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St. Paul, Minn. — Matt Patricia’s beard is a masterpiece in manliness, but the New England Patriots defensive coordinator and soon-to-be Detroit Lions head coach didn’t grow out his bushy facial hair as a young assistant coach to hide his boyish looks as some as speculated.

No, there’s a far more interesting story behind the beard, which Patricia shared during Super Bowl Opening Night at Xcel Energy Center.

“The quick story on the beard is, honestly, 2011 I believe it was, I have a lot of buddies who are in the military, that have gone overseas, were overseas that year,” Patricia said. “I got to see a couple of them before they left and the were usually in full beard, obviously doing great things to protect our country and just great Americans. It’s kind of just one of those deals where I said, ‘Well, I’m not shaving till you get back. So when you get to see us on TV, or see me on TV, know that I’m thinking about you,’

“That’s where it started and it kind of rolled into year in and year out. There are a lot of guys that get deployed and our guys tend to do different things each year to keep us occupied while we’re working, so it was just on my mind, making sure I remember all those great people who are out there helping us and protecting us.”

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The beard has become iconic in New England, spawning T-shirts to fan look-alikes. Patricia said wife Raina is understanding, but does wish he’d clean it up sometimes. And he does, during the offseason, which offers a pair of benefits.

“It goes through different phases there,” he said. “Sometimes it comes off, sometimes it goes down. It’s good because I can duck in and out of places. At certain points, it’s like a diet program when I shave it down. Everyone thinks I’ve lost some weight.”

One thing Patricia isn’t shying away from is the gray follicles sprouting in the dense scruff. They are badges of honor from lost nights of sleep game planning for some of his most difficult challenges.

“I name all the gray hairs,” Patricia joked. “I got (Carolina Panthers quarterback) Cam Newton in here somewhere.”

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/Justin_Rogers

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