Players all across NFL are letting their hair down

Gimme head with hair,

Long, beautiful hair.

Shining, gleaming,

Streaming, flaxen, waxen.

Give me down to there hair,

Shoulder length or longer.

– Lyrics from the musical, ”Hair”

Hair is where it’s at if you want to stand out in the NFL.

From Troy Polamalu’s thick mass of curls to Domata Peko’s

fluffy, lionlike mane to Chris Johnson’s dreads to Clay Matthews’

grunge look, players all over the NFL are going long.

Coaches, too. This means you, Rob Ryan.

”I see around the league a lot of guys are growing the hair

out, not only Samoans but dudes with blond hair and dreadlocks and

stuff like that,” said Peko, the Cincinnati Bengals defensive

tackle whose hair reaches all the way down to his waist. ”It’s

pretty cool. It’s good to see.”

It wasn’t so long ago that there were only a handful of long

hairs in the league, and just one or two with truly eye-catching

‘dos. When Larry Johnson yanked Polamalu down by his hair in 2006

on a 49-yard interception return, it set off a buzz about whether

hair pulling was legal. It is. The NFL considers hair part of the

uniform.

Now cascading tresses – tamed, braided and otherwise – are

everywhere.

Nearly every team has at least one player with hair long enough

to obscure his name on the back of the uniform. The Arizona

Cardinals are the unofficial league leader in hirsuteness, with

eight. (It was nine, but receiver Steve Breaston shaved his head

this week.) Even New England’s Tom Brady, he of chiseled good

looks, is hip to long-is-better, though some have questioned the

wisdom of his Justin Bieber-esque shag.

In fact, so many players have grown their hair that fans could

have an All-Hair fantasy team.

”I think that football players have really started to want to

their own identity on the field. I mean who can tell who is who

with all those bulky helmets on?” said Michael Shaun Corby, a

celebrity hair stylist and global creative director for Alterna

Professional Haircare.

”People have looked up to these guys since they were young

teenagers,” Corby added. ”Now I think they are just taking that

superstar persona to the next level and giving themselves a unique

and more trend-conscious style.”

The reasons are as varied as the looks.

Some, like Peko and Polamalu, do it because it’s part of their

culture. Peko is from American Samoa, where long hair is the norm

for men, and Polamalu also has Samoan roots.

”If you have short hair out there, people are like, ‘What’s up,

dude? Why aren’t you growing your hair?”’ said Peko, who has been

growing his hair since he was a kid.

Some, like Miami Dolphins cornerback Benny Sapp, do it as a nod

to what’s fashionable in their hometown (Fort Lauderdale). Others

are looking for low-maintenance style.

”I just get up, shake it and I’m out the door,” said Atlanta

Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson, who’s been growing his hair

since 2005. ”That’s what I like about it. I’m good to go.”

And some guys simply like the look.

”We were playing the University of Miami and I just saw the way

they looked. … They were shaking their hair and I was like, ‘That

looks good.’ And then when they put their helmets on, it looked

great coming out of the back of their helmets,” said Dallas

Cowboys receiver Jesse Holley, whose dreadlocks now reach down to

the middle of his back.

”It makes me feel like I’m running fast,” Holley added. ”When

I have my hair out, I feel like a lion. It puts you in that wild,

warrior-type mentality.”

Despite all that hair flying around, it’s rare for a player to

be brought down when someone grabs a handful of it. Make no

mistake, however. There’s still enough hair pulling and twisting on

the field to rival the kindergarten set.

Buffalo Bills offensive lineman Ed Wang, who recently trimmed

his waist-length hair to the middle of his back, said his hair

would get pulled ”on every play” when it was longer – and that

was in practice, by his own teammates. After Cleveland Browns Pro

Bowl kick returner Joshua Cribbs was pulled down by his hair,

possibly saving a touchdown, Cribbs now trims his hair so opponents

can’t get a good grip on it. And Holley and Johnson said they’ve

had individual dreadlocks yanked out.

”After the game, I’m walking off the field and I’ll look down

at the ground and see a piece of my hair,” said Johnson, the 2009

Associated Press NFL Offensive Player of the Year. ”It’s like,

‘Hey, when did that come out?”’

While it may seem strange to see all this long hair alongside

close-cropped guys such as Brian Urlacher, Chad Ochocinco and Matt

Hasselbeck, no one’s been ordered to cut it off. It’s what’s cool

now, much like the wildcat offense, and coaches have learned to

adapt.

”It’s a part of our culture now. I’m used to it,” Arizona

coach Ken Whisenhunt said. ”If I could grow my hair that long I’d

consider it.”

Besides, fans love it. Polamalu’s ‘do is so famous it has its

own website, and Head & Shoulders has insured his hair for $1

million. There are Facebook pages devoted just to Matthews’ and

Peko’s hair. Kids all over Cleveland donned dreadlock wigs and went

as Cribbs for Halloween.

After the Steelers-Bengals game Monday night, someone combed

through the footage and posted a series of clips of the one play

where Peko, in a rare appearance as a fullback, lined up against

Polamalu, calling it, ”When Two Great Heads Of Hair Meet, Only One

Can Survive.” Peko flattened Polamalu on the play, helping clear

the way for a Bengals touchdown in Pittsburgh’s 27-21 win – a

hair-raising play that would have impressed Vince Lombardi AND

Vidal Sassoon.

”I’m walking around the stores or eating dinner, and people

just come up to me and say, ‘Dude, can I touch your hair?’ ” Peko

said. ”That’s pretty funny.”

AP Sports Writers Howard Ulman, Joseph White, Dave Ginsburg,

Dennis Waszak Jr., Alan Robinson, Mike Cranston, Steve Wine, Fred

Goodall, Teresa M. Walker, Brett Martel, Paul Newberry, Joe Kay,

Tom Withers, Larry Lage, Mike Marot, Chris Jenkins, Jon

Krawczynski, Doug Tucker, Jaime Aron, Arnie Stapleton, Bob Baum,

Tim Booth, Janie McCauley and Josh Dubow, Associated Press Writer

Schuyler Dixon and AP freelancer Bob Matuszak contributed to this

report.

Online:

http://www.troyshair.com