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Quirky Or Not, Packers' Pre-Game Routines Serve A Purpose


Assistant athletic trainer Kurt Fielding writes his prediction of quarterback Brett Favre's statistics on the bottom of his tape job.

Athletes in all sports have their ways of getting ready, and feeling ready, to compete.

A lot of basketball players need to make their last shot in warm-ups before the game starts, even if it's a simple lay-up. Golfers hit so many balls on the range, and take a certain number of putts on the practice green, from specific distances, before they hit the course.

Football players are no different, though sometimes their pre-game routines are a bit more drawn out and complex than your average athlete's regimen. From putting on all that equipment, to getting their ankles and wrists taped in the training room, to finding the right way to loosen up for 60 minutes of abusive physical conduct, the pre-game routines of football players can encompass several steps.

In the Green Bay Packers' locker room, you won't find too many players whose routines are all that strange or bizarre. There aren't any Pedro Cerranos with voodoo dolls in their lockers, like the famous character from the baseball movie Major League.

But the routines or rituals, call them what you will, all serve a purpose, both for the players and those around the players. They're about feeling comfortable, feeling ready, and feeling like there's something special about the day. Oh yeah, it's game day.

The battle armor

All the pads and equipment players wear make the process of getting dressed a routine in itself for some.

Receiver Robert Ferguson is known to lay out his entire uniform in front of his locker, from head to toe, just like it will look on him before he starts to actually put it on.

Some players seek out a specific member of the equipment staff help him put his pads on before a game. Offensive tackle Chad Clifton always has equipment assistant Tim Odea work with him, while defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila always has equipment manager Gordon "Red" Batty.

"We have our time down," KGB said. "When I see Red, I know there's 20 minutes left before I go on the field for warm-ups, and it's not just any other day, it's game day.

"I've had different guys for practice, but practice is just practice. I'm still focused, but it's not as intense as a game."

The equipment staff always gives offensive tackle Mark Tauscher a new pair of gloves before a game, but he doesn't use them. He puts them in his locker, because those will be the gloves he wears, and breaks in, during practice the following week for the next game.

"Everyone is different," Tauscher said. "You want something to feel comfortable in. You don't want to have to break something in because it's just something else to worry about."

Defensive end Aaron Kampman doesn't like to worry about his facemask, so Batty puts a new one on his helmet before every game.

"When your facemask gets hit enough it flattens out, and it loosens everything around the earpads and such," Kampman said. "I can always tell when I have a fresh facemask. It's tigher and more snug, fits like a glove."

Batty thinks having a new facemask makes Kampman feel ready for battle. It may sound like a player being fussy, but it's actually a safety issue as well as a comfort one for Kampman.

"I don't want it loose and jittery," he said. "Imagine a loose steering wheel on a car. You don't feel as comfortable or stable as you do if the steering column is totally rock solid. That's how it feels with my facemask."

In the training room

A stop in the training room is part of almost every player's pre-game routine, but there's the occasional extra step the training staff must remember for some.

{sportsad300}Assistant athletic trainer Bryan Engel always tapes Ahman Green's ankles, and when he's done he adds some things of personal and motivational significance for Green on the outside of the tape job.

A new ritual started this year with kicker Dave Rayner. Early this season while taping Rayner before a game, the kicker asked Engel for a prediction, so he guessed how many field goals, extra points and touchbacks Rayner would kick that day.

"One week I hit it right on," Engel said. "The other times I've been off. But he always asks."

Predicting statistics is usually the job of Engel's colleague in the training room, Kurt Fielding. Before every game he predicts quarterback Brett Favre's statistics by writing them on the bottom of the tape job, where Favre can't see them and doesn't look.

The process has a history. In Fielding's first year with the Packers, in 1988, a rookie wide receiver from Auburn named Scott Bolton asked him for some good luck with his tape job. So Fielding jotted some stats on the tape.

Bolton didn't make the team, but a couple years later, a rookie defensive back -- LeRoy Butler -- asked Fielding for some luck, so he wrote on the tape job that Butler would get an interception, and he did. So Fielding continued the ritual during Butler's distinguished career, and he now does it for safety Nick Collins, who wears Butler's old number, 36.

With Favre, Fielding decided to try predicting his stats before his first start, the week after coming off the bench to throw the dramatic TD pass to Kitrick Taylor to beat Cincinnati in 1992.

"Everyone was giddy from him winning the Cincinnati game the week before, and he didn't ask for them, but I started to write them and he asked what I was doing," Fielding recalled. "I said, 'I'm giving you some stats for today, and we'll see how close I come.' Every stat I've ever done starts with a 'W'. That's the most important one.

"Sometimes I've only been off by one or two attempts or completions, or five or 10 yards, but that's always on the games we win. We never even look at the stats if we lose. Those just go right in the garbage."

So what's the closest Fielding has come?

"It was the Oakland game on Monday night (in 2003), right after his dad died," Fielding said of the night Favre threw for 399 yards and four TDs. "I hit the stats pretty much right on ... for the first half."

It's all about keeping in a routine so everything feels normal, with nothing out of the ordinary or surprising on game day for the players.

Fielding and Engel also take note of how they set up the training room at a road game - how the tables and supplies are arranged - so if the team wins they'll remember it for the next visit there, or if they lose they'll change it around.

"At the Metrodome, I'm always tweaking it," Fielding said. "In Dallas at Texas Stadium, I must have eight different configurations I've done for that place."

Those are things the players won't necessarily notice, but they probably know there's a reason for everything.

"Sometimes I'm not sure if the superstitious ones are us or them," Engel said. "If you did something the week before and something good happened, you remember or make a note of it and carry it to the next week."

Getting loose

When it comes to warm-ups, the team has its stretching routine and individual position drills. But many players do plenty before the structured prep time.

Offensive tackle Tony Moll, a tight end in his college days at Nevada, takes a walk of sorts down memory lane by running pass routes for third-string quarterback Ingle Martin.

"I still have hands so I might as well use them somehow," Moll joked. "I don't take it seriously or anything.

"Actually, I also get some snaps in with him, because I'm the backup long snapper. It's a fun thing to do and it helps me get loosened up too. Late in the season you get pretty sore, and it gets that soreness out before games."

Running back Noah Herron and Rayner have created a pre-game competition as part of their routine designed to get that last-minute mental edge.

Shortly after getting to the stadium and throwing some sweats on, they'll head out to the field together, grab a ball and play a game called "head and chest," in which they stand 10 yards apart and pass the ball back and forth, getting one point for a throw right to the other's chest, and two points for the head. Drop the pass and it's minus-1.

"Play up to 15, and we play two games of that," Rayner said. "Well, if we split then we play a third game. It's just so we're not sitting in the locker room for the whole couple hours before. Just to get out there."

Neither player can recall exactly which game they started it, but it was sometime before the bye week and they've continued it ever since.

"One game we started playing catch and I said, 'You know that game?'" Herron recalled. "He said, 'Yeah.' So I said, 'Let me beat you at it quick,' and he said, 'Whatever.'

"I won the first three or four times, and then he got better. I guess he got tired of always being the loser."

Winning has meant something to Rayner, too.

"Honestly, the games that I've won I've kicked really well," he said. "San Francisco I won, Philadelphia, ... Minnesota."

So doesn't Herron think he should help the team by letting the kicker win most of the time?

"No way, man," Herron said. "I'm a competitor, so I've gotta do what I gotta do."

After all, it's not just any other day. It's game day.

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