Superstitious Routines of 29 Extraordinary Athletes

Raw talent aside, these superstitious professional athletes don't like leaving things to chance.

We'd be the first to admit that consistency is key. Whether it's a pre-game ritual or a special dribble before shooting a free throw, muscle memory is pretty powerful. As much as a reliable routine (or maybe a special hat left unwashed, as worn by baseball players Steve Kline or Steve Wetteland) can solidify your game, many successful pro athletes have taken things a step further, and perhaps a bit too seriously in some cases.

But we'll let you be the judge. The following athletes are known for their curious routines and peculiar superstitions. To each his own...

Eating/drinking rituals die hard...

Lyoto Machida

Lyoto Machida fights Dan Henderson in a UFC bout. Photo: Thinkstock

1. Brian Urlacher

Retired Chicago Bears linebacker chowed down on two chocolate chip cookies before every game. Urlacher was an eight-time Pro Bowler, four-time All-Pro, and had 1,353 career tackles, the most in Bears history. Two cookies a day keeps the touchdowns away?

2. Caron Butler

The NBA forward used to down a 2-liter bottle of sugary soda—Mountain Dew to be exact—which has a tremendous amount of caffeine, before and during every game (half before and half during half time.) When he was with the Washington Wizards, the team eventually made him break the habit and drink more water instead. Funnily enough, coach Eddie Jordan nicknamed Butler "Tough Juice" for his aggressive style of play.

3. Stephane Lebeau

This former hockey center would chew 20-25 pieces of gum before a game and then spit them out exactly two minutes before face-off.

Lebeau managed 15 goals and 35 points in his rookie season, and in 1992-1993 he scored 80 points, his best year, during which his Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup.

4. Lyoto Machida

Former UFC Light-Heavyweight Champion and Japanese Brazilian mixed martial artist Lyoto Machida apparently drinks his own urine every morning, believing it is a natural medicine that cleanses the body. As of late, his all-time professional record is 21 wins, 5 losses.

5. Wade Boggs

The fact that Wade Boggs's teammates called him "Chicken Man" because he had to eat chicken before every game is just the tip of the iceberg for the former Red Sox star.

Boggs swore by all of his routines, which included taking batting practice at 5:17 p.m., running sprints at 7:17, and fielding exactly 150 ground balls during infield practice. When he took his position, or left his position in the field, he had to cover all three bases in a very specific way, step on the baseline and hit the coaches box on his way to and from the dugout. Before coming up to hit, Boggs would draw the word "Chai" in the dirt with his bat. 

With 12 straight All-Star appearances, Boggs is also an eight-time Silver Slugger Award winner, five-time American League batting champion and two-time Gold Glove winner.

The Biter and the Beard...

Bjorn Borg

Bjorn Borg wins his 5th consecutive Wimbledon Championship. Photo: AP Images

6. Bjorn Borg

Five-time Wimbledon champion and six-time French Open winner Bjorn Borg earned the name "Ice-Borg" for his cool confidence under pressure. Borg would grow a beard before every tournament and wear the same Fila shirt. After retiring in 1983 at just 27 years old, Borg attempted a comeback in the early 90's, but his "lucky beard" was not so lucky anymore.

7. Mike Bibby

NBA point guard Mike Bibby tended to chew and bite his nails while on the bench (LeBron's predecessor in that sense), but at some point switched to using fingernail clippers. The clippers became a necessity; someone would hand them to him during timeouts as he came off the floor.

'Uniform' Does The Trick...

Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods competes at The Barclays at Liberty National Golf Club. Photo: Thinkstock

8. Tiger Woods

Each Sunday for a tournament, Woods dons a red shirt, possibly as a tribute to his alma mater, Stanford University. But in an interview with David Letterman, Woods revealed he wears red because his mother told him as a child that he can harness the most amount of power when wearing red, the color of his Capricorn sign. 

9. Michael Jordan

The legendary Michael Jordan consistently wore his University of North Carolina shorts under his uniform before and during games. In order to cover his lucky pair, in which he led UNC to a national championship in 1982, he began to wear longer shorts.

10. Moises Alou

Considered a 5-tool player, Moises Alou didn't wear batting gloves for all 17 seasons of his MLB career.  He actually urinated on his hands to prevent calluses, which in reality, is more likely to soften your skin.

11. Pelle Lindbergh

Swedish hockey goalie Pelle Lindbergh was a devotee of a very particular orange t-shirt from a Swedish sporting goods company, so much so that he even had it resewn after it began falling apart. He wore it beneath his jersey and equipment for each game. Lindbergh also was particular about his beverages, only drinking Pripps (a Swedish drink) with exactly two ice cubes during games. He was the first goalie to bring a water bottle with him onto the ice.

Lindbergh led the NHL in the 1984-85 season with 40 victories, but he died tragically in a car crash later that year.

12. Jason Terry

Eating chicken before games and wearing knee socks as a tribute to his father are two parts of Sacramento Kings guard Jason Terry's routine. In college at Arizona, Terry wore his uniform shorts to bed on nights before games. Somewhere along the line when he turned pro, he decided he needed to sleep in the opposing team's shorts.

Terry won Sixth Man of the Year Award in 2009.

13. Serena Williams

Serena Williams must lace up her shoes in a very specific way. She also wears the same pair of socks in each tournament run, and must always use the same shower for each location and bring her shower sandals to the court.

Williams always bounces the ball five times before her first serve, and twice before her second. As amazing as Williams is at her game, she has attributed losses directly to not having followed her routine precisely enough.

14. Jason Giambi

Whenever the 6-foot-3 first baseman finds himself in a hitting slump, he slips on his golden thong before playing. Oddly enough, the trick worked for him quite a few times, and a few of his teammates borrowed his bikini bottoms to break out of their own funks.

Giambi was the American League MVP in 2000, and he's a five-time All-Star.

15. Steve Finley/Darin Erstad

Retired baseball players Steve Finley, who played in the MLB for 19 years, and teammate Darin Erstad, used to don mineral pouches around their necks to improve performance and ward off injuries and "harmful external energy intruders," said Finley in 2005. At least it's healthier than steroids.

Finley hit 77 home runs and drove in 250 runs in the 5 years after he started wearing the pouch.

16. Wayne Gretzky

"The Great One" put his uniform on the exact same way every time—left shin pad, left stocking, right shin pad, right stocking, then breezers (pants), left skate, right skate, shoulder pads, elbow pads (left then right), and finally the jersey, right side tucked into his pants. Gretzy would also cover the blade of his stick in baby powder.

Purely Primal...

17. Manny Pacquiao

Boxing champion Manny Pacquiao refuses to submit to a blood test on the day of a fight, because he feels it will weaken him.

Pacquiao currently has 56 wins, 5 losses, and 2 draws.

18. Sergio Goycochea

Before every penalty kick taken against him, former Argentinian goalkeeper Sergio Goycochea urinated in or near the goal on the field—in front of the TV cameras and fans—calling the action his "lucky charm."

Goyochea is indeed, best known for his penalty-kick saves.

19. Vladimir Guerrero

Guys like Guerrero would put their helmet on the dugout floor at the beginning of the season and have all his teammates spit in it...for luck?

Guerrero had a long career in the MLB, playing in the All-Star game five times, winning the Silver Slugger Award eight times, clocking in at a .318 career batting average with 2,590 hits, 449 home runs and 1,496 RBIs.

20. John Henderson

The 6-foot-7, 335-pound defensive tackle, when with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2003, elected to have team trainer Joe Sheehan slap him open-handed hard across the face before competition. Check out the video above to see for yourself.

A two-time Pro Bowler, Henderson ended his 10-year pro career with 493 tackles and 29 sacks.

All about the numbers...

Larry Walker

Larry Walker hits a home run for the Colorado Rockies. Photo: Twitter

21. Larry Walker

Former outfielder Larry Walker repped the number 3 hard. Besides his jersey number 33, he sets his clock to 33 minutes past the hour. One of his contracts was reportedly worth $3,333,333.33. 

A five-time All-Star and seven-time Gold Glove Award winner, Walker batted a career average of .313 and hit 383 home runs.

22. Turk Wendell

Former N.Y. Mets player Turk Wendall's list of superstitions begins with his necklace of sharp animal teeth, from animals he apparently hunted and killed. He requested for his salary to end in "99," to match his jersey number, and he would leap over the baseline on his way to the field and write things in the dirt. And the clincher for the relief pitcher? Wendell religiously chewed exactly four pieces of black licorice while on the mound and brushed his teeth between innings.

Wendell also had an interesting dynamic going with his catcher; when the catcher stood, Wendell crouched down.

Wendell finished his career with 36 wins and 34 losses with an ERA of 3.93 and 515 strikeouts.

Keep your equipment close…

Sidney Crosby

Sidney Crosby in the Pittsburgh Penguins locker room during a post-game interview. Photo: AP Images

23. Wily Mo Pena

Power hitter Wily Mo Pena used to slather pine tar on his bat, bite it and kiss it before stepping up to the plate. His home runs were of the "Outta Here" variety, but the 6-foot-5 and nearly 300-pound outfielder had a fairly high strikeout rate.

24. Bruce Gardiner

Former NHL player Bruce Gardiner took the advice of his teammate Tom Chorske, who told him that he was taking care of his stick too well and needed to "teach the wood to respect him." Gardiner began sticking the blade of his stick in the locker room toilet and went on a scoring streak.

During his seven seasons in the NHL, Gardiner had 88 points, and he scored the first goal in Columbus Blue Jackets history.

25. Sidney Crosby

"The Kid" wears No. 87 for his birth year and a sweat-stained hat after every practice and game. Crosby must tape his stick himself a particular way and will re-tape it if someone else touches it. He sometimes requests the opposing or host team's tape. During pre-game warm-up, with 5:00 left, Crosby will skate to center ice and retie his skates, starting with his right foot.

The No. 1 overall pick in 2005, Crosby led the NHL in scoring in his second year with 120 points (36 goals, 84 assists.) With two Olympic gold medals under his belt, Crosby was the youngest player (at age 19) to record 200 career points.

26. Richie Ashburn

The six-time All-Star and two-time National League batting champion was a singles hitter rather than a slugger, accumulating over 2,500 hits in 15 years against only 29 home runs. How did he do it? Ashburn often slept with his bat, wrapped in his arms.

27. Mark Fidrych

Many pitchers lick their fingers or spit on the ball before gripping it with their hands, but Detroit Tigers sensation Mark Fidrych became known for chatting with the ball between pitches.

In 1976, "The Bird" led the major leagues with a 2.34 ERA, won the AL Rookie of the Year award, and finished with a 19–9 record. Shortly after, he got injured several times and his career ended after five seasons.

28. Patrick Roy

Patrick Roy started talking to goalposts by accident, or so he says, during the national anthem one game. He played a good game apparently, and a shot hit one of the posts in overtime. From then on, he kept them as his "friends." Before every game, Roy would skate backwards toward the net before turning around right before the goal, a motion that he believed would help the goal shrink.

Roy is generally regarded as one of the greatest goalies of all time, winner of four Stanley Cups, and he is widely credited for the "butterfly" style of goaltending.

A league of his own...

Kevin Rhomberg

Kevin Rhomberg's trading card. Photo: www.mentalfloss.com

29. Kevin Rhomberg

Playing only 41 games with the Cleveland Indians in 1982 and finishing with a .333 batting average, Kevin Rhomberg is really only remembered because of his compulsive need to touch someone back if they touched him first. If he was tagged while running the bases, he'd chase down the player who touched him, if not then, then at the end of the inning.

His teammates loved nothing more than to touch him and run away. An umpire had to stop a game because Yankees players wouldn't stop touching him. One time, pitcher Rick Sutcliffe reached under the bathroom stall to poke Rhomberg on the toe. Not knowing who it was, Rhomberg proceeded to touch every player on the team. Third baseman Brook Jacoby said he tagged Rhomberg once with a ball in the minors and then threw the ball out of the stadium. Rhomberg allegedly spent two hours looking for the ball before finding it.

As if that isn't enough, Rhomberg refused to make right turns, on the premise that base runners always turn to the left. He pulled a Zoolander when in need, making a full circle to the left to change direction.


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock