Everyone knows the story of Samson, the hero who was given supernatural strength and managed to undertake tasks such as killing a lion. He was seemingly superhuman and there was only two things that could take him down: a woman named Delilah, and her decision to chop off his hair. Samson’s hair was the source of his power and without it he was utterly helpless and vulnerable. The NFL today is filled with quite a few memorable hairstyles, as an increasing number of players decide to show a little flair once the helmet comes off. However, if you narrow the focus to players’ faces, there’s one phenomenon that seems undeniably Samson-like. It has to do with quarterbacks and their facial hair.
A California company, West Coast Shaving, set out to analyze facial hair in the NFL and one of their analyses centered on six of the biggest quarterbacks currently playing in the NFL. The company compared the quarterbacks’ performance clean shaven and their performance with a bit of scruff. How does one measure performance, exactly? Well, to get a good idea, West Coast Shaving looked at the QB ratings of each of the quarterbacks in question on a game by game basis in 2013, taking facial hair into account in their calculations. One would think the results might be random, with some quarterbacks playing better either way. After all, it’s just hair. However, it appears that we may be severely underestimating the power of scruff.
Whether it’s because it keeps their faces warmer during those chilly winter games or just plain makes them feel more manly and powerful, the results don’t lie – every single quarterback on the list played better with a little scruff on their face as opposed to clean shaven. The quarterbacks might be taking on Detroit Lions rather than Samson’s traditional lions, but these men definitely got a little extra spring in their step, a slightly tighter spiral on their tosses, when they had some type of facial hair.
And these aren’t just average benchwarmer quarterbacks – the scruff monsters in question are none other than Aaron Rodgers from the Green Bay Packers, Jay Cutler from the Chicago Bears, Tom Brady from the New England Patriots, Ben Roethlisberger from the Pittsburgh Steelers, Andrew Luck from the Indianapolis Colts, and Matthew Stafford from the Detroit Lions. The players selected are arguably some of the best quarterbacks in the NFL today, with many future Hall of Famers among them. Young Stafford had the least amount of recorded difference, with only a two point discrepancy between his scruffless vs. scruffed up performance, while others like Rodgers and Roethlisberger had a rating of nearly 15 points higher when they put down the razor and went au natural. No matter who you are, that’s a fairly significant difference, and players in as competitive a league as the NFL undoubtedly want any advantage they can get.
If it was a study on how quarterbacks are perceived by the public on the basis of their facial hair, it would be easy to understand. Different styles, whether they be clothing, hair styles, or facial hair, are often associated with different preconceived notions for individuals. Something like facial hair may polarize fans, with some a huge fan of scruffy players and others thinking it looks unkempt or unprofessional in some way.
However, this particular study was analyzing performance, so the issue here is how the quarterbacks themselves, and those they’re playing against, react to facial hair. Perhaps it’s a personal thing for each quarterback, that avoiding a baby faced look makes them feel a bit more confident, something that translates on the field. Given that six quarterbacks of different ages, on different teams, with different playing styles all improved when they weren’t clean shaven, however, it seems to be less of a personal thing and more of a cross-NFL phenomenon. It can also be a mere coincidence, but there’s no fun in discussing that.
So why does having a bit of scruff make all these quarterbacks play so much better? Perhaps it’s a very caveman-esque instinct. Hair equals testosterone equals increased aggressiveness on the quarterback’s part. Essentially, grow it and they will fear you. It’s also worth noting the position in question. Quarterback is often not the most aggressive or testosterone-packed position on the field. While quarterbacks are incredibly skilled, they’re often protected by their teammates so they can complete the team’s plays to the best of their abilities. Simply put, they slam into less people than a defensive player or other members of the offensive team might. Their focus is on accuracy rather than pure aggression. Perhaps the little boost that a beard or stubble gives them helps them feel a part of that testosterone-driven current.
Ultimately, it seems to be a mental issue. Every player is told – don’t get inside your head too much, don’t let others get into your head, etc, etc. Though facial hair might seem like a few inconsequential follicles, a style choice that has nothing to do with a player’s time on the field, the proven impact on every single studied quarterback’s performance suggests facial hair has some kind of mental impact on players. Whatever their reason, they seem to feel just that little bit more confident. And in a sport where sometimes passes are missed by mere inches, every little bit counts.
So, quarterbacks of the world – whatever you do, don’t pick up that razor.
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