It is Sunday morning at Ron Rivera’s house and the Carolina Panthers coach sits down to eat a familiar breakfast of cinnamon french toast and ham steak prepared by his wife.
It is the same thing he eats before every Panthers home game on Sunday — at the same time.
He talks with Stephanie over coffee. At precisely 8:30am — exactly four-and-a-half hours before kickoff — the fifth-year coach’s ride arrives to take him to the stadium.
Once there, Rivera has a whole new, lengthy set of superstitions, culminating a week full of rigid rituals.
He dons a black shirt — “Not for any specific reason other than the last time I wore it we started winning, so I keep doing it,” he says — and puts on the same set of black Nike shoes he has worn for three years. They are reserved just for game day.
He eats a peanut butter and oatmeal cookie his wife has made for him.
He walks out of the stadium tunnel, careful to avoid going through the large Panthers inflatable on the field.
“That’s for players only,” he says.
After sidestepping the inflatable, Rivera jogs out to the 20-yard line, turns to the crowd to find where Stephanie is seated and signals “I love you” to her with his left hand.
“Then I’m ready for the game,” he says.
Rivera’s superstitious rituals seem to be working.
The Panthers are 10-0 this season and have won 14 straight regular-season games overall, which only increases his superstition.
“Unfortunately, winning sort of does that,” Rivera says with a laugh.
Rivera’s players have noticed some of his superstitions. Tight end Greg Olsen says it is nothing unusual.
“I think everybody in the football world is superstitious,” Olsen says. “As players, we order out from the same restaurant on Thursdays and we’ve sat in the same seats to eat it for 10 straight weeks... We try to do the same things.”
Quarterback Cam Newton arrives for his Wednesday news conference and sits alongside reporters in press row and chats for about five or 10 minutes before stepping behind the podium. It is something he started this season and has continued every week as the win streak continues.
Rivera has other superstitions, some of which he refers to as just “routines,” like making sure power points during game week are in the same order. He does not deny he is superstitious by nature.
He wears the same colored clothes to practice depending on the day, and he makes certain to wear a different outfit to every news conference.
“I’m bad now, but I was much worse as a player,” Rivera says.
Rivera played nine seasons at linebacker with the Chicago Bears. He was part of the dynamic 1985 championship team that started 12-0 and came within one victory of a perfect season, losing only to Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins on a Monday night.
Rivera wore only two helmets during his career, forced to go to a backup after his original cracked.
He wore the same wristbands. He wore the same socks. He went through the same rituals before every game, such as organizing his stretches in a certain order.
However, Rivera says he never took it too far, like some of his teammates who refused to wash certain articles of clothing for fear of breaking the winning streak.
“Oh yeah, I washed. Trust me,” Rivera says with a long laugh. “We had a couple of guys that didn’t wash certain things and their lockers got pretty ripe.”
Most players had some kind of superstition or ritual, and some were good for a laugh, Rivera says.
Steve McMichael, a Bears defensive tackle who eventually became a professional wrestler, needed help from Rivera to complete his routine.
“First of all, he really loved his looks,” Rivera says. “So he’d get dressed and ready to go, and then he’d come stand in front of my locker and look at me, and I’d say: ‘Yes, you are the best-looking defensive tackle in the league.’ And then he’d say: ‘All right, I’m ready to go.’”
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