BARCELONA, Spain -- If one of the reasons the U.S. men's volleyball players shaved their heads was to make the International Volleyball Federation look bad, the joke was on them. The ones who looked really bad yesterday were the players.
"Silly" was the word used by one of their Canadian opponents to describe them.
Even the U.S. players confessed that they couldn't look at each other without giggling.
If another reason they shaved their heads was to motivate themselves to rise above adversity, they almost failed in that, too. In fact, they came close to creating more of it for themselves in the Summer Olympics by blowing a two-set lead over lightly regarded Canada before rallying to win, 15-12, 15-12, 10-15, 11-15, 16-14.
The two-time defending champions had another close call in their opening match Sunday against another supposedly outmanned opponent, Japan, before coming from behind in five sets to win.
Or so they thought.
Twenty-four hours later, the FIVB reversed the outcome because the referee failed to award the Japanese a technical point that would have given them a 15-13 victory in the fourth set, and the match.
The FIVB ruled that the referee was required to give Japan the technical point when he issued a second warning in the set for unsportsman like conduct to U.S. player Bob Samuelson.
Samuelson, 25, is an excitable player who eight years ago contracted alopecia universalis, a rare condition that causes its victims to lose all their hair.
After learning of the FIVB's decision Monday, the U.S. players held a team meeting at the athletes' village to discuss potential forms of protest.
"I think it was Timbo who came up with the idea of shaving heads," Samuelson said, referring to Steve Timmons. "He kind of threw it out as a joke. My eyes lit up and everybody began to look at each other. The rest is history."
So was their hair.
It was hardly a joking matter for Timmons, whose distinctive hairstyle is as well known in his sport as Don King's is in boxing. It even helps Timmons earn a living -- he uses a drawing of a flaming red crew cut as the logo for the Red Sand Beachwear Co. that he co-owns.
At first, some players were reluctant to cut more than a few locks of their hair. But when they saw Timmons sit down in a chair for his shearing, they all followed.
"When we saw the flat top go, hey, we were going for it," said team captain Scott Fortune. "That's his trademark."
Samuelson did the honors.
The least enthusiastic player, everyone agreed, was Brent Hilliard.
"I don't think he's ever had his hair less than five inches long," Timmons said.
"My love life is gone, totally gone," Hilliard said. "I'm serious. I'm afraid to even call home."
Coach Fred Sturm appreciated his players' display of solidarity. He did not, however, join them.
"I considered it, for a millisecond," he said.
Thus bonded, the U.S. players ran onto the court at the Sports Palace yesterday to a rousing ovation from their fans.
Their opponents were less impressed.
"I think it's a joke," Canada's Kevin Boyles said. "It means nothing. It makes them look silly. That's all it does."
But Timmons said it unified the team. Six members are veterans of the 1988 gold-medal team, while six are playing in their first Olympics, and sometimes the team has seemed as if it were split along those lines.
"This brought us together," he said. "I feel like we're all the same now."
The team, though, continues to struggle. It seemed as if yesterday's victory would be easy, but then, just as against the Japanese two days earlier, the U.S. players began having difficulty finding open spaces at which to aim their attack.
Without all-everything Karch Kiraly, who is playing pro ball on the beach, this does not appear to be the supreme team that it was in 1984 and '88.
"They're used to teams folding after they get up by two sets," said Canada's coach, Brian Watson. "But we didn't.
"I give them credit, though. They responded when they had to at the end."
And if they hadn't?
"I was thinking the eyebrows would have to go next," Timmons said.