Hair-raising Superstition

May 14, 2006

My favoritetradition in all of sports is the playoff beard, which turns every hockeyplayer this time of year into a slap-shootin' Rasputin.

You can keep thelayoff beard (grown by Ricky Williams in his yearlong absence from the NFL).You can have the payoff beard (worn by Johnny Damon, Ben Roethlisberger and TimHudson, all of whose close shaves fetched cash).

No, I'll take theplayoff beard, a hockey institution that elevates the Stanley Cup, by awhisker, above all other postseason competitions.

In hockey, as inBiblical times, the length of a man's beard is a bar graph of his greatness."The guys who don't have a beard right now wish they did," saysred-bearded Anaheim Mighty Ducks forward Todd Fedoruk. "If you don't looklike Grizzly Adams right now, as a hockey player, you know your year has been afailure."

Beards, as NBAplayers are just now discovering, grow on you. All season long Pau Gasol wore aspectacular black beard as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies: He's possibly theleague's first player-mascot. The Cleveland Cavaliers are sporting playoffbeards, but they lack the menace of their hockey counterparts. The beard ofAvalanche defenseman Rob Blake screams "hell-raiser." The beard ofCavs' center Zydrunas Ilgauskas screams "barn-raiser."

In fact, when theAvs filed past their hotel pool in Southern California last Saturday, otherguests cowered beneath their beach towels. "They thought we were some ofthe best-dressed bikers they'd ever seen," says Blake.

Fedoruk can stillsee the hellfire issuing from an Avalanche veteran's chin during the 2001Stanley Cup finals. "One of the great [beards], off the top of my head, wasRay Bourque's," he says. "It was crimson and fierce-looking."

Off the bottom ofmy head, the best playoff beard in NHL history belonged to Flames forward LannyMcDonald, whose enormous red flavor-saver overscored a cinnamon-and-pepperbeard that made him look like the wagon-train cook in every Western.

Ducks forward RobNiedermayer prefers the chin nest of NHL journeyman Dave Lowry. "You couldhide a bird in it," Niedermayer swears.

The Islandersdynasty of the early '80s established beards as a lucky playoff talisman. Soon,even Montreal's Adams Division was a Grizzly Adams Division, and ever since,almost everyone who has raised the Stanley Cup has looked like Karl Marx.

Like Alexanderthe Great and George Steinbrenner before them, the New Jersey Devils banbeards--but only for the regular season. Beards are allowed during theplayoffs, though not everyone chooses to wear a wife-scratcher, and noteverybody can. "Teemu Selanne is growing one," Fedoruk says of hisDucks teammate. "But so far he's only got three hairs."

Which reminds me:The most glaring difference between God and Gretzky? The latter didn't wear abeard.

Even so, thebeard has become a Samsonic symbol of civic strength wherever hockey is played.This spring, some members of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta have grownplayoff beards.

San Jose Sharksfans posted their playoff beards on the Fox Sports Bay Area website. "Rickof San Jose" will be tough to beat, as he's grown only the right half of abushy mustache to complement just the left half of a heavy beard, a tonsorialensemble he's already worn to a wedding.

Former Canadiensgoalie Ken Dryden, now running for leader of the Liberal party in Canada, wasasked if he would grow a playoff beard. Dryden said he would not, and hisCanadiens were promptly bounced from the playoffs by the beard-embracingHurricanes. (Is that Hurricanes captain Rod Brind'Amour--or Hogwarts wizardAlbus Dumbledore?)

Playoff beardsare now de rigueur in any prolonged competition. A respondent to a Kaplansurvey of people preparing for graduate-school exams said, "I grew an MCATbeard. You know how hockey players grow playoff beards? Same concept."

How perfect thatthe playoffs are on the Outdoor Life Network. Even before it acquired NHLrights, OLN rivaled Afghan state television for the most bearded on-airpersonalities. Its programming is now all beards, all the time, and thosebeards are evolving by the week. "I think I might carve in some luckyhandlebars and a soul patch," says Fedoruk, sounding like a topiarysculptor surveying the gardens of Versailles.

All of which isto say that the future bristles with possibility. Literally so, to judge by a19-year-old left wing for the Ottawa '67s of the Ontario Hockey League. Hisname is Brodie (Playoff?) Beard, but even better is his hometown: SouthPorcupine, Ont.

• If you have acomment for Steve Rushin, send it to rushin@siletters.com.

The Islanders dynasty established beards as a luckyplayoff talisman. Ever since, almost everyone who has raised the Stanley Cuphas looked like Karl Marx.

PHOTOSIMON BRUTY

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)