x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Hirsute of excellence from the mane men

The locks are flowing in American football these days, maybe it is time for someone to take the trim.

Defensive tackle Domata Peko of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Defensive tackle Domata Peko of the Cincinnati Bengals.

So I am parked at my semi-reserved table in the sports restaurant, scanning my usual eight - or is it nine? - NFL games at once.

My ever-wandering eyes settle on Seattle versus Chicago, where a Seahawks receiver whose jersey number includes an 8 - or is it a 3? - and whose surname above it is entirely obscured is being pursued by a Bears cornerback of indeterminate number whose name contains an I, N and G.

Some players swear off certain foods and lifestyle habits during the season.

Nowadays, many are swearing off haircuts, and flowing locks are placing them in what amounts to a witness protection programme.

Since helmeted sports and facial recognition do not mix, a selling point of the high-definition screens that come with televisions-on-steroids is the easy, helpful ID-ing of players simply by reading their backs.

Yet enough of them are avoiding the clippers that the patron saint of pro football seems to have become Samson, the Biblical figure who equated hair with strength.

More, uh, power to them, but what about we viewers unable to differentiate one player from another unless we watch in the company of a hairstylist?

Every TV screen at my establishment displayed anonymous athletes with tresses spilling out of their headgear.

For the Super Bowl half-time show, maybe they can be rounded up to perform samples from the venerable Broadway musical Hair ("Let if fly in the breeze and get caught in the trees. Give a home to the fleas in my hair.")

Please understand: I have no objection to men with hair down to here. Been there, done that myself.

(No objection to tattoos, either, by the way, though moderation would seem prudent. Keep those barrels of ink reserved for newspapers.)

I also get that dreadlocks are a choice of style, often with striking results.

I just need know who is running, catching, throwing, blocking, tackling and getting reamed out by their coaches. Seeing the numerals would help, the letters even more.

This cover-up forces me to associate a player with the length of his mane - which, further complicating matters, can change weekly.

You might think guys would go for the closely cropped look for their own comfort and elusiveness.

NFL rules consider hair part of the uniform, meaning it is fair game for being clutched in the course of a tackle.

DeAngelo Williams of the Carolina Panthers grew so frustrated at the tactic that he switched to a less grabbable braided ponytail late last season. I noticed Williams' extended dreads at a game this year - at least, I think it was him - so perhaps he ran afoul of the fashion police and unloosed the locks.

Offensive players dating as far back as Ricky Williams in 2003 have experienced hair-pulling, which might explain why most of the unshorn are defensive backs - the yankers instead of the yankees.

Not all, though. Safety Troy Polamalu of Pittsburgh was on the receiving end after an interception, but good luck finding him in a barber's chair.

Since 2009, Polamalu has been handsomely paid to endorse a popular shampoo whose manufacturer has capitalised on his distinctive mop.

The company also insured it, which measures about a metre in length, for reportedly a million dollars. Unclear is whether there is an opt-out clause for the TV spots should chunks get ripped out. Appearing in advertisements for another shampoo is Clay Matthews, the Green Bay linebacker. At least Matthews is recognisable, even with jersey name and number hidden, as the only notable NFL blond who could use a garden rake rather than a comb.

I cannot say for sure if my confusion over identifying hairy players also is experienced by their own teammates.

But how else to explain why Arizona quarterbacks seem to forget who Larry Fitzgerald is. Otherwise, would they not throw to him more often?

I pondered that question Sunday while summoning Seahawks and Bears rosters on my smartphone to deduce that the players in question were receiver Sidney Rice and cornerback Tim Jennings. Seattle, by the way, has the most dread-ed standouts, Rice and the similarly shaggy Marshawn Lynch.

What the league needs is a player who can buck the trend and establish a new one. Somebody with enough self-confidence to create a buzz by getting a buzz cut — and more.

Hey, baldheaded Michael Jordan tried baseball. Why not football?