Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Posted: 07/27/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0
It is one of the most bizarre and terrifying sights in the history of the Canadian Football League.
Surprisingly, we are not referring to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' tragic inability to score touchdowns.
No, we are referring to The Beard, by which we mean the unruly, out-of-control crop of facial hair adorning the otherwise cherubic mug of B.C. Lions kicker Hugh O'Neill.
This is not just ANY beard. When you spot O'Neill on the sidelines, you are forced to assume the Lions have turned over their kicking duties to one of the scraggly stars of Duck Dynasty, or the lead singer from legendary Texas rock band ZZ Top.
A 23-year-old graduate of the University of Alberta, O'Neill and his beard have been filling in for injured kicker Paul McCallum, stunning CFL fans and TV commentators alike.
TSN analyst and former star quarterback Matt Dunigan recently posted a photo of himself mugging with O'Neill and his beard (#FearTheBeard) on his Twitter account.
Here's what O'Neill, who is almost never interviewed about his foot, had to say recently about his Grizzly Adams look: "I always had a bit of facial hair. I went home in the off-season, put off getting it cut, then put it off some more."
And bearded Edmonton Eskimos' lineman Gord Hinse had this assessment of his former university teammate's bristles: "That thing is unreal. It's amazing. I'm speechless when I look at it; it's that grandiose!"
So it's a good beard, but is it a great beard? Here's how it stacks up against the current nominees for Most Outstanding Facial Hair in pro sports:
5 Greg Zanon
The NHL defenceman who spent last season with the Colorado Avalanche, was ranked No. 3 on SI.com's list of the "Best Beards in Sports History." His red chin-duster, which goes nicely with the Avalanche's white road jerseys, was also rated No. 7 best beard in NHL history by the website Bleacher Report. But don't take our word for it. Here's what Greg Wyshynski, editor of Puck Daddy for YAHOO! Sports, had to say in an online posting entitled "Five facts about the Magnificent Beard of Greg Zanon": "If you haven't seen Greg Zanon... lately, he looks like Lex Luthor being devoured by the floor of a barber shop, having suddenly and inexplicably turned sentient and carnivorous."
4 Brett Keisel
This massive human being is a little bit famous for being a marauding defensive end with the Pittsburgh Steelers of the NFL, but is a lot famous for "Da Beard," which he started growing on a hunting trip with his father. His beard has (we are not kidding) its own Facebook page ("To connect with Brett Keisel's Beard, sign up for Facebook today.") and Twitter account and, after the team's 2009 Super Bowl victory, it was the subject of several videos. The all-pro lineman refers to his beard as "a beautiful thing" and the "the greatest beard of all time," but shaves it off each year at his "Shear Da Beard" fundraiser for the cancer programs at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.
3 James Harden
The beard of the all-star shooting guard for the Houston Rockets of the National Basketball Association has its own entry on Wikipedia. It states: "Harden's prominent beard has inspired T-shirts and songs. Harden started growing his beard in college in 2009 after being too lazy to shave." A recent online poll for the Pro Sports Daily website declared Harden had the "best NBA beard of all time." It came in at No. 4 in the SI.com rankings. The BuzzFeed Sports website features a timeline of Harden's beard that concludes: "There's little doubt that he's now one of the 15 best players in the NBA. Meanwhile, the beard has taken on a life of its own -- it looks like someone stuck a shovel blade on his face."
2 Jayson Werth
Feeling under-appreciated by the Philadelphia Phillies, this Major League Baseball outfielder took his beard to the Washington Nationals in 2010, signing a seven-year, $126-million contract, the 14th richest in baseball history. His beard comes in at No. 12 out of 36 in SI.com's rankings. Bleacher report declares: "Werth literally looks like the caveman from the GEICO commercials," but Nats fans have been eating him up, literally, as the team recently began selling cupcakes featuring an icing version of unkempt beard. It's hard to tell the man from the baked good. After a recent 3-1 loss to his old team, Werth got a tad cranky when a Philly reporter tickled his beard with a mic. "Can you get that thing out of my face?" he snapped, before turning his back and snorting: "Yeah, I'm good."
1 Josh Reddick
With a great beard comes great responsibility. And this Gold Glove-winning right fielder for the Oakland Athletics has a great beard. In fact, he's ranked No. 1 on SI.com's list of the best beards in sports. In March, the 26-year-old Reddick, a huge pro wrestling fan, accepted a Twitter challenge from WWE wrestler Daniel Bryan for a "Beard-Off" wherein the loser, as determined by fan votes, will have to shave his scraggly facial hair at the end of the season. In accepting the challenge, Reddick's social-media savvy beard boasted (this is true) on its Twitter account: "MY BEARD pretty damn skippy/YOUR BEARD hungry as a hippie!" Sadly, Reddick, known to cut his hair when he struggles at the plate, recently arrived at the ballpark with a modest haircut and beard trim. Stay tuned for the hair-raising finale.
A real close shave:
Despite being a Lions fan, we have to admit B.C. kicker Hugh O'Neill's beard is not the pro sports champ. He probably loses by a whisker, but the kid should keep his chin up, because he's definitely (wait for it) the Hair Apparent.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 27, 2013 0
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