Although the playoff beard is most commonly traced back to the 1980’s New York Islanders, Swedish superstar Björn Borg may have actually started the trend a few years before the National Hockey League. Regardless, Borg used to forgo shaving during Wimbledon in the mid 1970’s and won five consecutive tournament wins from 1976-1980. Although Wimbledon technically does not include a playoff run, it is the Stanley Cup of tennis and the principle behind Borg’s razor-free victory is all relative.
Ironically, the most commonly credited origin of the playoff beard started during a time when the playoff beard was simply an irrelevant novelty. Hockey players started growing their beards once their respective team entered the playoffs with the commitment to only shave when their team was eliminated or won the Stanley Cup. As this superstitious act became customary around the league, it also gained attention in other professional leagues, minor leagues and even some divisions of NCAA.
Today, the playoff beard has become less of a surprise and more of an expectation at most professional levels. While it is still considered primarily a hockey tradition, notable athletes from the NBA and MLB have donned some epic playoff beards over the last few years. From Sidney Crosby‘s embarrassing dirtstache to the Oakland Athletics’ Josh Reddick’s wild masterpiece, the beard is everywhere and often not without controversy.
Did former Miami Heat center Zydrunas IIgauskas really shave his beard because of spousal disapproval? Did Los Angeles Dodgers’ reliever Brian Wilson really not shave his beard for the New York Yankees losing out on $1 million? One thing is for sure, the beard means business. Although many of the greatest beards playing today are keeping their facial hair year-round, the rally beard is supreme. With the beard in high demand, let’s look back through the history of professional sports at the top 10 best playoff beards.
10. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins (2011)
The tallest man to ever play in the National Hockey League can grow one frightening playoff beard. This 6’9″, 255-lb. defenseman from Slovakia was drafted by the New York Islanders in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft. Currently, Chara serves as the captain of the Boston Bruins in the Atlantic Division. During their last successful playoff run in 2011, Chara sported one grizzly thick beard as the Bruins fought their way to the Stanley Cup Finals and went 4-3 to defeat the Vancouver Canucks. Shortly after the Bruins returned home, Chara had his beard shaved at a local barbershop.
9. Ken Morrow, New York Islanders (1980-1983)
The most commonly believed origin of the playoff beard dates back to the early 1980’s with the New York Islanders. As a member of that team, Ken Morrow is arguably one of the founding fathers of the playoff beard. Although most of the guys who played the Islanders during this period also had scruffy beards, this was a magical time in Morrow’s career. At the age of 23, he became one of the few hockey players to have won a Stanley Cup and an Olympic gold medal in the same year. By the end of his impressive career, Morrow had logged 10 seasons in the NHL before retiring in 1989. According to the Hockey Hall of Fame, Morrow currently serves as the New York Islander’s Director of Pro Scouting.
8. Brett Keisel, Pittsburgh Steelers (2010-2014)
Originally signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2002 NFL Draft, Keisel played 12 seasons in Steel City before being released after the 2013 season. The Utah native was a seasoned football player in the league before his epic beard garnered national attention at the end of the 2010 NFL season. Ever since, Keisel has made a commitment to growing the rally beard out every season then shaving it off at the end of the season in the annual “Shear Da Beard” event. Keisel shaves his beard at the Children’s Hospital at Pittsburgh and donates the proceeds to various foundations in Philadelphia. Brett Keisel is currently a free agent.
7. Kris Draper, Detroit Red Wings (2008)
Kris Draper was drafted by the Winnipeg Jets during the 1989 NHL Entry Draft. After a few seasons in Canada, Draper was traded to the Detroit Red Wings in 1993. The Canadian defenseman quickly established himself in Detroit and was a critical component in their back-to-back Stanley Cup wins in 1997 and 1998. Draper’s beard was probably most noted for the fiery red color matched with his pale complexion that were a little too close to the red and stark white colors on the Red Wings jersey. Kris Draper retired at the end of the 2010-2011 season and almost immediately took a job with the Detroit Red Wings’ front office.
6. James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder (2012)
The former Arizona State shooting guard, James Harden, was picked by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2009 NBA Draft. During his five years in the NBA, Harden has quickly established himself as a young, successful athlete. With 5 Player of the Week Awards, a trip to the 2012 NBA Finals and one Olympic Gold Medal, this two-time All-Star continues to prove how high the ceiling of his potential can reach.
On the Thunder’s run to the final in 2012, Harden became noticeable because of his awesome beard and he’s impressive play too.
5. Scott Hartnell, Philadelphia Flyers (2010)
Scott Hartnell was originally drafted by the Nashville Predators during the 2000 NHL Entry Draft and played with them until the end of the 2006-2007 season. Hartnell then signed with the Philadelphia Flyers where he still plays today. The ultimate caveman beard really exploded during the Philadelphia Flyers’ 2010 Stanley Cup run. With his long, curly locks and wild, unruly beard, the Canadian left winger looked like a completely different person. Unfortunately, Hartnell’s epic beard made it all the way to the finals and lost, but Scott should be mighty proud of what he was able to accomplish. A thick, full beard any man would applaud and any boy would envy.
4. Boston Red Sox (2013)
By the time the Boston Red Sox had won the World Series at Fenway Park last October, clutch Japanese closer, Koji Uehara, was the only player without a beard. We’ll give generous credit to those unfortunate players that attempted to grow a beard but simply were not gifted in that area. Although the entire team is credited for one of the best uniform playoff beards of all time, there was one MVP… Jonny Gomes. Even before the beard was in full force, people were talking about it. Gomes’ beard was wild in a way that made it look like he may have been electrocuted. It wasn’t until after he had it shaved did we realize… Jonny Gomes is a good-looking guy and a quality ball player.
3. Mike Commodore, Carolina Hurricanes (2006)
Alberta native, Mike Commodore, was originally drafted by the New Jersey Devils during the 1999 NHL Entry Draft. After two seasons with the Devils, Commodore played two seasons with the Calgary Flames before finding a home in Carolina. If you’ve seen Mike Commodore’s playoff beard once, you’ve seen it forever. The 6’4″, 227-lb. defenseman grew out an Oscar-worthy beard and a red ‘fro to fuel the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup Finals. After defeating the Edmonton Oilers in 7 games, Commodore played for four different NHL teams before joining the KHL in Russia. As commendable as his beard was, the best part was that Commodore proceeded to shave his hair and beard to donate them to the Jimmy V Foundation for cancer research.
2. Brian Wilson, San Francisco Giants (2010)
Fear the beard. Brian Wilson may have one of the best beards in all of history. Before you freak out, Wilson was bumped to runner-up because of two big factors: a) the playoff beard from 2010 was nothing compared to what it’s become, and, b) although Wilson has never admitted it, it’s rather obvious that he dyes his beard black. Regardless, the former San Francisco Giants closer is hugely credited to the team’s success from 2010-2012 including their two World Series titles. Wilson has since signed on with the Los Angeles Dodgers to add more venom to their incredibly dangerous pitching squad. Long live the beard.
1. Lanny McDonald, Calgary Flames (1989)
Lanny McDonald was a Canadian hockey player drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1973. McDonald played seven seasons with Toronto then was traded to the Colorado Rockies in 1979 before finally joining the Calgary Flames where he stayed for the remainder of his career. Although McDonald kept his bushy Lorax mustache through the regular season, his incredible ginger beard only made a special appearance during the Stanley Cup playoffs. It has been the best playoff beard for 25 years and continues to prove that the best playoff beard is also the one hoisting the Stanley Cup.