[Editor’s Note – This column originally ran on the site on April 18, 2011.]
This week’s inductees into the “Overrated Hall of Fame” are … NHL playoff beards.
We’re not even a week into the NHL playoffs, but players already are sprouting the early stubble of playoff beards. This means we’ll soon start listening to wistful announcers wax stupid about how the playoff beard means tradition and how it hearkens back to an earlier time and how it’s a link to the game’s storied past and every other cliché these lunkheads must learn in an entry-level course at Cookie Cutter Announcer School.
But this “storied tradition” is not even 20 years old. I’ve been watching hockey since [geezer alert! geezer alert!] the 70’s. Bobby Orr never had a beard in April. The Broad Street bullies sported some ugly mustaches, but they wore those all year.
The Canadiens dynasty of the late 70s saw a couple of ’staches on Larry Robinson and Yvon Lambert, but otherwise I don’t think Scotty Bowman would have allowed a wisp of a flavor saver let alone a full grown beard.
The Islanders dynasty (pricks), as far as I can remember through my rage-colored glasses, didn’t lift that Cup every year (goddamn them) with hirsute faces. Ken Morrow had a beard but he always had a beard. Clark Gillies (douchebag) might have grown a playoff beard, but Mike Bossy (dickhead) never had one, nor did Denis Potvin (bastard). Not that I hated that team or anything.
The Oilers dynasty didn’t do the beard thing. Gretzky never had one, but that might be because they won their fourth Cup when he was about 16. Mark Messier would never have done something so clichéd. And Paul Coffey was just too pretty to ever want to mar that handsome face. Not that I loved that team or anything.
The early 90s Cup winners didn’t end the season with team-wide beardedness. Check out the team pictures from those years, the pictures the winning team always takes immediately after the clinching game, the ones where they all crowd around the Cup on the ice. Penguins … Canadiens … Rangers … no beards.
Perhaps it was in the middle part of that decade when teams started growing playoff beards en masse. I think those Devils and Red Wings winners had their fair share of beards. That would make the playoff beard, the “famous, traditional, storied, yeah yeah whatever” playoff beard, about 15 years old. In a sport with a 90 year history, that’s not exactly a long standing tradition.
Of course, hockey fans, who can be just a little passionate about the sport and their teams, have started to join in on the playoff beard thing. I would love to rip this practice a new one, but because these fans do it for some sort of charity, they get a pass. They also get a pass because it allows pricks like me one more opportunity to tweak them once their team is eliminated.
I have a good friend who did the beard thing two years ago. My team beat his team in the second round of the playoffs in a series capped by a game seven blowout. It gave me great pleasure to send him the following text: “Three words: Shave that shit!” He was a good sport about it. He called me, in a few follow-up texts, “cocksucker,” “dickhead,” and – this one let me know I had really hit a nerve – “cuntbag.” Perhaps I should have waited a day or so to send my taunting text instead of hitting “send” about 18 seconds after the final buzzer.
So if you watch hockey, count the references to the playoff beards and listen to the phony, unthinking announcers talk about how they are part of the fabric of their great game. It’s not true. It’s all a bunch of Schick.
[And there it is! We have a winner! Yes, we now know the lamest pun and the weakest column-ending line in the history of the Ned Bitters column, and that’s saying something, because we’re talking 7+ years of hackdom. Hey, it could have been worse. I was going to try to crowbar in some reference to Penn and Gillette or perhaps go with the word Atra-cious.]
Ned Bitters is, in fact, overrated. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.