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15 Weird Athlete Quirks and Rituals

by: Howard Cosmell On  Friday, August 5, 2011

Most sports fans fantasize about being pro athletes—usually because we’d love to be rich and date models and whatnot, but sometimes just because playing sports for a living sounds better than whatever lame job we have. However, what we sometimes forget is that it takes a lot of hard work and dedication for the pros to get where they are. And all the strain and stress of competition can sometimes knock a few screws loose in the old noggin, which would explain why some athletes develop strange game-related habits, ticks, and rituals. Here, in order to remind you that being a rich pro athlete does not come without drawbacks, we present 15 of the most interesting quirks and superstitions ever exhibited by professional athletes, from the slightly unusual to the utterly bizarre.

15. John Henderson (NFL)

We start out with a pre-game ritual that would seem pretty bizarre if we weren’t talking about an NFL player. Back when he used to play for the Jacksonville Jaguars, gargantuan (6’7”, 335 lb) defensive tackle John Henderson would have assistant team trainer Joe Sheehan slap him across the face as hard as he could. Henderson liked to get pumped up by getting the first hit of the game out of the way before he even stepped out onto the field. Of course, now that he plays for the Oakland Raiders, Henderson must have someone else slap him across the face.

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14. Bruce Gardiner (NHL)

In Bruce Gardiner’s modest 5-year NHL career he was more famous for something he did off the ice than anything he ever did on it. During his rookie season with the Ottawa Senators back in 1996, Gardiner asked veteran teammate Tom Chorske for advice about breaking out of a scoring slump. Chorske told him he was treating his stick too well and needed to show it who’s boss. So, like a high school bully, Gardiner began dunking his stick blade in the locker room toilette before each game. If any players ever came down with Hep C a few days after getting high-sticked by old Bruce, now you know why.

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13. Michael Jordan (NBA)

The greatest basketball player who ever lived had a couple of minor quirks and superstitions. The most famous, of course, is the way he would stick his tongue out when going in for a monster jam. Perhaps lesser known to more casual fans is the fact that MJ liked to wear the shorts from his college basketball team—the North Carolina Tar Heels—underneath his Chicago Bulls shorts. In fact, this led him to request longer shorts from Bulls equipment managers, which in turn began the shift from those short shorts everyone used to wear to oversized trunks players wear today.

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12. Serena Williams (Tennis)

Kanye’s psychic may have told him that “the one” would have an ass like Serena, but something tells me the temperamental rapper would find this tennis superstar to be a little high maintenance. Also, possibly kind of smelly: Ms. Williams will sometimes wear the same pair of socks for an entire tournament. That is in addition to other unusual superstitious rituals, such as bringing her shower sandals to the court, tying her shoe laces a specific way, and bouncing the ball a specific number of times at specific moments during a match (five times before a first serve, two times before a second serve).

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11. Goran Ivanisevic (Tennis)

Serena Williams certainly isn’t the only tennis player to adopt interesting rituals during big tournaments. 2001 Wimbledon champ Goran Ivanisevic was known for his legendary serve, but he was also extremely superstitious. During a match, he would always make sure to be the second person to get up from his chair during a change over. Then, like athletes in other sports, he made sure not to step on any of the lines while walking back onto the court. Between matches, Goran got even weirder. The day after a victory he would do everything exactly the way he did it the day before—which included wearing the same clothes, eating the same food, and talking to the same people.

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10. Jason Kidd (NBA)

Jason Kidd used to blow a kiss to his super hot wife, Joumana, before every free-throw. Cute, right? Well, after an extremely messy divorce, Joumana is now Kidd’s ex-wife. So he has adjusted his ritual accordingly. He still blows a kiss to Joumana, of course, but not before wiping his fingers on his ass. Now that’s contempt.

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9. All of NASCAR

NASCAR drivers have a number of odd superstitions. One every serious fan probably knows already is that green cars are considered bad luck. But did you also know that drivers refuse to carry $50 bills for some reason? And here is the weirdest one of all: there are absolutely no peanut shells allowed on or anywhere near the track. To clarify, the nuts themselves are fine. Just no shells.

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8. Pelle Lindbergh (NHL)

You have to have a couple screws loose to stand in front of a piece of frozen rubber flying at 100 mph. So it should be no surprise that an NHL goalie is on this list. In fact, you could probably fill the whole thing with NHL goalies; however, that would get a little boring, so we’ll just stick with the most famous puck-stopping weirdo. And that would be Pelle Lindbergh, goalie for the Philadelphia Flyers in the early ‘80s. The Swede would always wear the same orange t-shirt from a Swedish sporting goods company under his equipment. When it starting to fall apart, he had someone sew it back up. Even quirkier, between periods the only thing the netminder would only drink was a Swedish beverage called Pripps. It had to be served to him by a specific team trainer, in a cup, with exactly two ice cubs.

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7. Mike Bibby (NBA)

NBA point guard Mike Bibby used to obsessively pick at his fingernails while sitting on the bench during games. Then one day he discovered something even better: clipping his fingernails. On the bench. During the game. In fact, this compulsive quirk has gotten so out of hand that even when he is in the game, if a time out is called, he has a trainer standing by, ready to hand him some clippers so he can go to work while the coach goes over strategy. Good thing they have those dudes who come out and dust mop the floor during breaks in the action.

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6. Jason Terry (NBA)

Jason Terry’s most apparent ritual has to do with his socks—specifically, he wears 5 pairs, all of them pulled up to his knees. Stranger still, the night before a game, Terry wears the shorts of the opposing team to bed. Or he tries to, anyway. He has lots of connections with players and trainers throughout the league, but he still can’t always come up with a pair for every team. For example, during the 2006 NBA finals with the Dallas Mavericks, Terry couldn’t get his hands on any Miami Heat trunks. Surely it is no coincidence that Terry’s Mavericks lost the series.

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5. Moises Alou (MLB)

Moises Alou is perhaps most famous for the hissy fit he threw after poor Chicago Cubs fan Steve Bartman interfered with his catching a foul ball out in left field during the 2003 NLCS. That’s a good thing for Alou, since otherwise he would probably be known for his belief that peeing on his own hands was a great way to avoid calluses and harden the skin. Yep, you read that right. Throughout his career, Moises, who didn’t like using batting gloves, would piss on his hands to get them game ready.

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4. Caron Butler (NBA)

Caron Butler used to “Do the Dew” before and during every game, chugging an entire two-liter bottle of the fluorescent elixir to get himself hopped up on sugar and caffein. The Washington Wizards put the kibosh on that, however, figuring that they should make sure the guys they pay millions of dollars to play basketball stay as healthy as possible. However, it wasn’t the Wizards who outlawed Butler’s most insane quirk. No, it was the league that stepped in and said Butler would no longer be allowed to chew drinking straws during games. You see, for some reason, Butler preferred chewing the straws over gum and would grab handfuls at a time from fast food joints.

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3. Wade Boggs (MLB)

Hall of Fame third basemen Wade Boggs acquired the nickname “Chicken Man” during his career because he ate chicken before every single game. But that wasn’t his only ritual. Boggs took exactly 150 ground balls during infield practice, and always entered the batting cage at exactly 5:17 p.m. during batting practice. Then, at exactly 7:17 p.m., he would do wind sprints. Also, during the game, between pitches when on defense, Boggs would swipe the dirt in front of him with his left foot—always the left—then tap his glove two or three times and adjust his cap. When coming to the plate, just before stepping into the batters box, Boggs—who is not Jewish—would right the Hebrew word “Chai” (which means “life”) into the dirt.

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2. Kevin Rhomberg (MLB)

Kevin Rhomberg played only 41 games in the big leagues from 1982-84, but he made one hell of an impression. The Cleveland Indians outfielder is considered the most superstitious guy to ever play the game. One of his quirks was that, if anyone touched him—player, umpire, coach, whoever—he had to touch them back. So, if he was tagged while sliding into a base, he would wait until the end of the inning to chase down the defender leaving the field so he could touch him back. Even more bizarre, the man would never turn right. Rhomberg’s reasoning went something like this: since you only turn left on the base path, you will jinx yourself if you ever turn right. So what would the outfielder do if he had to go to his right to make a play? He would spin in a circle, obviously. Just like Derek Zoolander.

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1. Turn Wendell (MLB)

Let’s begin with the lesser of Wendell’s quirks. The major league pitcher would always draw three crosses in the dirt on the pitcher’s mound, and he insisted all figures in his contracts ended in 99 so as to match his jersey number. Now, those things aren’t so bad, right? Well, it gets weirder. An avid hunter, Wendell always made sure he wore trophies from his exotic kills when he pitched. That meant wearing things like mountain lion claws and wild boar teeth on strings around his neck. Okay, that’s a little creepy, isn’t it? Well how about this: while pitching, Wendell always had 4 pieces of hard licorice candy in his mouth. After every single inning, the nutball would sprint to the dugout—leaping over the foul line, of course—and brush his teeth. When it was time to head back out to the mound, he’d pop 4 more pieces of candy into his mouth, and the cycle would begin again. And you thought the guy in the cubicle next to you was weird just because takes his shoes and socks off after lunch.

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