Chicago Bulls uniform for pretty much his entire career. As we mentioned, basketball shorts in the 80s were much smaller than the longer, baggier shorts that came into fashion in the 90s, making it almost impossible for the average fan to spot the NC baby blue underneath the Bulls’ red and black.
Jordan wasn’t the only NBA player with a weird shorts-related superstition. Journeyman point guard Jason Terry started wearing the shorts of his upcoming opponent the night before games, taking the defensive term “get in his shorts!” to a whole new level.
A Big No-No When it Comes to No-Nos
More baseball pitcher weirdness, here. Accomplishing a no-hitter is a rare feat, and there’s a longstanding superstition in baseball that when a pitcher is in the midst of a no-no (or even rarer, a perfect game), everyone basically leaves him the hell alone. He will sit along in the dugout between innings, and no teammate will even look in his direction. No only that, but fans and broadcasters are generally banned from even uttering the words “no-hitter” in case they jinx the whole damn thing. They can say it a number of other ways, but saying “no-hitter” during a potential no-hitter is the ultimate baseball sin.
Jason Giambi’s Gold Thong
This is a particularly gross superstition that was thankfully short-lived. Jason Giambi was a fantastic power hitter when playing for the Yankees, but not the kind of person you wanted to picture in any state of undress. Which is why it was so disturbing when rumors started to leak out that Giambi had taken a very strange approach to breaking out of a slump at the plate.
Apparently, Giambi had a metallic gold pair of thong underwear that he would wear under his baseball pants when he was struggling for a hit. Everything about that sentence is wrong and if you need to go have a shower to wash off the theoretical dirtiness you feel right now, we understand.
The Curse of the Bambino
While the Chicago Cubs may have had a longer championship drought than the Boston Red Sox, the cause of this baseball curse is arguably more famous than anything from the Windy City. The Red Sox went 86-years between World Series wins (1918-2004), and many superstitious fans believe the hex began when they sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in December of 1919. The Yankees would go on to become the most successful team in MLB history, while the Red Sox only managed four World Series appearances in the same period (losing them all).
Red Sox fans blame many instances of bad luck on the Curse of the Bambino, including the Boston Massacre in 1978, Bill Buckner’s costly error in the 1986 World Series, and Pedro Martinez’s meltdown in Game 7 of the 2003 ALDS (against the hated Yankees, no less). The Curse was finally broken when Boston won the World Series in 2004, and claimed a couple more championships in 2007 and 2013.