Kansas City, Mo. — He’s not a member of ZZ Top. Nor is he a reincarnated Karl Marx.
Sean McGrath could probably play Santa Claus, though, provided he took a few minutes to bleach his brown facial hair stark white. Then again, perhaps the result would be more along the lines of a young Charles Darwin than the jolly fat man wearing red.
The fellows from “Duck Dynasty” have a rival in the facial hair department from the Kansas City Chiefs’ backup tight end, who is becoming known for his gnarly whiskers and a hero to fans for the way he’s filled in for banged-up starters Anthony Fasano and Travis Kelce.
“I mean, girls that wear short-shorts want to flaunt their legs, right?” McGrath told The Associated Press. “I have this beautiful beard here. Why not grow it out.”
Indeed, why keep such splendor hidden?
After all, this is no five o’clock shadow sticking out of his chinstrap. This is a 10 o’clock toupee glued to his face. The hair along the upper lip is long enough that it’s starting to turn up at the corners, a la longtime big-league pitcher Rollie Fingers. The mass of bristles hanging off his jaw seem dense enough that a sparrow could flutter out of there at any moment.
“It’s like a pillow on my chin. I groom it. I shampoo, conditioner. I take care of it. I mean, I can’t grow it on my head,” McGrath said, running his big right hand over the closely mown dome, “so I might as well grow it on my face.”
McGrath started to grow the beard around St. Patrick’s Day — incidentally, the patron saint of Ireland is often depicted with a bushy beard of his own. At the time, McGrath was still a member of the Seahawks, and was coming off a rookie season in which he saw action in just two games.
He remained with them throughout the summer but was cut this fall, shortly before the start of the season. The Chiefs snatched him up to provide some depth when Tony Moeaki went down with a fractured shoulder, and he’s only proven to be more invaluable as Fasano tries to return from ankle and knee injuries and Kelce deals with a micro fracture in his knee.
McGrath, a product of Division II Henderson State, had the first two catches of his NFL career two weeks ago against Dallas. He had four catches for 31 yards last week in Philadelphia.
Along with Kevin Brock, he’s keeping the tight ends relevant in the Chiefs’ offense.
“It’s the next guy — the next-guy-steps-up mentality,” offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said. “McGrath coming in and doing what he’s done my hat’s off to him.”
The Chiefs planned to use their tight ends extensively this season, a big reason why they gave Fasano a four-year, $16 million deal and drafted Kelce in the third round. But neither of them was practicing this week because of their injuries, which means the Chiefs head into Sunday’s game with the New York Giants hoping their bearded wonder can have another big afternoon.
“I mean, I’m going to tell you all like I tell everyone, I’m going to prepare the same every single week, whether I’m going to be out there a lot or I’m not,” McGrath said. “I’m going to be out there getting ready for the game on Sunday.”
With that, McGrath twirls a couple strands of his moustache between his fingers.
There have been some good beards in recent sports history. The lumberjack look of the Steelers’ Brett Keisel stands out, as does the Rockets’ James Harden. The mass of ink-blank hair Dodgers reliever Brian Wilson sports has been impressing baseball aficionados for years.
“You won’t see me growing anything out like that any time soon,” said Kelce, who has some scruff of his own. “There’s not going to be any competition with me.”
McGrath and his ilk seem to be onto something, though.
Researchers in Australia published a study in the journal “Evolution & Human Behavior” earlier this year that found that women prefer men with heavy stubble over clean-shaven guys. Furthermore, it found that full beards are more popular than the clean-shaven look.
Then there’s the success of shows such as “Duck Dynasty” on A&E, with a cast that has some epic frontal locks, and “Whisker Wars” on IFC, which delves into the world of competitive bearding.
“It’s definitely trending right now,” McGrath said with a good-natured laugh, rows of white teeth peeking out from his brownish bush. “I might be on the roller-coaster, but as long as it is on the way up. When it starts coming back down, I might have to jump off.”