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It is called as smelling salt - basically a compound of ammonium carbonate - used to increase breathing reflex and enable semi-conscious and breath-challenged athletes to breathe better. A detailed description can be found here -

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Q: What do the NFL football players put up their nose before going on the field?
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What are the mats with the numbers 1 - 10 used for on the sideline in college football?

Special teams players. Each player stands on their number before going in. Eliminates the chance of having too many or wrong players on the field or having to burn a timeout to get it right.

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