Let Us Shine

February 16, 2004

When Y.A. Tittle tossed the coin at the Super Bowl, it landed on
tails, but the winner was heads. Bald heads. And if Tittle had
tossed an Eisenhower dollar--bald man flipping bald man, beneath
the vast dome of Reliant Stadium--the two might have replaced
Terry Bradshaw and Mel Blount as history's most formidable pair
of Super Bowl chrome domes.

But we'll take what we can get. Men like me (at left, with white
face on black turtleneck, so that I resemble a Titleist on a
tee), root for the bald on whatever field we can find them, be it
Don Zimmer versus Pedro Martinez at Fenway or the Mexican
hairless versus the bearded collie at Westminster.

We have little choice. "Would I like to have the hairstyle of
Travolta, the looks of Cruise and two good eyes?" asks the bald,
one-eyed ESPN broadcaster Dick Vitale. "Of course I would. But
it's not gonna happen, so you work with what you've got."

And yet, his hairstyle has been, in more ways than one, a lucky
horseshoe. "People recognize me as much for my bald head as for
my voice," says Vitale, one of many accomplished sportsmen
throughout history whose forehead has become a fivehead.

Think about it: Knute Rockne, Bald-American. Cal Ripken Jr. and
Jim Boeheim and Ray Nitschke. George Costanza, assistant to the
Yankees' traveling secretary. Bob Pettit, early Bobby Hull and
late Andre Agassi. And that's just, if you will, off the top of
my head.

This roster doesn't include the Yul-tide of shaved heads in
sports, because--as bald comic-actor Larry David has noted--"We
don't consider [them] part of the bald community." We can presume
that closeted bald man Michael Jordan, if he grew his hair, would
resemble former Bulls center Granville Waiters or ex-St. John's
coach Mike Jarvis. But the truly bald are out and proud. No plugs
or rugs or drugs. And no comb-overs, which is why Charles Barkley
and Kenny Smith have urged Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy to
abandon his six-string "guitar." Give us receded (Vitale) over
reseeded (Cosell). On this point, the bald agree. We are United
Hairlines.

We don't want your pity. You won't see us pleading, "Help the
combless." Jim Furyk, in doffing his golf cap, goes from
telegenic to Telly Savalas. But he doesn't mind. Is there an
athlete more up-front in his baldness than Jerry Pate? Not unless
it's former heavyweight contender Earnie Shavers, whose scalp
earned him the nickname the Acorn.

"Nobody working for David Stern has any hair left," says NBA
Entertainment president Adam Silver, who is--if you believe Bud
Selig's hair to be real--the most powerful bald executive in
sports. He's Samson in reverse. Still, demurs Silver, "Can't I be
balding?"

Balding, like aging, sneaks up on you. "If you look at my photo
in the 1958 East Rutherford [N.J.] High School yearbook," says
Vitale, "I have a thick crop of crew-cut hair. In my mid-20s I
started leaving it on my pillow. But it honestly never fazed me."

He's lucky, for it's not an easy transition from Head & Shoulders
to Mop & Glo. Bald men daily suffer baldist remarks. When Utah
basketball assistant Kerry Rupp filled in for Rick Majerus during
one game last year, Utes star Britton Johnsen shrugged off the
change as insignificant. "Our coach was still bald," he said. "It
didn't make too much difference."

In other words, we all look alike. A man at O'Hare once asked to
take my photograph on the assumption that I was Agassi. When
Connecticut women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma, who has the
finest head of hair in sports, saw me recently in a Canadian
Olympic hockey jacket, he said, "You can tell people you're Mark
Messier."

When I began writing a column in this magazine, one of my
brothers looked at the page and said pointedly, "Well, they
couldn't call it Hair and Space."

Last Halloween my own wife blew up this page to poster size,
donned a bald wig, stuck her head through a hole she'd cut in the
mug shot and went as me. But the greatest indignity came in
London, while on assignment in a darts pub, when a woman sidled
up to me and purred, "You look just like that bloke from ER."

"George Clooney?" I replied, rakishly raising an eyebrow.

She spat a spume of lager in the air, like water from a whale's
blowhole, and said, "No. The bald one. With the glasses. Dr.
Greene." Sigh. The truth is, baldness has been an aphrodisiac, if
not an Afrodisiac, at least since 1989, when Sean Connery was
named People magazine's Sexiest Man Alive.

Remember a bald Nolan Ryan pummeling a young Robin Ventura when
the latter rushed the mound in Texas? "I think baldness gives you
a manliness, a toughness," says Vitale. "All these guys in sports
have gone our way because--with all those showers after all those
games--they like the low-maintenance lifestyle."

Hear that? We have a lifestyle. A bald lifestyle. We're livin' la
vida Roker. And lovin' it.

COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY B/W PHOTO: COURTESY OF RAYMOND NICOSIA Vitale, 1958 COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Vitale, 2003

Balding, like aging, sneaks up on you. "Look at my photo in the
1958 East Rutherford High yearbook," says Vitale.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)