Even the old-school defensive coordinator is in, although Jim Johnson's wife, Vicky, took one look at her 67-year-old husband's scruffy white beard, which is growing by the day, and told him, "Why don't you grow up."

It is silly, yes, but the little idea floated by Brian Dawkins last week - that everyone toss his razor and not shave until the Eagles lose again - has injected much-needed life and levity into the NovaCare Complex during a most stressful time. The Eagles are playing for their football lives, and yet they're laughing at each other, at themselves, and now at their coaches.

Most players in the Eagles locker room are in the hair game, even if, like Brodrick Bunkley and Joselio Hanson, they only have patches of fuzz here and there.

And as the Eagles on Wednesday began preparing for the 7-7 Washington Redskins, it became apparent that a lot of the coaches are in the game, too. Johnson. Andy Reid. Linebackers coach Bill Shuey. A reluctant Marty Mornhinweg.

It's not exactly pretty, but the coaches and players have united in facial hair. This little game has made the team loose at a time when the pressure on them is the greatest. One more loss, either to Washington or to Dallas, and this season is over, and no one with the Eagles is ready for that to happen. There's still too much promise, too much potential for it all to be over.

Hence the beards, goatees and tufts here and there, even on Johnson's face. It's all in the name of solidarity.

"I look like Santa Claus, huh," Johnson said, half-inch-long whiskers covering his face yesterday.

Johnson hasn't had a beard since he was in high school, and while it itches him like crazy, he's all about growing it, even if that means he'll look like Jerry Garcia by mid-January.

Right before the Eagles played Cleveland on Monday night, Quintin Mikell noticed what at the time was two-day-old stubble on Johnson's face, and he said to himself, "OK, coach," shook his head and smiled. Of course the players were in, but the defensive coordinator? Mikell never thought that would happen.

"It got me happy a little bit," said Mikell, 39 years Johnson's junior. "He's being part of the group, being part of the guys a little bit. It means a lot to us, because we feel like we're all in it, all for one, all for the same thing. It seems like a little thing, but when you see coaches kind of buying into it, it makes everyone buy into the same ideal. I like it. I think it's pretty cool."

At this time of year, football can seem like life and death, particularly in this game. Every game is monstrously important any way, but when you're essentially playing in a month-long sudden death tournament just to get into the playoffs, the pressure can multiply, and can take its toll.

Some teams don't respond. Some do.

Dawkins' hockey-like attempt at unity has worked. The players are laughing and joking in the locker room, cracking on the guys who can't grow beards, sympathizing with those who have itchy faces and competing to see who will have the longest beard by the time this ride is over.

Will it be Sheldon Brown, who now probably can comb through the hair on his chin? Or Mikell, whose beard is as full as anyone's? Or Dawkins, who had an early start in the game?

"We're all going to look bad together," Chris Gocong said.

Look bad but be loose. At this point, the Eagles will take it.

"You see the difference in the locker room and in how we play," Mikell said. "We're a team that plays better loose. Sometimes coaches and players kind of get tight, and that's the times when you start making mistakes and over thinking things. I feel like just having fun with it, and coach is having fun with it, makes us play better. So I think that's very important."

Teams can find the smallest things to use as motivation. Maybe the Redskins, losers of five of their last six, will rally around linebacker London Fletcher, who this week called himself the "Susan Lucci of the NFL" after getting snubbed, yet again, for the Pro Bowl. Maybe they'll want to win one for Sammy Baugh, the great former Redskins quarterback who died Wednesday.

Or maybe, the Eagles, playing loose and together, will bury the Redskins before they can get going. Anything's possible.

Even a long, Santa-like beard on Jim Johnson.

"Dawkins mentioned it, that nobody's going to shave, and so I didn't think anything about it," Johnson said. "If Andy's in, I'm in. . . . There's no shaving until it's over. We'll see what happens. If we have to go all the way, we won't shave until we lose."

Contact staff writer Ashley Fox
at 215-854-5064