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Commentary: Big beards lead to playoff success

Courtesy of MCT

For sports fanatics all throughout the country, the months of April and May can deliver some of the most suspenseful and extraordinary performances of the year, with both the NBA and NHL playoffs under way. Over the past few years, a link between both sports is growing: the sudden appearance of facial hair during the playoffs.

For even the most casual of hockey fans, this comes as no news. Growing a beard for the length of the playoffs has become more than a tradition for the athletes who play on ice. It is an unquestioned habit.

According to John McGourty of the NHL’s official website, the 1980 New York Islanders were the original bearers of the playoff beard.

Dave Lewis, a defenseman who was part of that team was quoted as saying, “It was part of the unity of our team, and I think we thought we probably looked a little more rugged with beards.”

Whatever the reason, it sure worked. The Islanders won four consecutive Stanley Cups between 1980 and 1983.

Then the tradition suddenly died.

Eleven years later, the New Jersey Devils resurrected this tradition by dropping their razors, and, surely not by coincidence, they hoisted the Stanley Cup that year.

Ever since, it has been practically an unspoken commandment for each player on a playoff-bound team to let the facial follicles run wild until they either win or are eliminated. Of course, this often can result in some of the most hilarious excuses for beards (refer to Jonathan Toews circa 2010, Sidney Crosby circa whenever).

In 2006, the trend seemed to have reached the hardwood, as then-Cleveland Cavalier Zydrunas Ilgauskas and another player, who shall remain unnamed, decided to give the tradition a shot. However, the following year Ilgauskas decided not to bring back the beard, alluding to itchiness and spousal criticism as his main reasons. (On a side note, it should be known that Cleveland did not win a championship in 2006, likely because of the fact that only a small handful of the players on the team were sporting face carpets, violating a critical rule in the code of playoff beard-ism.)

In March, the Memphis Grizzlies organization decided they would adopt this tradition and, according to their team website, plan on giving out prizes to fans who join the players in foregoing shaving. The potential strength of playoff beard unity was on full display this past week as the eighth-seeded Grizzlies upset the heavily favored San Antonio Spurs, who were not sporting any more facial hair than usual.

An integral part of the bearded bunch in Memphis, Tenn., is former Ohio State basketball star Mike Conley Jr., who played on the 2007 Buckeyes team that went to the National Championship.

This superstition is not limited to the ice and hardwood. Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger both lead their teams to the Super Bowl with strong arms and even stronger sets of facial hair.

Those who have undergone this tradition, whether for unity, superstition or some other unknown reason, are not truly given enough credit. For the victors of the NHL playoffs, the razor is ignored for upward of three months. Three months without a shave.

In just a few weeks, the beard becomes not only a burden for the bearers, but for their wives and children as well. Washington Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner recently told the National Post that his “lady almost shaved (his) beard off, because she didn’t really like it too much.” Luckily for Alzner and the rest of the Capitals, he quickly stopped her from doing so. Naturally, his team remains in the playoffs.

The commitment these fierce and fuzzy athletes undergo each spring simply for a bit of good karma has certainly become the most underappreciated tradition in all of sports.

The playoff beard tradition transcends race. It has made an appearance in nearly every major sport in not only our country, but numerous countries across the world. Playoff beards are apparently no longer even exclusive to the athletically gifted, as thousands of fans ditch their razors to display support. This hairy phenomenon has transcended virtually every barrier, aside from gender. Nevertheless, I find myself quite content with that.

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