LONDON (CNN) – The NFL season kicks off Thursday, bringing a flurry of irrational rituals from players and fans with the power to drive a room full of scientists nuts.
That’s because bizarre activity designed to bring good luck has been operating in tandem with American football for years.
“The most superstitious people in the world are NFL players,” former New York Giants linebacker Brandon Short, who wore the same tee-shirt under his pads throughout his undefeated high school playing days, and halfway through college at Penn State, told CNN.
“Eventually I had to let it go during my sophomore year,” he admits. “We lost three games and I said, ‘Okay I have to switch up; this isn’t working anymore.’
“When you find something that works you stay with it, and it morphs over time,” adds Short, who now works in finance while living in London.
Past and present NFL players have engaged in all kinds of preparatory rituals. Former New York Jets running back Curtis Martin read the same passage from the Bible before games, while current Giants star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. puts on a show of one-handed catches, including ones made from his back while lying in the End Zone.
Former Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle John Henderson went a step further, imploring trainers to slap him across the face before stepping onto the field every Sunday.
Short would keep things simple by sticking to the same pregame meal of egg whites, before dipping into the irrational by deliberately disposing of his hotel room key-card on the way to the team bus.
How that translated to Giants wins is anyone’s guess, although Short rode the habit all the way to the 2001 Super Bowl in his rookie season.
“There were big games when I forgot to throw the key away, and I was sure that we lost simply because I forgot to throw it in the trash before the game,” he recalls.
NFL players even dictate who they allocate their game tickets to based on previous results, says Short.
“If you are on a winning streak and you invite a certain group of people to a game, you invite those same people back to the next game because they are good luck,” he says, adding that if there was a newcomer who showed up for a loss, he or she would not be invited back.
“Sports is superstition; it’s ritual,” says Short, who played five seasons with the Giants and two with the Carolina Panthers. “That’s also what practice is: You do the same stuff over and over again, and if it works then don’t change it.”
And that goes for fans too.
Ask most NFL diehards what they endure to generate good vibes on game days, and answers will vary between wearing worn-out jerseys, to arranging furniture in a certain way, to avoiding food that clashes with their team’s colors.
But it gets even weirder.
“I can’t sit; I need to stand for the entire game when I watch the Jets. I also need to hold a football,” says Ryan Packert, an environmental spray tech from Floral Park, New York. “It drives my wife nuts.”
In order to placate his vegetarian wife, Packert remembers to make her tofu nuggets each week to accompany his ritual of chicken wings.
David Lawson, a school teacher in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, makes sure he is wearing the same Dallas Cowboys jersey, along with any other items of clothing, the week after a win (although he does allow washing) — but there’s more.
“Where it gets tricky is if I’m at a bar,” he explains. “Trying to get the same booth or bar stool can be challenging. For that I recommend making friends with the bartender, using either dollars, charm, or both.”
Meanwhile, sales executive Jana Owen from Austin Texas never forgot to dress up her late five-pound Pomeranian dog Korbelle in a miniature blue Cowboys jersey before a game.
“I started dressing her in Cowboys gear when she was just eight months,” Owen said of Korbelle, who died last year in a car accident. “For a couple seasons I swore it did bring us good luck. But come on, it’s the Cowboys. Nothing gives them good luck!”
A survey showed 65% of NFL fans practice a pregame ritual that they think brings their teams good luck, according to market researcher OnePoll, with 10% percent confessing to owning lucky underwear which they stash away for games.
Most fans admit to altering something in the middle of a game to try to rally their teams back — including having sex in front of the television — while nearly 14% refuse to watch games entirely for fear of bringing their teams bad luck.
Of the 2,000 sports fans polled anonymously on behalf of restaurant chain Hooters, one man says he dated a woman he did not like in order to end his team’s losing streak. Another moved out of his apartment. Someone even drank a gallon of expired milk to bring his team good luck.
Most NFL fans also said losing puts them in a bad mood — so much so that 22% of their friends and family avoid them after a loss.
One respondent bet against his own team to try to shake off a losing streak, but that pales in comparison to the lengths fantasy team owners will do to win their leagues.
Over half of NFL fantasy league participants wake up in the middle of the night to adjust their rosters, while one in seven say they would have sex with someone in exchange for a great fantasy trade, according to the survey.