By Jeff Capellini, CBSNewYork.com
NEW YORK (CBS 2) — Who could ever have imagined facial hair would take on a life of its own?
Well, that’s what has happened on Twitter over the last few months, thanks to Braylon Edwards. His decision to grow the type of forest on his face that will almost certainly get him stopped at airport checkpoints whenever the Jets are on the road has become an Internet sensation.
As a result, the NFL, often referred to as the “No Fun League,” has acted out of character this preseason and granted the Jets a roster exemption, allowing “The Beard” to become their 54th man. Once the real games start, don’t be surprised to see two planes eventually depart the airport every other week, one carrying the players and coaches and the other carrying Edwards’ alter ego and the staff needed to make it look glorious.
In addition, NFL officials have been instructed to allow the Jets to field 12 “men” on offense during regular season games. The Beard will likely line up out wide to run interference for Edwards as he tries to prove to the Jets’ faithful he is indeed the player who once scored 16 touchdowns in a single season.
Of course, this is all made up. That is, everything but the Edwards having something to prove part. That’s 100 percent truth. It’s so real Edwards has looked elsewhere for inspiration.
Edwards’ facially challenged statement has come on a team of crazies. Just watch “Hard Knocks” for confirmation. The Jets are characters who really want us to believe have character. That remains to be seen. They haven’t played a game yet and, to a man, think they’ll win the Super Bowl. They’ve already walked the walk in their minds.
Yet, in a twisted sort of way it’s absolutely refreshing. The Jets seem hell bent on proving to the world they have a roster filled with very different identities. They may not win a championship, but they will go down in a blaze of insanity trying. Just look at Edwards these days.
But that begs the question: Haven’t the Jets had enough nameless, faceless and beardless players over the years?
Braylon dares to be different. Good for him I say. If the Jets win you’ll see 52 other beards colliding with the Stanley Cup nowhere to be found. Hey, whatever works.
Ask any Jets fan. That kind of color is something this organization has lacked since Joe Namath took the field in the white shoes.
Edwards developed a reputation while in Cleveland as a surly sort who seemed to like to play hard on the field but even harder off it. So, when GM Mike Tannenbaum traded for the talented veteran receiver out of Michigan, the many in politically correct Jets land immediately started to worry. I heard it all: How will this guy “fit in?” He’s selfish. He has stone hands and can’t catch a cold, and so on.
Well, long before The Beard took over Edwards’ persona he proved to his current fans that he is, indeed, a team guy with plenty of skills. Yes, he does drop the ball far too much and has just one 1,000-yard receiving season in his five years as a pro, but he also has abilities that 31 other NFL GMs would kill for.
It’s now up to The Beard to help Edwards realize his full potential.
If it does have the influence many already believe it has Edwards may end up giving the Jets agita, but in a good way. If he has a Pro Bowl-type season Tannenbaum will likely have to fork over a small fortune next spring just to keep him around. Remember, he’s only 27 and the Jets need as many prototypical wide receivers as they can get their hands on to help Mark Sanchez make his way into the league’s quarterback elite.
Unlike another player who shall never be mentioned by name in a Lantern column until he is paid what he’s truly earned, Edwards seems to understand he won’t get his money based on potential alone. He’s also smart enough to realize his limitations. Maybe he can’t be All-Pro by himself. Maybe he can’t be all that he can be without The Beard, which, last I checked, has agents and, perhaps, an agenda of its own.
It’s my belief that the Edwards that caught the 80-yard bomb from Sanchez early in last season’s AFC championship game will show up a lot more than the Edwards that had a sure TD bounce off his helmet on Thursday Night Football up in Canada.
Why do I believe this? You already know the answer.
By making Edwards a better player, The Beard will also will make Sanchez, Santonio Holmes and Jerricho Cotchery better players. Because if The Beard and Edwards are both being double-teamed and opponents are rushing four, that leaves only three other guys to cover everyone else, including LaDainian Tomlinson, Shonn Greene and Dustin Keller. Simple logic, right?
The question I’ve been asked countless times is whether The Beard makes Edwards more aerodynamic. I checked with my friends at NASA and they don’t even know, but promised to run tests, provided Edwards gives a hair sample. One would think that bushy mass would slow him down, but I tend to believe all the extra hair will drive opposing defensive backs insane, perhaps even blinding them or untying their shoes.
In any event, Edwards has become a fan favorite, mostly because he knows marketing in addition to proper hygiene. He’s not selling anything, mind you, but himself. He proved last year he could be a player the fans could trust to do the right things every Sunday, even if his statistics ended up less than spectacular. Football is, after all, a fun game. The fans want to get to know their favorite players. Edwards gets that and by being cordial on the Internet and playing along with The Beard phenomenon he is banking loyalty that won’t turn into angst should he drop a few passes in the end zone. At least that’s the theory.
Because the fans like him they want him to succeed. But their loyalty has become more than just him wearing the green jersey and feeling they must root for him by association. Now, thanks to The Beard and an obvious desire to become a better player, Edwards has become their guy.
And he doesn’t even have his own island. Imagine that.
(Jeff Capellini is a senior editorial editor for CBSNewYork.com. He also writes under the moniker “The Green Lantern” on the Jets, Yankees, Islanders and many other things Gotham sports. Please follow him on Twitter at @greenlanternjet)