Football players say they aren't superstitious, but just in case:
New York quarterback Chad Pennington will perform his customary head-butt with teammates before the Jets' game tomorrow.
Indianapolis kicker Mike Vanderjagt will walk the length of the field to touch both goalposts, as he always does, prior to the Colts' game Sunday.
Philadelphia linebacker Nate Wayne will reach into his locker for his trusty can of WD-40 and spray his knees, a weekly practice, before the Eagles' playoff.
Call them habits, crutches, quirks. It's the pre-game meal players feel they must eat, the route they must take or the order in which they have to dress.
"Athletes will admit their pre-game superstitions more readily if you ask what they do [before kickoff] to gain self-confidence," said George Gmelch, an anthropologist at Union College (N.Y.).
Athletes' pre-game rituals are more like a tool than a jinx-buster, says Gmelch: "If you believe that doing it will make you play better, chances are you will play better."
Football players will do whatever they think will carry them to the playoffs. So maybe - at least this season - this stuff works.
Never mind that New England has a late playoff game on Sunday. Donning eye black is a big part of quarterback Tom Brady's preparation, no matter the starting time.
Meanwhile, in the visitors' locker room at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., Colts quarterback Peyton Manning will ready himself for the umpteenth time by flipping through the pages of the game program.
"Part of the culture of being an athlete is to have superstitions," said Stuart Vyse, author of the book Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition. "Athletes do all they can during practice to squeeze out their best performance but, in the end, a lot [of football] is left to chance.
"Players can't control everything, so they grasp at magic. Basically, they reach for things that give them a sense of doing something more, even if it's just an illusion - and that sense is comforting."
NFL quarterbacks are notoriously ritualistic. Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, whose team plays tomorrow, signs autographs for exactly 10 minutes before each contest. Not Jacksonville's Byron Leftwich. He refuses to touch anything with his right hand.
Atlanta's Michael Vick swears his team is on a roll because of what he hasn't done all season - get a haircut. Vick's mane keeps growing and - voila! - the Falcons are two victories away from the Super Bowl.
"All of the little routines that players do, or don't do, give them confidence," said Gmelch, a former pro athlete. "Some of it is practical. Some seems silly on the surface.
"All of it helps them focus."
Experts believe that 80 percent of NFL players knowingly keep some kind of pre-game regimen.
"Most of them start their more serious preparation at least five to seven hours beforehand," said David McDuff, a sports psychiatrist in Ellicott City who works with the Ravens.
Some start even earlier.
Every Saturday night during the season, Ravens guard Edwin Mulitalo holes up in his hotel room with the same fare: a turkey club sandwich and a cup of cream of crab soup. "I wouldn't feel right, otherwise," he said.
Prior to kickoff, Ravens nose tackle Kelly Gregg spits on his shoes for luck, while All-Pro tackle Jonathan Ogden dresses in the same pair of threadbare blue shorts he has worn every game for seven years.
"It can't hurt," Ogden said of his routine.
At his locker, exactly 15 minutes beforehand, Ravens tight end Terry Jones quietly recites Psalm 91.
"It's a `protection' verse," Jones said. "That's my tradition. It takes the nervousness right out of me."
That's the point, said McDuff: "Paying attention to something the players can control triggers a relaxation reflex that [offsets] the pressure of the game."
Kickers feel pressure and find ways to cope. Before squaring off against Minnesota on Sunday, Philadelphia's David Akers and his holder, Koy Detmer, will each have a slice of Key lime pie. Later that afternoon, when Martin Gramatica steps on the field to play New England, the Colts' kickoff specialist will be careful, as always, to plant his right foot first.
"Some of these behaviors can be longstanding," said Robert Singer, a sports psychologist at the University of Florida. "I've known pro athletes who have kept superstitions they developed in junior high, if success is associated with them."
Just before he puts on his uniform, the Ravens' Gary Baxter tears open a bag of Lay's potato chips ... and eats every last chip.
"Been doing it since high school, when we won a state championship," said Baxter, a cornerback. "But [the chips] have to be Lay's."
Some rituals involve downright machismo. As the game nears, Jacksonville lineman John Henderson stands patiently, helmet in hand, and asks the Jaguars' trainer to slap him hard "to get that first hit out of the way."
Green Bay receiver Robert Ferguson psyches himself for home games by wrestling in the back yard with his dogs - five pit bulls.