KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Sean McGrath hears the question — have you ever seen “Duck Dynasty?” — and simply stares back.
“What’s that?” he responds, blankly.
But McGrath, the second-year tight end who sports a thick brown beard so epic it can’t help but remind you of one of the characters on the popular A&E show, can only hold out so long before he quickly breaks up laughing.
“Yeah, I know what Duck Dynasty is,” McGrath says. “I don’t watch it. But those guys have got some good looking beards on there.”
Not that, you know, McGrath thinks his beard takes a backseat to anyone.
“Girls with nice legs wear short shorts because they want to flaunt their legs,” McGrath said. “I’ve got something beautiful with this. Why not flaunt it, you know? Grow that thing out.”
But if McGrath’s jokes about his unusual beard are a reflection of his sense of humor, the fact his facial hair has even become a topic of conversion — as evidenced by the smattering of fans who wore fake beards to the Chiefs’ 31-7 win over the Giants on Sunday — is an indication of how well his short tenure with the Chiefs has gone so far.
“He’s consistent, there’s nothing real flashy,” said Chiefs coach Andy Reid. “He’s just a good, solid, consistent football player.”
One who has stepped up in a huge way at a crucial position during the Chiefs’ 4-0 start, all the while displaying the kind of consistency and professionalism from a player who has admittedly grown up quite a bit over the years.
Despite the fact the Chiefs only claimed McGrath off waivers from Seattle one week before their season opener against Jacksonville on Sept. 8, the 6-foot-5, 247-pound graduate of tiny Henderson State in Arkansas has proven to be a quick study, emerging as a reliable target and starting option during the recent injury-related absence of Anthony Fasano.
Since then, McGrath — who went undrafted in 2012 and spent last season with Seattle’s practice squad — had made the most of his new opportunity, hauling in 11 of his 13 targets for 126 yards and a touchdown, all the while showing enthusiasm that his impressed both teammates and coaches.
“You can tell he loves to play the game — you can tell that on tape without knowing him,” Reid, who credited general manager John Dorsey and director of player personnel Chris Ballard for plucking McGrath from waivers.
“I think he’s definitely proving that he knows what he’s doing out there, proving that he knows his job and he’s going to go out there and execute,” said quarterback Alex Smith. “I think that’s the mark of being trustworthy.”
That’s what McGrath is really striving to be. A native of Mundelein, Ill., McGrath started his career at Eastern Illinois before he was booted from the team for violating team rules. He eventually landed at Henderson State — where he went on to catch 61 passes for 717 yards and four touchdowns from 2010 to 2011.
In the months leading up to the 2012 NFL Draft, he participated in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, where he says he learned a crucial lesson if he wanted to make it in the league.
“I picked up so much stuff from all the old pros there,” McGrath said. “And one of them was that one of the marks of a true professional is how consistent you are. Are you out here just being an athlete, or are you a true pro? Consistency comes hand-in-hand with being a professional, I believe, and that’s what I try to do.”
So far, his quarterback would say McGrath is living up to the new standard he’s set for himself, despite the limited amount of time he’s had with the team.
“He got called upon in a really tough situation,” Smith said, “and he answered the bell.”
Especially on Sunday, when he caught a career-high five passes for 64 yards and scored his first career NFL touchdown in only his second career start.
“Shoot, we’re glad we’ve got him,” said Reid, who loves to throws to his tight ends.
But beneath all the responsibility and consistency talk, there remains a fun-loving side to McGrath.
For instance, he says he began growing his increasing popular beard on a lark a few months ago, on St. Patrick’s Day ― his dad’s birthday ― though when asked to pinpoint a reason, he wasn’t very definitive.
“Maybe it has something to do with me losing it on the top,” McGrath said while removing his hat, revealing a balding dome. “I don’t have a whole lot on top, so I figure I might as well grow it on my face.”
There may be something to that. McGrath, who jokes that he’s “screwed hereditarily,” said he first noticed he was going bald in 2011, his senior year of college.
“We had this picture where me and my buddy were kneeling on the sidelines,” McGrath said. “The lights were on us, whoever it was put (the picture) in high contrast and I kind of saw it was thinning at the top. I was like ‘Aw man, that’s it.’”
Yet, McGrath didn’t start growing his beard out for more than a year, after a season spent honing his craft as an undrafted free agent on Seattle’s practice squad.
But once McGrath did start letting his hair grow out, he said he started getting a bunch of positive responses from teammates. It has continued to grow in popularity, with his parents even getting into the act during Seattle’s Family Day in August.
“My parents are clowns, too,” McGrath said. “They came out to Seattle for Family Day, and I come out of practice and all of a sudden I’m running to the sideline and my parents have these giant beards on. It’s like the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.”
McGrath took similar enjoyment last Sunday, when he says he spotted some Chiefs fans who also decided to sport a fake beard.
“Yeah, I saw that,” McGrath said. “It’s funny, man. It’s all in good fun, and that’s what the game is all about, having fun. The more we can get the fans in it, the louder they are. The louder they are, the more we win. So it all translates to wins. If we’re getting wins, that’s all that matters.”
To that end, McGrath says he doesn’t see a reason to cut the beard that’s been so good to him so far.
“I can’t (cut it) — I’ve got no choice,” McGrath said. “Why not (keep it)? I’m not a superstitious guy … it’s not about that. It’s all about having fun and getting in the spirit.”