Winning Bucs stick to routines
Call it superstitious, but you don't change the habits of a team on a streak, players say.
By RICK STROUD, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 13, 2002
TAMPA -- No NFL quarterback is better prepared to play Sunday than Brad Johnson.
He takes meticulous notes in meetings, spends more hours watching film than a cinema usher and works out like a Marine in basic training.
His 11-year pro career is no fluke, his success this season with the Bucs no accident.
Like every Sunday, he will be ready to win today against the Cleveland Browns.
That is, unless his wife bought the wrong shampoo.
"When you are on a winning streak, there are certain tendencies you follow," Johnson said. "I hate to admit to it. It could be the color of the shampoo. I kind of get on my wife, she needs to take care of that. Never a green shampoo."
"And on Friday nights, we always eat at the same restaurant," he said. "We have takeout at Sonny's Barbeque on Friday nights. That is the ritual."
"Colors on certain game days," Johnson said. "Usually, I wear blue."
If you're wondering what in the name of Prell is wrong with Johnson, he is not alone.
Athletes are creatures of habit to begin with, but when the going is good, they leave nothing to chance.
A victory over the Browns would be the Bucs' fifth in a row, matching the second-longest winning streak in club history and leaving them one short of tying the record next week in Philadelphia.
As Austin Powers would say, you don't mess with the mojo, baby.
"I have my routine that I go through before every game. But when it's going good for me like it is now, you know you don't change nothing," Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp said.
"C'mon. I make sure I drive the same car to the stadium. And at Baltimore, I had this drink that (trainer) Todd (Toriscelli) mixed for me that I drank on the field before the game. When I was at Cincinnati, I yelled for him to get me that drink. Then I realized I had drank it.
"It's just crazy stuff like that," Sapp said. "I usually vary the music I listen to before the game. But lately (during the streak), I've stuck to Eminem."
Guess who's back? Sapp, who's tied for the team lead in sacks with four, just two fewer than he recorded all of last season.
If winning is contagious, so is superstition. Players are not the only ones in professional sports who are afflicted. When Bucs general manager Rich McKay watches today's game from his box at Raymond James Stadium, everything must be in its order for winning to take place.
"It's usually, to me, the way you set your stuff up at the game," McKay said. "Your flipcard goes in a certain location. I always listen to visiting radio. But then, once we lose a game, I don't want to listen to visiting radio again.
"To me, it's all little stuff. I don't wear the same socks, I don't go with the same suit, I don't do any of that stuff. I'm more about the little things at the game. I like the game to feel the same so I feel good as the game progresses."
McKay's winning habits began at an early age while watching his father, John, coach Southern Cal to national championships. If you believe in the luck of the Irish, check out the Trojans.
"At SC, I always put a towel down to kneel on it," McKay said. "If something went bad, I had to switch knees, change the luck.
"My dad used to say I was a coward, because if they were losing late in the game, I would always go locate in a certain point right in the tunnel. He always said I was trying to run out on us in the tunnel, but I was just trying to change the luck."
Apparently, it runs in the family. "My sister, when I was growing up at the SC games, she'd leave for the bathroom at a certain time in the first quarter and she'd flush the toilet a certain amount of times," McKay said. "Then she'd come back out. And if nothing good had happened, she'd go back in and do it again. So yeah, I've seen it, I've been around a few.
"When she watches our (Bucs) games, she goes in the bathroom and flushes the toilet," he said. "I guess we've all been there."
The older the player, the longer he likely is to have become attached to a ritual, clothing or equipment. Offensive tackle Lomas Brown said he has worn the same knee braces 21 years, dating to his days at the University of Florida. Maybe it's a Gators thing. Former Florida and Bucs running back Errict Rhett wore the same shoulder pads as a pro as he did in high school. When they were stolen one year at training camp, the Bucs issued a plea to the thief and they were anonymously returned.
"There's little subtle things you do during a winning streak, but nothing I'm changing this late in my career or else you'd go nuts doing that," Bucs safety John Lynch said. "Guys are like that. You like having success, so when you do, you kind of want to repeat what you did to get there.
"Baseball was much worse than football. Those guys were downright weird. It got spooky. Some of these guys had so many rituals, it'd take them 10 minutes to get out to their position."
Bucs coach Jon Gruden, who's driven by a routine that includes waking up at precisely 3:18 every morning, has not done anything out of the ordinary during the streak.
"I'm not a real deep thinker," Gruden said. "I'm not superstitious. But I respect the right of others to do what they feel is necessary."
That includes other parts of the Bucs organization. In '97, ex-director of communications Reggie Roberts began a tradition of buying Snickers bars for the media on the Monday after a win, and Tampa Bay began the season 5-0. But after the Bucs started 4-0 in 2000, the P.R. staff was bogged down in preparation for a battle with the New York Jets and forgot about the candy bars. Tampa Bay lost not only to the Jets but the next three games. You don't mess with the caramel or karma.
"When I walk across the field, there are certain lines I don't touch," Johnson said. "But I don't like to tell too much. But there are certain things that I do. But if something does go wrong, I'm not going to panic."
Unlike some QBs, Johnson has a good head on his shoulders. And at least he can use Head & Shoulders. What's there to worry about?
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