Debut of gray-tinged facial hair is latest look from colorful Billick

July 31, 2005|By PETER SCHMUCK

MAYBE WE should all be relieved that the biggest issue facing the Ravens as they prepare to open training camp is whether coach Brian Billick should shave off his new beard.

I'm of the opinion that any NFL story that doesn't involve a federal prosecutor is probably a good one, but when I first saw a picture of Billick with his new facial hair, I had to wonder if he was going through one of those midlife crises that invariably end in a journey of self-discovery to the Himalayas.

In fact, I have this picture in my head of Billick sitting on a small rattan loveseat with the Dalai Lama and the Lama asking him one of the questions of the ages:

"Do you think Ray Lewis has lost a step?"

Fortunately, Billick's journey of self-discovery will only be to Westminster, though I think he might have better luck explaining the 46 defense to a Tibetan monk than Rex Ryan had trying to explain it to me at the team's strategy seminar a couple of months ago. That's why I'm obsessing about the beard.

I think he should get rid of it, since he used to be a pretty young-looking guy for his age and there's something about a gray-speckled beard that just screams senior citizen discount at the Red Robin. I know this because I used to have a gray-speckled beard that actually created the illusion that I had only one chin, but it still wasn't worth it.

Billick's beard has created such a buzz that both The Sun and WBAL Radio have been running Web site polls asking fans to vote on whether it should stay or go. The WBAL poll - which asks for a simple up or down vote - is running about 55 percent against the beard. The Sun poll, which includes a third choice (don't care), is much closer, with 38 percent against the beard, 35 percent in favor of it and 27 percent choosing to express their apathy.

(It strikes me that, based on The Sun's highly scientific Internet survey, I might have lost 27 percent of my readership - an estimated 13 people - just by choosing this subject, but I never make decisions based on polling data. I learned my lesson on that when I polled my wife on whether I should go to Vegas with my buddies in November, and 100 percent of the respondents said no.)

Billick does look more intelligent with the beard, if that's even possible, and if he decides to keep it, he would be joining a long line of great strategists with prominent facial hair.

Ulysses S. Grant, who is credited with winning the Civil War, is pictured on the $50 bill with a dark, luxurious beard, which was the style of the time. Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, who engineered a brilliant campaign to overthrow the Batista regime nearly 50 years ago, made the full beard a socialist fashion statement and still wears one today.

Of course, you don't see a lot of beards in the NFL, where control-freak head coaches often enforce strict grooming codes, but there have been a few prominent chin warmers over the years. Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts wore a beard while he was directing the explosive San Diego Chargers offense in the late 1970s. Defensive lineman Merlin Olsen also had one while he played for the Los Angeles Rams... or maybe that was during his Little House on the Prairie period. Who keeps track of that sort of thing?

I really don't know what prompted Billick to stop shaving, though I'm guessing it wasn't chronic depression. Billick seems pretty excited about the upcoming season, and he's holding a news conference in Westminster this afternoon in advance of tomorrow's first day of workouts at McDaniel College.

No doubt there will be the usual questions about Kyle Boller (who cannot grow facial hair yet) and new receivers Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton. There will be talk about the new offensive and defensive schemes that the Ravens will employ to get back to the playoffs. And there almost certainly will be at least one tough question about Billick's new look.

Inquiring minds want to know why he hasn't tried "Just For Men."

Today's final thought comes courtesy of baseball writer Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, who predicted that there will be a big scandal when people figure out that the Sammy Sosa bobblehead doll the Orioles gave out on Wednesday night is suspiciously smaller than the one the Chicago Cubs gave out two years ago.

You make the call

Should Brian Billick keep the beard or shave it off? Cast your vote at

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