Call it superstition. A ritual. A routine, or whatever else you like. All Stephen Weatherly knows is it’s an absolute must on game day.
“As soon as I come out of the tunnel right before the game, I run to the opposite 25-yard line,” the Vikings defensive end said. “I kneel down and I say the Lord’s Prayer. Then I go down to the end zone, right next to the right pylon, and I write my mom’s and my grandma’s names in the end zone.”
After he’s written Carla and Dianna, Weatherly goes to his usual spot on the sideline for the national anthem.
“And then,” he said, “I’m ready to play some ball.”
Many NFL players are creatures of habit. Especially on game day.
“I don’t know if it’s superstition or routine,” receiver Adam Thielen said. “I do eat the same breakfast: three scrambled eggs and a protein shake. When I go on the field, I do the same types of catches to get my hands confident. Run the same routes. Stuff like that.”
Some players are louder and more outgoing. Others, like defensive end Danielle Hunter, quietly close their eyes and ears to the world.
“Thirty minutes before we go out, I always sit at my locker, eyes closed and visualize myself making plays,” Hunter said. “I picture the other team’s probabilities, the downs and distances, and myself making big plays against that.”
As for his pregame meal, the large Hunter eats little.
“Probably nuts or something like that,” Hunter said. “Eating slows me down.”
Then there’s long-snapper Kevin McDermott.
“Four hours before kickoff, whether it’s noon or 7 p.m., I eat a steak, a chicken breast, plain pasta and broccoli,” he said. “Always. Without fail.”
Backup center Brett Jones’ routine is he has no routine.
“When you’ve bounced around in the NFL and the CFL like I have,” he said, “you become flexible.”
Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson has a fear of developing a superstition.
“If I feel like eating, I eat; if I don’t feel like eating, I won’t,” he said. “No favorite song. None of that. What happens if for some reason you can’t do whatever the superstition is? I don’t want to go out and play bad and be already defeated because of that. You know what I mean?”
Fellow defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson would beg to differ.
“I have to listen to the same song,” he said.
What song, a, um, slightly older reporter asked.
“It’s by Young Thug,” he said. “It’s called Big Racks. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that?”
“I play that song every game day as soon as I wake up and on the way to the stadium, and right when I’m going to warm up,” Johnson said. “It just gets my mind right.”
At 34, defensive tackle Tom Johnson is 10 years older than Jaleel. His view on superstitions has changed with age.
“I used to do a lot of that stuff because you’d see the older guys doing them,” Tom Johnson said. “Things like, ‘I got to put my shoes on a certain way. My jacket on the same way. Do everything in the same order.’ I don’t bother with that stuff anymore.”
Several players kneel in prayer before kickoff.
“I do the sign of the cross and thank the Lord for giving me the opportunity to play this game,” safety George Iloka said. “And then I pray for safety for both teams.”
Some players have superstitions they’d rather not share.
“I don’t have anything too big,” safety Harrison Smith said. “But I got my little quirks I like to keep to myself.”
Weatherly, on the other hand, doesn’t mind if fans reading this now know what he’s doing before games as he kneels next to the pylon in the end zone.
“It just refocuses me,” he said. “Reminds me why I play the game. I do it for them. I want to make them proud. So, every time I step on the field, I’m going to do it.”
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org