Rituals across the NFL
💦 Gatorade showers
As a coach in the NFL, you haven’t truly won a big game until you’ve been soaked in a bath of flavored electrolytes. Gatorade showers aren’t unique to one particular team, and they aren’t unique to football anymore either, but they remain a popular NFL tradition. The bigger the game, the bigger the bath.
While there are differing opinions about when the tradition began, the New York Giants popularized the trend in the '80s. It began in 1984, when defensive tackle Jim Burt received criticism from head coach Bill Parcells before one of their biggest games against the Washington Football Team.
- After the squad pulled off a 37–13 victory, Burt surprised Parcells with a Gatorade shower in response to his harsh coaching leading up to the game, a gesture of cold revenge.
- His teammate, Harry Carson, was his accomplice and the duo continued the celebratory baths after each Giants win from that point on, including their Super Bowl XXI championship in 1987.
The tradition has been so cemented into football culture that gamers can even dunk their coach in some Madden video games. And we can’t forget one of the most popular Super Bowl prop bets: the color of the Gatorade poured over the winning coach. Hint: orange is a good guess.
💛🖤 The Terrible Towel
Possibly the best-known tradition in the NFL, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Terrible Towel, or the “luckiest towel in sports,” first appeared in 1975 thanks to the aforementioned Cope.
- In an effort to excite fans at Three Rivers Stadium and “soak up the competition,” Cope waved a yellow dish towel from his radio booth during a playoff game against the Baltimore (now Indianapolis) Colts.
- Cope encouraged fans to bring towels of their own to the game too, and when they all began waving their yellow rally rags, the Steelers produced big plays, and a 28–10 victory. And thus, the magic of the towel began.
The Black and Gold had a great season that year, making it all the way to Super Bowl X, where the team provided fans with specially printed towels that read: “Myron Cope’s Official Terrible Towel.” Sure enough, the fans waved and the Steelers performed, securing a 21–17 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, all “thanks to the Towel.”
- Superstition soon followed as opposing teams or players that dared disrespect the towel become subject to its “curse.” In 2008, the Tennessee Titans felt the wrath of the Terrible Towel after a group of players stomped on one after beating Pittsburgh.
- Tennessee went on to lose their next two games, just barely missing a chance at playing in Super Bowl XLIII. Who did make it to the Super Bowl that year? You guessed it, the Steelers. Oh, and they won, of course. Spooky.
The towel’s magic continues today. In 2010, Pittsburgh began inviting a celebrity to do a “Terrible Towel Twirl” before kickoff at each home game, and many recognizable names have had the honor, including Channing Tatum and Wiz Khalifa. Black and yellow, black and yellow.
🧀 Lambeau Leap
At Lambeau Field –– home of the Green Bay Packers — there’s only one appropriate touchdown celebration: the Lambeau Leap. It all began in 1993 when LeRoy Butler launched himself into the stands after he scored his first career NFL touchdown.
Today, seats in the “Jump Zone” are the most coveted in the stadium. But players who jump often have less than ideal experiences with fans. Some have been covered in beer, ketchup, popcorn, and, in true Wisconsin fashion, even cheese curds. Worst of all, there have been reports of inappropriate touching by unruly fans. Um, not okay.
- Also, the leap is actually pretty high, with most of the wall around 6 feet tall. Imagine scoring a touchdown and then making a jump like that...
The NFL cracked down on excessive touchdown celebrations in the early 2000s and has consistently made changes to the rules since. But, lucky for Packers fans, the Lambeau Leap was grandfathered into the rules, allowing for the tradition to continue.
💙💚 The 12s
The Seattle Seahawks’ first stadium was the Kingdome, a concrete-covered facility that echoed with the cheers of fans for the home team. In preparation, visiting teams trained with special noise systems in an attempt to mimic the loud rumble experienced during games.
- Seattle fans quickly earned themselves a reputation as some of the loudest in the league in the late 1970s.
In a tribute to the fans and their vocal support, in 1984, Seahawks president Mike McCormack retired the No. 12 jersey. The number symbolized the “extra player” (the fans in the stands) that contributed to every Seahawks win.
- In a 2005 battle with the NY Giants at the Seahawks’ new home, Qwest Field, the 12s created so much noise that the Giants’ offense couldn't hear their play calls, forcing 11 false start penalties.
- The Giants’ kicker also seemed to be affected by the crowd, missing three game-winning field goal attempts, and the Giants lost in overtime. Oof.
In 2011, the 12s turned the volume even higher during a game against the then-reigning Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints. During a game-winning 67-yard touchdown run by Marshawn Lynch, eruptions from the stands registered as a 1-to-2 range magnitude earthquake. Can’t make this sh!t up.
Now, before every home game, the Seahawks invite one person — a celebrity, beloved community member, or former player — to hoist a number 12 flag. So special.
🔵🔴 Bills Mafia
One of the newer traditions in the NFL, Bills Mafia has already made its mark. As some of the most committed fans in football, Bills supporters have endured a lot. After four consecutive Super Bowl appearances in the 1990s, the squad hasn’t returned to the big game since, but their support system has only gotten stronger.
- The name may be misleading, but the “Mafia” has no relation to illegal activity. Instead, the term reflects the lifelong commitment of being a Bills fan and their legacy of defending “the family.”
In November 2010, Bills fans came to the defense of wide receiver Stevie Johnson after he dropped an important pass during a game against the Steelers. Stevie tweeted about the drop and received criticism from ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
- Crowds of online Bills fans, defending their family, responded to Schefter with criticism of their own. Thus, the Mafia was born.
🦃 🍽 Thanksgiving Day
Dating all the way back to the league’s inception in 1920, the oldest tradition in the NFL is the annual Thanksgiving Day game. Since 1934, the Detroit Lions have always played on the holiday in November, only missing the tradition between 1939 and 1944 due to World War II.
- The Turkey Day tradition for Detroit began as an effort to attract more fans and, with network ties at NBC, owner George A. Richards solidified an annual slot for the Lions.
Not long after, in 1966, the Dallas Cowboys joined the Thanksgiving Day club when general manager Tex Schramm took a page out of Richards’ book and sought out a way to get more national attention and more fans in the stands for “America’s Team.”
- Most NFL teams have now played on Thanksgiving against either the Lions or the Cowboys, but the two squads have become synonymous with Turkey Day. We’ll see both teams battle next Thursday. Gobble gobble.