GLENDALE, Ariz. – There are some great mysteries associated with the Super Bowl this year that defy explanation.
For instance, how did the New York Giants manage to win an NFL-record 10 consecutive games on the road (including three in the playoffs) to get here?
But perhaps the greatest mystery as the 42nd version of America's greatest sporting spectacle approaches is this: What will be found in Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins' beard when he shaves it off Monday?
This is the kind of question inspired by Media Day, the Tuesday extravaganza before the big game that is more of a sideshow than an exercise in anything truly related to football. There was the usual collection of "media" folks in costume armed with odd-ball questions – the kind of stuff that makes real reporters proud.
New England wide receiver Randy Moss answered questions at length, although he admitted part of the way through that he had been threatened with a fine before the season from the NFL if he wasn't more cooperative with the media.
Giants defensive end Michael Strahan was jovial, even entertaining a series questions about who would be the best actors to play certain players in the game. He chose Will Smith for himself, Tobey Maguire for Eli Manning and Brad Pitt for Tom Brady. Strahan envisions a pretty good cast, though such a lineup obviously would require a big-time budget.
But among all the semi-surreal moments, there was one oddity that was very much a product of fact, not fiction: The enormous growth on Mankins' face that covers far down his neck. The top-flight guard, a first-round pick by New England in 2005, has been growing it since August. In all that time, he hasn't taken a razor to it to trim it in any way, the hair growing in undulating patterns that resemble some model formed by a wave machine.
"I said I wasn't going to shave it until we lost this season, so this is where it's at," Mankins said, his mouth only visible when it opened amid the growth.
OK, in all honesty, this isn't some demonic, Charles Manson-like beard. But it's not pretty … as Mankins knows.
"I can't wait until Monday," he said. "Neither can my wife."
Of course, beards are nothing new for offensive linemen. More than half the Patriots and Giants linemen were sporting some significant facial growth, ranging from a neatly-trimmed Fu Manchu for Billy Yates of New England to thick goatee for New Yorkers Kareem McKenzie and Grey Ruegamer.
"It makes you look more distinguished and meaner," McKenzie said. "You're not supposed to be nice in football."
Said Ruegamer: "You gotta hide the double chin. We're 300-pound men. We like to eat."
OK, but Mankins' beard is so out of control he could probably hide Rosie O'Donnell and Donald Trump's ego inside it right now. Where McKenzie has a rule against letting his beard getting "all wily," Mankins defines unruly.
"There are some small animals in there," Pats offensive lineman Dan Koppen said of Mankins. "There's food and all sorts of stuff growing in there, too."
Of course, Mankins' teammates are of little help when it comes to maintaining some sense of decorum with the beard.
"Yeah, I have to be really careful when I eat. If there's something in the beard, those guys won't tell me. They'll just let me walk around like that for awhile," Mankins said.
"I'm sure there's a lot going on here, stuff you would never want to be a part of," said Matt Light, Mankins' linemate on New England's left side and a fellow Pro Bowler. Light himself sports a combination of beard and long hair just neat enough to make him look part-biker and part-rock star.
"It's that California rancher look he's got going," Light said.
How about Montana Freeman?
"Yeah, I can see where you're going with that," Light said. Then Light's favorite movie, "The Mountain Men," came to mind.
"It's a classic," Light said. "It's a story of two mountain men, they're trappers, they're dealing with all the craziness, the Indians, trappin', they're bonding. At the end, it really gets you. They're hard core."
"Mankins is definitely one of them."
How about a remake?
"I'd love to be part of that … It's the greatest movie ever made," Light said.
That may be a stretch. But come Monday, Light and Mankins could be part of the greatest season ever made.