The execution began at the stroke of three, performed by a woman named Shawna who promised to carry out her morbid task with as much care, precision and dignity as the situation would allow.
After applying a thick layer of warm white cream to the victim, Shawna reached for her death instrument — a shiny silver blade — and immediately went to work with short and careful strokes. Nearly an hour later, my playoff beard was officially pronounced dead, just like the 2009 Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup playoff run that gave him life in the first place.
He was 47 days old.
• • •
Now, hours later, I can't stop thinking about my beard. While writing the above intro, I stopped several times to stroke him in deep thought before realizing that it had sadly become a phantom limb.
My beard is no longer there, the Chicago Blackhawks season is really over and if I want to continue watching hockey, it's going to involve backing either the Penguins and Red Wings. Is it nice to enter banks without tellers inching toward the alarm button or walk past a church without a well-meaning priest asking if I need any social services? Am I happy that I will no longer show up to family gatherings to have my grandfather inquiring whether I'm living in my car these days or have my mother shooting me quiet looks of disappointment? Of course.
But darned if I still don't miss that magnificent S.O.B.
If you're a fan of one of the 14 playoff teams that have already bit it and were forced to go through a similar separation between face and whisker, I suspect you know how I'm feeling. From the efforts in St. Louis and Montreal that never got past peach fuzz to the Al Borland looks that were given more time to develop here in Chicago or down in Carolina (where they're simply called "beards"), all playoff chinstraps are created equal in the hope they may eventually be removed under ideal conditions, like before heading to a hot parade in June.
Of course, we started the process knowing full well that the bathroom sinks of April and May are littered with the clippings of playoff beards past and that it's much more likely our Mach 3s will be employed while under severe distress.
• • •
Still, the good memories dominate my thoughts. My beard was there during Game 1 of the first-round series against Calgary, when Havlat beat Kiprusoff in overtime and the United Center sounded like the Hawks had won the Cup right there and then. It happily lapped up the beer that was thrown through the air after Patrick Kane(notes) wristed a backhander past Roberto Luongo(notes) for a series-sealing hat trick over Vancouver, easily one of the best sporting moments we'd ever seen live. It made sure I was OK after I got lightheaded after jumping up too quickly after Patrick Sharp's(notes) gamewinner in Game 3 of the conference finals.
They say you'll always remember your first and I'm positive that is true. Back when the Blackhawks were playoff titans, I was too much young to grow any facial hair, not even a pair of Jonathan Toews(notes) Wolverine-style sideburns. When they gained entry in 2002, they were ousted by the Blues before I could even sprout a five o'clock shadow.
That's why my first foray into the world of follicle fostering meant so much. After a decade of trucking my keister to the UC six or eight times per year to watch hockey with 3,000 other disappointed fans — the depressing equivalent of visiting your brother in a methadone clinic — we were finally allowed to celebrate the reawakening of the monsters on Madison. No one outside Chicago will ever be able to fully understand how dead hockey was in Chicago or how alive it is now, but a good place to learn is to simply watch my bearded brothers happily sit in Section 331 or walk around the concourse with restored looks on their itchy faces.
• • •
Over the past seven weeks, I've had many non-believers ask why I would possibly neglect my hygiene in such a fashion. After all, I'm not on the team, have no ties to any of the players and there's no possible way that my beard has an effect on their win-loss record.
I'd start to explain that I was actually picking up the slack from our babyfaced Daydream Nation duo — Kane and Toews — but would stop the joke after getting blank looks.
Yet that's precisely the thing about the playoff beard. If you had or have one — no matter for which team — it doesn't need to be explained to you. It doesn't need to be explained to anyone outside of yourself or your fellow season ticket holders.
Just as I tried to park in the same parking lot for every game, just as I made sure to use the same lucky Blackhawks jersey coozy for my beers, just as I made sure to watch every away game at my brother's place, I made sure not to shave. That none of these actions or non-actions affected the team's cosmic balance didn't matter; they were simply ways of obtaining the illusion of control during a playoff run where we had absolutely none.
And so I will remember forever Playoff Beard, No. 1 with its shaggy and craggy look perfectly representing my appreciated return to the wild and wooly world of playoff hockey. It was a fantastic maiden trip and assuredly the first of many times I'll intentionally lose my razor.
So rest in peace, brother. Shall your full glory be resurrected again next spring.
He plans to spend his summer by proving — hopefully without a restraining order — that Jonathan Toews really does live in his North Side neighborhood.