DETROIT Asked what he thinks of Troy Polamalu's wild, cascading hair, Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck took off his baseball cap and swiped a hand over his balding head.
“I'm jealous,” he said. “I'm really jealous.”
Envy. Admiration. Disdain. The Steelers safety has gotten a lot of Super Bowl notice for his unbridled hair, which has taken its place among sports' most famous hairdos — alongside Oscar Gamble's Afro and Dennis Rodman's dye jobs.
And everyone but Polamalu seems to have an opinion about it.
“He didn't cut it, did he?” said Detroit Pistons center Ben Wallace, who loves to tease his own hair to distinctive heights. “Good. I like that hair. I'm rolling with him.”
Players in all sports have forged an identity with their 'dos.
Gamble let his Afro go wild in the '70s, struggling to stuff it into his batting helmet when he came to the plate. The look was as much a part of the disco era as the Bee Gees.
Of course, Rodman took NBA coiffures into uncharted territory by dyeing his hair every imaginable hue — a fashion statement few would emulate. And running back Ricky Williams forced the NFL to clarify its rule on tackling — yes, it's OK to pull someone down by their dreadlocks.
Not that anyone would try it with Polamalu, a Pro Bowl defender who does the tackling instead of the other way around. He said no one has yanked on his hair during a game.
“If I have the ball, I'm sure they could and they'd have the right to,” he said. “But if I have the ball, that's a good thing.”
Folks in Pittsburgh have mixed reactions to his look. They love to see Polamalu level a quarterback, but aren't sure if he should level off the hair as well.
“It's been a pretty big topic,” said Nicholas Zentek, a colour specialist and manager at a Dessange salon in Shadyside, Pa. “A lot say they wish he'd cut it.”
Zentek likes longer hair — his own is down to his collar — and the way Polamalu looks on the field. What would he do if Polamalu were a client?
“I'd give him a trim and that would be about it,” Zentek said. “It gives him an identity and it's part of his personality. I think his hair's pretty cool. What's cool is the fact that it hangs out the back of his helmet. It sets him apart.
“I just hope he sticks with it and doesn't give in to peer pressure.”
So far, he hasn't. The Samoan decided to let it grow about four years ago, and hasn't touched it since. No one else has, either.
Polamalu was a housemate with Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer at USC. Back then, Palmer trimmed his own hair — still does — but couldn't lay a finger on Polamalu's.
“He saw me cutting it a couple of times at the house, but he wouldn't let me touch (his),” Palmer said earlier this season. “He wouldn't let anybody touch it.”
His coaches aren't about to tell him to pick up a scissors, either.
“I'm not sure how much that hair weighs,” Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said, laughing. “As long as it doesn't slow him down, I don't care. He can grow it another foot if he can get another interception.”
Regardless how the Super Bowl turns out, Polamalu has no barber in his future.
“I don't know when I'll cut it again,” he said.