As we are underway for the NHL and NBA playoffs, a thought occurred, PLAYOFF BEARD TIME! Now, in years gone past I would embrace this as a time to grow a small fuzzy beard, then promptly shave once my team was eliminated. Since there is no perfect time or rules on when to begin growing a beard, the shoulder seasons of spring and fall can be a great time to start. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t need any excuse or reason to grow an awesome beard. If you’re not familiar with the fuzzy playoff phenomenon, the idea is once your team qualifies for the postseason, you stop shaving until your team is eliminated. As you grow your playoff beard, it’s not designed to be carefully manicured or tailored, it’s meant to be an untouched, unfettered display of manly wildness. Some, such as Jim Dowd and Roberto Luongo, believe that you may trim your beard following a playoff loss in order to “change your luck” but one must never put a razor to the face and cleanly shave the beard off. Let’s take a deeper look at playoff beards, whose roots began in the National Hockey League and later expanded to other pro sports.
The tradition began in the 1980’s with the New York Islanders. Stan Fischler, longtime hockey historian, author and broadcaster has followed the Islanders during their four Stanley Cups and record 19 straight playoff wins. According to Fischler, it wasn’t a formal announcement or proclamation to the league. The 1980 Islanders team sparked a revolution in facial hair. It began when Ken Morrow, Clark Gillies and then others started sporting some fuzz during the postseason – and kept it all the way up until they held the Stanley Cup. As a slight to their crosstown Rivals, the 1994 Stanley Cup winning New York Rangers did not grow playoff beards because of the deep connection to the Islanders.
Today, playoff beards have become pop culture phenomenons, even extending outside of hockey. The 2013 Boston Red Sox team that won the World Series had no less that eight bearded players. The Red Sox perhaps embraced beards also as a slap in the face to their most fierce rival, the Yankees, where the team, since the reign of George Steinbrenner, have prohibited their players from wearing facial hair beyond mustaches. When Brian Wilson was pitching for the San Francisco Giants, fans embraced a “fear the beard’ t-shirts during the 2010 MLB postseason, where the Giants went on the claim the Fall Classic. As the playoffs march on, the beard is a sign of resilience – fatigue sets in, injuries set in, bodies become sore, and bruises darken, the only thing growing stronger is the beard, showing the ultimate display of team bonding.
Players have been known to add a touch of personal flair. Jaromir Jágr, debuted a dyed mutton chop look for the 2013 Stanley Cup Final as a member of the Boston Bruins. Some attempts are better than others. The Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane could only manage a spotty fluffy beard, so in lieu he grew his hair out as a playoff mullet during Chicago’s 2010 Stanley Cup run. Bruins’ Torey Krug also only managed a beard one step above peach fuzz. But all efforts are appreciated.
Fans have also embraced the playoff beard. And don’t worry, if you’re already a bearded gent, you can simply not trim or touch your beard during the playoff to participate. So, hockey fan or not, spring is an ideal time to start growing a beard, or to let your beard go wild and flap in the wind. While there has been some backlash, last season chairman of NBC Mark Lazarus said that playoff beards were ruining his brand. Lazarus felt that beards were hiding young attractive players’ faces. Personally I don’t believe hockey need a beard trim. The playoffs ooze suspense, no better time to stroke your beard or bite your nails. And for hockey, where the tradition began, it’s a tough, rugged sport, that encapsulates everything that is manly, including the beard. So let the beards flow, for the good of the game!