CHARLOTTE –– The playoffs haven’t begun for the Carolina Panthers, though the season has already taken a toll on tight end Greg Olsen.
Not the weekly pounding of a 16-game schedule — he is as healthy as any player can be at this point. Olsen also has playoff experience. He played in two playoff games for the Chicago Bears in 2010, so the extended season isn’t a shock to him.
But there has still been a change in lifestyle that has the seven-year NFL veteran wondering what each day will bring. His routine has been disrupted for weeks — and that is a suffocating feeling for a professional athlete, whether the change is big or small.
In Olsen’s case, it is because he hasn’t shaved in nearly three months.
“Beard living is not easy,” Olsen said late last week. “It’s unchartered waters for me.”
He leaned on a chair in front of his locker at Bank of America Stadium. His head was bowed as if weighed down by a long, sandy-brown anchor he tethered himself to weeks ago.
The beard has been his constant companion since a 22-6 loss to Arizona on Oct. 6, a defeat that dropped Carolina to 1-3. The Panthers rebounded to beat Minnesota the following week. And whether true or not, Olsen felt that season-changing victory could be directly linked to his sprouting facial hair. Not wanting to tempt his –– or, more importantly, the team’s –– fate, he decided the beard would remain so long as the Panthers were engulfed in good vibes.
A 12-4 regular season and a division title have Olsen scared to even look at a razor these days. It is quite a change for a traditionally clean-shaven guy. And it is a different adjustment than what the team as a whole recently endured.
Having secured a first-round bye, the Panthers had to allow the first round to play out before learning next Sunday’s opponent. That means no in-depth scouting reports or long film sessions focusing on a specific team.
Instead, the days since last week’s NFC South-clinching win at Atlanta have been devoted to internal issues. The Panthers have tried to fine-tune all phases of their game while rehashing things that were lost in translation since training camp. Carolina will return to its regular routine next week.
The way of the beard
Olsen, meanwhile, will continue to travel down a foreign highway. With the Panthers having won 11 of 12 games since the beard emerged, he really has no choice.
He has navigated his way with the help of savvy teammates familiar with the way of the beard. Helpful pointers have included aficionado basics such as how to properly trim the beard, manage tangles, etc.
There have also been tips on how to deal with otherwise simple, day-to-day tasks. Meals and a plan of attack often have to be considered well in advance in order to avoid embarrassment or complete disaster.
Olsen, to the chagrin of a few of his mentors, has gone his own way on occasion. He has chosen to trim the mustache more closely than the rest of the beard, giving it an off-balance appearance. Still, even the detractors of that particular style embraced it as an expression of creativity and individualism.
“It is a lifestyle,” center Ryan Kalil said. “There’s definitely a sense of respect for a guy with a beard. I think there’s science that guys with beards are more trustworthy. Abe Lincoln (is a good example). Shakespeare was big on beards, too.”
Those are solid examples. Fortunately for Olsen, his wife, Kara, has bought into the initiative, as well.
An understanding spouse
The possibility of a playoff beard, or any other sort of facial hair, was never mentioned before they were married five years ago. Olsen said that if it had been included in any sort of prenuptial agreement, then he would have to “break the promise.”
It was unclear whether he was talking about his marital vows or his pledge to do whatever is necessary to win a championship.
“She’s not crazy about it, but she understands what’s at stake,” Olsen said. “She’s a team player and gets it. This is strictly for team benefit.”
Having support at home is important.
It certainly makes it easier for Olsen to focus on the task at hand, that being the Panthers’ first playoff game since 2008. And the beard will grow with each win — along with Carolina’s chances of advancing to the Super Bowl.
The end will eventually come for both, however. The beard will vanish either with a Panthers championship or an early playoff exit.
“It’s not an offseason commitment, it’s simply an in-season commitment,” Olsen said. “I don’t know if I could live my whole life with this beard.”
Olsen says that now.
But what if the beard delivers a Super Bowl title? He might want to consult with Kara as to if shaving would jinx next season before it even begins.