Lovie Smith

Dear children of America: You still can believe in Santa Claus.

But Lovie Claus is a mirage.

Lovie Smith shocked Illini Nation at precisely 5:34 p.m. Wednesday, posting a picture on Twitter of his clean-shaven visage. Like a timeless Sports Illustrated cover, no words accompanied the photo of the Illinois football coach.

Reaction was swift — and mixed.

“Worst loss of the Lovie era” was the first reply posted, by @mattwbragg.

But @JasonJPost expressed his approval by tweeting: “Lovie just reversed 22 years of aging and lost 17 lbs with that ‘close-shave play call.’ ”

Images of Smith’s bushy white beard went viral at Big Ten media days in 2018.

Said receiver Mike Dudek: “He definitely looks a lot different. … I was like: ‘Whoa. Who’s that?’ But it’s a good look on him.”

The act of sporting a white beard went against the philosophy of coaches such as Nick Saban and Bill Self, who go to great lengths to appear as young as possible.

Now while much of America grows bad quarantine beards, Smith is striving to be a smooth operator.

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