Super Bowl XLV: Troy Polamalu and Clay Matthews, long hair will be on display

NFL players' long hairstyles will be on display when the Steelers meet the Packers in Super Bowl XLV.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 30, 2011; 12:35 AM

Super Bowl XLV may or may not be the best, gaudiest, highest-scoring, most-watched or most-concussive Super Bowl in history. But one superlative will almost certainly apply: It's going to be the hairiest.

An era of increasing hirsuteness in the National Football League will reach its apex next Sunday, when two of the most celebrated - and least-shorn - teams in league history, the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers, meet at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Tex. If the NFL had any understanding of the zeitgeist, it would get Fabio to sing the national anthem.

These are two teams that excel at mane-to-mane defense. On one side of the field: the Steelers, led by their wild, crinkly-haired safety (and Head and Shoulders pitchman) Troy Polamalu. If you need to look up the spelling of his last name, it's because it is rarely visible on the back of his jersey, covered up by silky strands of his famed (and famously insured, for $1 million) locks.

On Polamalu's flank will be Pro Bowl defensive end Brett Keisel, sporting an epic beard so voluminous and untamed, it has its own Facebook page.

On the opposite side, the Packers, with their twin Rapunzelesque linebackers, Clay Matthews and A.J. Hawk, plus a handful of less-celebrated (but no less-scissors-averse) teammates. By virtue of his talent (he is a leading candidate for the NFL's defensive player of the year), if not his tresses, Matthews is the telegenic front man for this hair band, and last week he signed an endorsement deal with Suave, allowing him to join Polamalu in breaking from the hairy pack and making his 'do a part of the popular culture.

"That's the next step, right there," Matthews said before the Suave deal was announced. "Obviously, you've got to perform on the field in order to get those types of endorsements, and hopefully I'm taking a step in the right direction."

The long-hair trend that has been spreading throughout the NFL for the last 15 to 20 years is by some accounts traceable to 1990s sack specialist Kevin Greene - now, perhaps not coincidentally, the Packers' outside linebackers coach - with his long, flowing locks that looked more at home in a pro wrestling ring (where he also dabbled for a time) than on a football field.

In the early 2000s, running back Ricky Williams helped popularize the dreadlocked look and led the NFL to clarify a rule (known informally as "the Ricky Rule"), stating that players with hair that spills out of their helmets can be tackled by it.

It's an effective - if painful - way of bringing a ballcarrier to the ground, as Polamalu himself experienced in 2006 against the Kansas City Chiefs. In a play immortalized on YouTube (search "Polamalu tackled by hair") , Polamalu intercepted a pass and was galloping down the sideline toward the end zone when the Chiefs' Larry Johnson leaped in the air, grabbed him by his hair and yanked him to the ground.

"I mean, the dude had hair. What do you want me to do?" Johnson said after the game. "When I grabbed him, that's the only thing I could get my hands on."

"It didn't hurt," Polamalu claimed at the time. "It felt good."

The influx of Samoan players (including Polamalu, who, though a California native, is of Samoan descent) brought with it yet another take on beyond-the-helmet hair: the wild, warrior look that is a cherished part of Samoan culture.

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