With the 2012 NHL Playoffs for the Stanley Cup underway, we’ve been exposed once again to the all-important “Playoff beard.” The playoff beard represents team unity, a constant playoff reminder whenever looking in a mirror and a tangible, aesthetic commitment to the team’s ultimate objective: winning a championship.
The playoff beard has grown beyond simple superstition. It’s grisly. It’s not necessarily comfortable to have on one’s face and is often downright uncomfortable.One’s significant other may highly disagree, especially after a week or two, but one has to respect the playoff beard. These men are already men’s men. Any guy who sees another dude with a beard (no matter how brutal), especially when both play hockey, already a “man’s” game, has to give the bearded one some credit. It looks rugged and hard. Granted that these guys play this game in suits of padded armor at full speed on ice with sharpened blades strapped to their feet while using long, wooden, also-bladed weapons to smack a hard, rock-like, tire-rubber-style disc past an armored defender who’s surface area almost entirely covers the opening to the goal (who is also armed with a bladed weapon, except his is doubly intimidating). Now these guys have beards. Has impressed as you already might have been, that feeling’s now multiplied by a mathematically-accurate, scientifically-factual, totally-not-estimated factor of three. Fans get in on it, too. Playoff beards can be royally imposing or hilariously bad. This is a celebration of both.
Allegedly, back in the eighties, the New York Islanders began a tradition that has continued in every Stanley Cup Playoffs since: the “Playoff beard.” At the start of the playoffs, players stop shaving until their team has either been eliminated from Cup contention or wins it all. Denis Potvin had said that, back then, the Islanders would play four first-round playoff games in five nights and it just happened organically.
One player, Patrick Kane of the 2010 Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, added a “Playoff mullet” (due to his struggles growing a respectable beard the previous season), as he was just 21 years old when he scored the Cup-clinching goal in Game 6 against the Philadelphia Flyers that year.
Ken Daneyko (featured image) of the Devils grew a playoff beard during New Jersey’s 2003 Stanley Cup Championship run. Interstingly enough, the runners-up in that Finals series, the Anaheim Ducks, had some playoff beard controversy that same 2003 postseason. Star goalie Jean-Sébastien Giguère grew a strong beard, going on record to say that spousal (and self) disapproval didn’t stop him from doing it for the team, while teammate and lead center Adam Oates refused to embrace the tradition, stating that it only worked for 1 of the 16 playoff teams. Perhaps the Ducks’ fates would’ve been decided in their favor had the gravity from his would-be beard redirected some Ducks shots to the back of the net in that fateful Game 7.
Teams from other sports piggy-backed on.
“Fear the Beard(s)” was the driving chant behind baseball’s San Francisco Giants’ championship run later in 2010. Brian Wilson and Sergio Romo grew beards towards the end of the season, with Wilson dying his black. Lance Berkman continued this last season during the Cardinals’ miraculous playoff run to win the 2011 World Series.
The Houston Dynamo and LA Galaxy of Major League Soccer have utilized the playoff beard. After their 2010 MLS Cup failure, the Galaxy ditched the beard during
their run to the 2011 MLS Cup championship. The Dynamo were the runners-up and had renewed their playoff beard tradition from the 2006 and 2007 seasons before losing the championship game to the Galaxy.
Even head coach Andy Reid and Philadelphia Eagles’ owner Jeffrey Lurie grew playoff beards alongside nearly the entire Eagles roster during the 2008 NFL Playoffs. Ben Roethlisberger’s playoff beard was shaved off by David Letterman on the Late Show after winning Super Bowl XL.
Tennis star Björn Borg used to let his beard grow before Wimbledon. His beard-age could predate the Islanders’ Playoff beards, but I have not been able to prove this in my postseason-related hair research.
More postseason beards: