Caught by the hair of their chins

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:08 AM ET

The Calgary Stampeders are just itchin' for some post-season success.

With that in mind, several players and coaches, spurred on by veteran o-lineman Jay McNeil, have taken to growing playoff beards.

Inspired by the Calgary Flames' 2004 playoff run in which the team lost the Stanley Cup final by a whisker, McNeil is hoping for similar inspiration in the mirror every morning, carrying the Stamps into Sunday's West Division semifinal.

"A lot of hockey players do it and I can still picture Jarome Iginla with his spotty beard, it was worse than mine," says McNeil, 35, sporting a facial thatch with distinct silver patches.

The entire offensive line along with the quarterbacks, running back Scott Deibert, some coaches and even president Ted Hellard are playing along, with varying degrees of success.

Some of the thickest efforts are on the mugs of tackle Alexandre Gauthier, backup quarterback Danny Wimprine, offensive co-ordinator Steve Buratto and Deibert.

Quarterbacks coach Bill Diedrick could pass (in rather dim light) for diminutive actor Joe Pesci, although players have taken to calling him Al Pacino.

The weakest growth is barely poking through the cheeks of starting pivot Henry Burris, whose crop appears to have suffered heavy hail damage.

It's no reason for the Oklahoman to smile, although the grin persists.

"Oh, I'm growing it, I'm trying to get there," says Burris, 30, responding to an accusation he had balked at an offer to take part.

"This is the first time and I don't grow hair fast.

"The old guys look good and Wimprine is getting there. He's a country bumpkin, a Southern hick, so his is getting up there.

"McNeil's is white. He's getting prepared to be Santa Claus for his children."

The seed was planted at the Regina Airport Oct. 23 after defeating the Saskatchewan Roughriders, clinching the team's first playoff berth since 2001.

Tackle Jeff Pilon, 29, is fashioning a grizzly growth and likens the hair-raising to a bonding experience.

"McNeil, he likes to call his blond but I call it grey," Pilon quips.

"His lacks colour, that's for sure.

"This is just another thing that brings us all together. A team bonding thing. Guys are always looking to do something different, keep it lively and keep it fresh and always having something to have fun with."

Adds McNeil: "It's just sort of a reminder, a bonding thing for the offensive line and quarterbacks, that we're going to stick together. But it's a reminder that every time you look in the mirror, we remember what we're doing in the playoffs.


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