Super Bald

When Marlin Jackson intercepted Tom Brady at the Indianapolis 35 yard line a little less than two weeks ago, he secured for his team and his coach a special place in history. As he dropped to the turf and was touched down after a short, six yard scamper, Jackson ensured that Super Bowl XLI would be coached, for the first time in the history of the National Football League, by two bald men.

Think about that for a minute.

It wasn’t long ago that bald men could barely get in the door simply to interview for vacant head coaching positions. The conspicuous lack of bald head coaches on NFL sidelines has irked smooth-pated players and assistant coaches for years. It came to a head, finally, in 1997 when the San Francisco 49ers, led by an abundantly coiffed Carmen Policy, hired a young, similarly coiffed college coach by the name of Steve Mariucci; passing over, much to the dismay of players and fans, the team’s legendary bald offensive line coach, Bobb McKittrick.

Subsequently, McKittrick fell ill with an aggressive form of bile duct cancer that killed him a mere three years later. Many close to both McKittrick and the 49ers front office blame the spread of the cancer on the effect Policy’s snub had on McKittrick. Put plainly, it broke his spirit. When reached for a response, Policy said “Who are you? How did you get in my house?” McKittrick was unavailable for comment..

The ensuing furor in 2000 reached such a pitch that the league’s owners, at the urging of Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, hastily passed the Jack Kent Cooke Rule whereby teams are mandated to interview at least one bald person for each available head coaching slot.

Of course the rule came under immediately scrutiny from traditionalists and those in football’s hirsute, old boys club who felt they were being railroaded into offering employment to potentially less qualified applicants. If you can’t hold your hairline, the thinking went, how can you be expected to hold your O-Line? Ridiculous on their surface, these criticisms gained traction with the hiring and firing of Mike Tice by the Minnesota Vikings. It was a setback that nearly cost Lovie Smith his opportunity to coach the Chicago Bears.

Yet here we stand. February 1, 2007. The Indianapolis Colts and the Chicago Bears are in the Super Bowl. And they are being led into battle in front of a global audience for professional football’s most sought after prize by two bald men.

Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith are not your typical bald men. They do not compensate for unjustly perceived shortcomings by engaging in obnoxious, histrionic behavior. They don’t hide their insecurities behind a hardened veneer of anger and sarcasm. Or a wig.

To the contrary, Dungy and Smith are respectful (and respected), well-spoken, intelligent family men who take pride in their work and their ability to take care of those families. They go to church every Sunday, they love their mothers, and they don’t blame anyone for their problems.

They are role models for both the bald and the un-bald. Which brings me to the larger point: if they can be role models for everyone, then why are we all making such a big deal about the fact that they’re the first bald men to coach against each other in the Super Bowl? Isn’t it enough that as good, hard-working men they traversed treacherous 16-game schedules to lead their respective teams to their sport’s biggest stage? It’s not like getting to the Super Bowl is easy…no matter how much hair you have.

Steve Mariucci, Dennis Erickson, Dom Capers, Jim Mora, Joe Bugel, Bruce Coslet, Jerry Glanville, Pete Carroll, Wayne Fontes, Ted Marchibroda, Dave Campo, Wade Phillips, Mike Sherman, Dave Wannstedt.

None of these guys coached a team to the Super Bowl and they’ve each got thick heads of hair. Hell, a couple of them haven’t even won a playoff game. Ask them if they think having hair gave them a leg up. Each one of them would probably punch you in the mouth if they weren’t already retired or out of the playoffs and on vacation.

Marshalling your team into the Super Bowl has nothing to do with hair. It has everything to do with that little bit of luck every coach hopes for and that whole lot of hard work that every coach puts in. It’s time the media and the fans of professional football realize that. I’m tired of all the “by the way”s and the “it’s interesting to note”s that come along with reporting on Super Bowl Ex El Eye. It’s patronizing and it diminishes their accomplishments as coaches and as men.

Dungy’s and Smith’s greatest accomplishments this year were not overcoming the stumbling blocks inherent in being bald while coaching in a league run by dudes with lots of hair. On Sunday, what Dungy should be heralded for is his ability to coax out back to back high quality performances from his much-maligned and often times porous defense. On the other sideline, Smith deserves a standing ovation for finding a way to get steady, mistake-free play from his underwhelming, mistake-prone offense. These were colossal feats irrespective of hair follicle density.

There is no debate, of course, that bald people have faced a rocky road to general acceptance in this country since its inception over 200 years ago. It’s no coincidence that Ben Franklin was never elected President, just as it should be no surprise that the only way we ever elected a bald man like Eisenhower to this country’s highest office was to focus on the fact that the man was a General and a decorated war hero.

We’ve made long strides as a people since those days. Balds model now. They can go on television without a wig and host game shows where hot chicks open suitcases while standing on risers. It was only a few years ago that it was trendy to date bald guys and bring them home to meet your parents just so you could show them that they didn’t own you and that you were independent. True, that was just a phase and most of those relationships never lasted–I mean c’mon, it’s cool to date one for awhile, but to marry one and have kids together? What would the neighbors think? What about your grandparents? You come home for Thanksgiving one year and you have little bald babies running all over the place. You could kill your grandmother.

The point is, as a nation–as a People–we will never be able to overcome the prejudices seemingly woven into our cultural DNA until we are able to look at bald men like Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith with admiration and respect simply for their abilities as coaches of football and managers of men. Personally, when I look at them I don’t see a couple of bald guys in funny hats. I see a couple of exceptional coaches in funny hats. And that’s how it should be.

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