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Chalk Talk – The pregame ritual

For every player, pregame is different. Some players find focus through prayer and silent reflection while others find that loud music and dancing puts them in the right frame of mind. Other players share their excitement with the team through talking or shouting, but the only rule? Respect your team mate’s process because the game of football is host to such a wide array of athletes of varying height, weight, speed, and strength. All of these athletes play the same sport, but their differing responsibilities lead them to play the game with different mind sets. In other words, I have rarely seen a quarterback scream, shout, or bang his head into a locker before a game, but I have seen linemen do it.

Players almost never act the same way on the field as they do off of it. This is sometimes called “flipping the switch”. One of the best examples of this is one of my favorite players of all time, Brian Dawkins. Mr. Dawkins is a married man and has four children. He is a featured NFL analyst for ESPN networks and an extremely intelligent, well-spoken man, but when he took the field, he was “Weapon X”.

Dawkins’ pregame ritual often involved speaking in tongues, stretching and warming up by himself, and his ‘conversations with the ball’. He would actually take the game ball and convince it to “come see [him] today”. He was a nine time Pro-Bowler, a six time All-Pro, and his number has already been retired so… there just might be something to it.

Other players take a more… violent approach. The stereotypical lineman pregame ritual is sometimes paralleled to a heavy metal concert; just like the scene from Any Given Sunday. John Henderson was not much different. Henderson was a NFL defensive tackle for ten years and a two time Pro-Bowler. His pregame involved only one, brave, athletic trainer.

Some teams (mostly in college) have a team ritual they preform together to get everyone excited. Clemson touches Howard’s Rock before piling down the hill to the field. Les Miles, at LSU, “tries to hold the Tigers back” in a pregame ritual in which he leads his team onto the field. The Alabama Crimson Tide are greeted by the classic guitar riff from “Sweet Home Alabama” in which the crowd responds “ROLL, TIDE, ROLL!” The Hawaii Rainbow Warriors perform a war dance similar to the “Haka”.

The University of Texas is host to many traditions like Big Bertha, Smokey, “The Eyes of Texas”, and of course, BEVO. However, the tradition that still gives me goose bumps is from a former Big 12 foe, the Nebraska Corn Huskers – their pre-game ‘Day by Day’ prayer.

There really aren’t enough words to describe the feeling before a football game. The tension in the air is palpable knowing the hard work that has been put in daily since January. As the bus pulls up to the stadium the uncommon combination of excitement, nervousness, and pure joy inside every player begins to swell. Fans either boo your villainous squad as you head into a foreign field, or they cheer your triumphant return to defend the home turf.

When changing from street clothes into battle attire, you’re able to hear the crowd grow in the stadium. The pre-game warm-ups present only a fraction of the crowd that will be present in what seems like just moments. There is a rare buzz that comes from knowing that months of preparation have led to this moment. As the lights come up, the crowd roars. The disembodied voice comes booming from the sound system to announce you and your brothers onto the field. This entrance is either met with horrific boos full of malicious intent, or they bring forth a fight song and cheers; both are driven by the energy that you bring that day. There’s nothing like it.

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Aaron Carrara is the founder and publisher of HornSports and has covered University of Texas athletics since 2011. Aaron is a member of the Football Writer's Association of America and the U.S. Basketball Writer's Association and is a proud father to three boys.

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