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Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
Ross Murray
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is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at ross_murray@sympatico.ca
Posted 06.12.06
Stanstead, Quebec

ROSS MURRAY

Sports hero beards and other superstitions

My son adamantly believes that a certain NHL player did poorly in the post-season because he shaved off his beard.

"Oh come on, James," I admonished. "Do you really believe that?"

He looked at me like I was some kind of alien, and a stupid one at that.

"It was a playoff beard!"

Over the past year or so, my 10-year-old has become one of those boys who can rattle off players' names like they're buddies from school, who pledges allegiance to the team (Senators… okay, now the Oilers), and who collects hockey cards for the cards and not (like I did) just for the gum.

That's why he knows about - nay, swears by! - the playoff beard.

He is not alone. I Googled "playoff beard" and came up with 36,100 entries, including a history of the playoff beard in Wikipedia.

There is even a site called Playoffbeard.com, which is really just a hockey blog, although it does contain a picture of actor Chuck Norris, "the patron saint of facial hair."

For those not in the know, the playoff beard is a superstition among professional athletes that growing a beard during post-season play will improve their chances of victory. As if hockey players weren't grotesque enough…

The superstition has become so widespread that even fans grow playoff beards. Male fans, anyway. I'm not sure what the women do and I'd rather not think about it.

"Seriously," I argued. "Growing a patchy beard is not going to make you play any better."

"It's true!" James exclaimed with the conviction of the converted.

I point out the practical flaw in this theory: Having grown facial hair myself, I imagine that the maddening itch of a new beard would in fact be quite distracting, thus causing an athlete to play more poorly, not more successfully. I try logic: Everyone grows a playoff beard for luck; not everyone wins; therefore, the playoff beard is not lucky.

All this falls on deaf ears. It's like talking to a Republican.

It bothers me to see my son buying into mass superstition. The playoff beard is a bandwagon belief, one more reason to believe that professional sports is full of dopes.

I have no problem with superstitions per se. For a while in junior high, for instance, I thought I would do better on my exams if I studied in the bathtub.

No water, just lie in the empty bathtub with the radio on.

Taken out of context, this activity might seem somewhat deranged. Now that I read this over, it's not much better taken in context.

What's important is managing the fine line between superstition and mental illness. Keeping with the exam-writing theme, it's like those troll dolls some students prop on their desk to bring them good luck. It's when the troll doll starts providing the answers that you have to worry.

In sports, baseball great Wade Boggs most famously walked the line between superstitious and just plain nuts. Among his countless compulsions, Boggs had to eat chicken before every game and hit exactly 150 balls during batting practice. Goalie Patrick Roy talked to his goalposts and called them his "friends." Crazy, yes, but crazy like an all-star athlete.

So, I have no problem with James being superstitious, as long as they're his own quirks and not something he's heard on a fan site. At the same time, I'll be monitoring to make sure he's not on the road to Boggs-ville. After a recent softball game, for example, he announced that he had hit an in-field homerun and had reached home to discover that he had done so with his fly down.

"Uhhhh," I said, "no."

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