(I worked as a Sports Editor from late 2004 until the summer of 2006. This is one of the many columns I was able to save that were originally published in The Sun-Times of Heber Springs, Arkansas.)
When the NFL conference championships begin this Sunday, exactly one half of the quarterbacks taking the field will do so with unkempt, manly hair covering their faces.
The next time the Memphis Grizzlies take the court, they will be led by fifth-year Spanish sensation Pau Gasol, and his ‘desigual barba’.
Upon reading this column and checking out the picture of the lunatic that wrote it, you will see a bald guy with a multi-colored crazy beard looking back at you.
Yes, dear readers, it is the year of the beard.
”Wisdom is in the head and not in the beard” – Swedish proverb.
While that proverb may be true, there is something to be said for sporting a beard in the sporting world. I believe they work along the same lines as the rally cap, the lucky t-shirt with mustard stains and the “I’m not washing my socks until we lose again” superstitions.
Many teams refuse to shave during win streaks. Like the NHL’s unshaven New York Islanders who won four straight Stanley Cups from 1980-83. Or the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004, who ran through the playoffs with 18 beards out of 25 chins.
”Chins without beards deserve no honor” – Spanish proverb.
Then there are the individuals who decide to burn their razors in favor of turning their games around. The most notable example of this is Jake Plummer of the Denver Broncos.
Plummer started out with a lone porn mustache squirming on his upper lip. I’m not sure if he grew the beard to distract from his propensity to throw interceptions, or if it was just a coincidence that he became one of the game’s best quarterbacks this season after bearding himself.
The numbers don’t lie. Plummer set career highs in completion percentage, yards per average, quarterback rating and tied his career low in interceptions. He did this while leading the Broncos to a very quiet 13-3 record and looking like the Sgt. Pepper version of Paul McCartney.
Ben Roethlisberger also sprouted man hair on his face this season and quarterbacked his Steelers into the AFC Championship game again. It’s only his second year, but he bearded – I mean bettered – his numbers from last year and helped execute a flawless game plan against the facially follicly challenged Colts in the divisional playoffs.
No matter what happens Sunday, at least one scraggly beard will have a chance to hoist Vince Lombardi’s trophy and become a spokesman for his choice of beard trimmers.
Gasol entered this NBA season with the knock that he was too soft and needed to be more of an intimidating presence inside. Damon Stoudemire and Bobby Jackson called out Gasol when they signed with Memphis in the offseason. Stoudemire said he knew Gasol’s initials were PG but he wanted Pau to become “Rated R”.
So Gasol spent the offseason bulking up, honing his game, and forgetting to shave.
He grew one of the most patchy, scruffy barbas in the history of Spain, and he’s having the best season of his young career.
He is on pace to set career highs in points, rebounds, assists, and blocks and is more than likely going to become the first All-Star in the history of the Memphis Grizzlies.
”He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man” – Shakespeare.
That quote from the beard – I mean the bard – immediately turned my attention to the grand old hairless game of beardlessball – er, baseball.
Baseball has long been considered part of the fabric of our great country. Compared to the rest of the sports, baseball is considered more cultured and civilized.
I guess that’s the reason that before 1960, the last bearded player in MLB was John Remsen in 1884. That’s almost 80 years between beards!
Now they are a little more common, but most baseballers prefer goatees and porn mustaches to beards. Some owners, like George Steinbrenner, forbid their players from having facial hair. For an example, look no further than the unfrozen caveman lawyer’s love child, former Boston Red Sox centerfielder Johnny Damon.
When he played for the Sox, he became an icon looking like he was auditioning for the role of John the Baptist. The minute he signs with the Yanks, he looks like he stepped off the cover of “Baby Faced Baseball”. You read it here first: Without the beard, Damon will be a bust.
”Don’t point that beard at me, it might go off” – Groucho Marx.
As for me, well I grew my beard in 1996, when my hot water heater went out and I was too poor and lazy to get it fixed.
Not to mention the fact that I was a drummer in a crazy Memphis rock band. After I stopped shaving, we became one of the best, if not the best, and hairiest band on the Memphis scene.
The beard grew before the hair fell out of my head. Now there is more hair on my face than my scalp, but at least my wife likes it. My grandmother is a different story.
But it’s here to stay. The only way I’ll shave it is if the Tigers win the national championship, or the Grizzlies win the NBA championship, or my wife tells me to.
”Ideas are like beards; men do not have them until they grow up” – Voltaire.