Don't be Gross-ed out by tackle's beard

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The text arrived at 5:08 p.m. on Monday. It said: "My wife. 'Sooooooo, how long is this thing going to be around?' So who's the winner?''

Carolina Panthers center Ryan Kalil was kind -- or mischievous -- enough to share the message he and other teammates got from left tackle Jordan Gross.

Those who were on the team bus two weeks ago when members of the offensive line decided to grow playoff beards apparently made a lunch bet on when Dana Gross would suggest that her husband's attempt might need to go.

Guard Geoff Hangartner didn't believe it would last a week. He had Nov. 30. Tackle Byron Bell had Dec. 2. Kalil had Dec. 3. Tight end Richie Brockel had Dec. 4. Linebacker Jordan Senn had Dec. 6. Quarterback Cam Newton had Dec. 7, 8 and 9.

If it went past Dec. 10, Gross won.

It didn't come close.

Bell won.

Teams in sports often grow beards as a sign of unity. The Boston Red Sox rode them all the way to the World Series. In 2010, the San Francisco Giants created a "Fear the Beard'' phenomenon en route to a World Series title. The New York Islanders started a long-standing tradition of playoff beards in hockey in the early 1980s, when they traded their razors for four Stanley Cups. It's been a tradition since way before there was a "Duck Dynasty."

But what makes Gross' adventure in facial hair unique is this is his first. He's tried to grow beards before, but they'd get so splotchy -- or "crusty," as he and his teammates like to say -- that he'd shave before it had a whisker of a chance to fill in.

This two-week growth might be evidence that it never will happen.

"I can't grow facial hair and these guys all have beards, and so they told me I need to grow my hair and a beard for the playoffs,'' Gross said as the 9-3 Panthers were preparing for a Sunday night NFC South showdown against the 9-3 New Orleans Saints.

"So, being the team guy I am, I said, 'Sure, I'll be the brunt of all your jokes.'"

Trust me, there have been jokes. Many have come from Gross, who doesn't mind making fun of himself.

But it's obvious Gross never will have a beard in the same class as Kalil, who would look like the Santa Claus in the 1994 remake of "Miracle on 34th Street'' if you dyed his thick, black hair white.

"When this started I said, 'Kalil, what are you doing [for this unity]?'" Gross said. "He said, 'I'm growing my beard longer.' I said, 'Oh, that's real daring. A thick beard to a long beard.'

"So he's growing his beard longer, and I have to grow a whole crusty beard with big spots in it."

A few of Gross' teammates declined to talk about his beard. Running back DeAngelo Williams said, "I've already let him know what I think of his beard. We've had that conversation."

It didn't sound like he was a fan.

Kalil apparently is a beard aficionado, having read a book about the advantages of having a beard, a book he shared with Jordan.

"There's actually scientific benefits," Kalil said. "They protect you from UV rays. It's a natural filter to any carcinogens in the air."

It also collects food if you're a messy eater.

As for Gross' beard, Kalil said, "It's all genetics-based, so it's not an effort on his part. But I respect the commitment to it."

Gross laughed. He's just glad the Panthers are good enough this season to warrant a playoff beard.

"I'm not afraid to look crusty if it makes the guys happy and boosts the team spirit," he said.

Then he walked away.

Then Kalil got a devilish look in his eyes and shared the text.

"He's probably going to be upset I told you this," he said. "But it's going to be hilarious."