The Boston Red Sox literally and figuratively grew the beard in 2004, where they managed to come back from three games against the Yankees in the American League Championship Series, and win their first World Series in 86 years against the St. Louis Cardinals. They would win again in 2007 and nine years later.
Similarly, Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays started his transition to fringe player to MLB all-star and home run champ around the same time he grew out his beard
American Football itself might not have survived past the 1910s due to the bloodiness of the sport (18 players died in 1905) had the forward pass not been legalized, thus opening up the game and preventing the 22-man dogpiles that led to the brutal injuries suffered prior to it.
Buffalo Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick stepped in as a starter last season and was mediocre. This year, he grew a sweet beard and he has been one of the top Fantasy Football quarterbacks, even if his team isn't winning.
Inverted at one point during his career with the New York Jets. After the team fell to 5-5 for the 2015 season, Fitzpatrick trimmed his beard and the team went on a four game win streak with him leading two final minute drives.
In what is probably the most literal application of this trope, the Chicago Bears, Bulls, White Sox, and Blackhawks all won their championships under a coach or manager who had facial hair. Steve Rosenbloom says it best.
Cricket. Before the introduction of round-arm, and later over-arm bowling, balls were gently tossed underarm, and before the introduction of the LBW rule batters often blocked or left a very high proportion of shots, these two things combined to make the sport... somewhat less than thrilling for spectators.
But the sport really grew its beard in the late 19th century, a huge, black beard attached to the chin of W.G Grace, who single-handedly introduced the concept of modern batting.
It's difficult to remember now, but...there was a time that the Miami Heat basketball team was flatly atrocious. Then they went out and got a certain coach named Riley. It would be several years before a title, but the team became a contender almost immediately. A few years after their title, they did this AGAIN by signing LeBron James and still having enough salary cap room for the rest of the team.
The signing of NHL legend Mark Messier by the New York Rangers in 1991 signaled that the Rangers were serious about winning.
In the early and middle 2000's, superstar quarterback Peyton Manning was known for being the unchallenged best player in the regular season but sucking in the playoffs. In the 2006 AFC Championship, the dynastic powerhouse New England Patriots were leading 21-3 at halftime and everyone assumed this would be another Patriots-Colts Curb-Stomp Battle. Peyton grew the beard by engineering a huge comeback to win 38-34, then led his team to a smooth 31-17 victory over the Bears in the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, his teams' performances after that run are very similar to what they were before, but that game was enough to silence those who said he wasn't good enough to win a ring.
In 2010, San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson has done this literally and figuratively. His growth of a full beard has coincided with his evolution from a pitcher who would give Giants fans heart attacks every 9th inning into one of baseball's elite closers.
The 1926 World Series could be seen as a grow the beard moment for the St. Louis Cardinals. It was the first time they had ever been in the World series. They faced the Yankees, who were in their fourth World series in six years. The Cardinals beat the Yankees 4 games to 3, after almost losing the series 3-2. The last out of the series was made by second baseman Rogers Hornsby against Babe Ruth himself when he tried to steal the base. From then on, the Cardinals went on to be the NL team with the most World series wins.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers started life as a franchise by losing their first 26 games. In 1979, just their fourth year of existence, they went to the NFC Championship game behind the arm of prodigal quarterback Doug Williams. They spent most of the next two decades as a perpetual laughingstock, so much so that when Bo Jackson was drafted by the team, he decided to play baseball instead. In the late '90s they hired Tony Dungy and quickly became a defensive powerhouse, but failed to win a championship. In 2002 they grew yet another beard, hiring Jon Gruden, who immediately took the team to the Super Bowl, defeating his old team, the Oakland Raiders.
The Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Ever since the team was founded in 1998, they had been the biggest laughingstock in the Major Leagues, finishing in last place in all but one season. Then, after the 2007 season, they exorcised the "Devil" from their name, becoming just the "Rays." The very next season, they won the American League pennant, and ever since, they've been a force to be reckoned with in a division that had previously been dominated by the Yankees and the Red Sox.
Tennis. Before the 80's tennis was a boring, dull sport to both play and watch. The very strict rules and coaches did not help. Then came the 80's. Antipathetic and borderline insane players such as John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl arrived. They threw their rackets, insulted and defied the coaches (to the point that the coaches were scared of them), and wore short pants. The quality and ratings of the sport increased immeasurably.
A slower Growing the Beard took place for the UFC. In the early days, it was very nearly fights with no rules, had no weight classes, and saw fighters going through many fights in one night during tournaments. Starting at UFC 12, weight classes were introduced, and more rules were adopted up to UFC 28, which was the first sanctioned event.
There were arguably two distinct beard-growing moments. The first was when Zuffa took control of the organisation. The second was the legendary bout between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar at the end of the first season of The Ultimate Fighter.
The Washington Capitals hockey team, there have been times in recent history when the team just sucks, even with star player Alexander Ovechkin. But then, in the middle of the 2007-08 season, when they seemed to be heading for another disappointing season, they fired then coach Glen Hanlon and hired Bruce Boudreau. Then suddenly, the Capitals managed to make a huge turnaround and ended up winning their division and reach the playoff in that same season. Since then, they had continued to dominate their division and are one of the big contenders to win the Stanley Cup. They even managed to win the franchise's very first President's Trophy (Given to the team with the best regular season record in the league) in the 2009-10 season.
Hiring coach Bill Parcells in almost any capacity is an automatic grown beard for almost any team.
Hiring Billy Martin to manage was arguably the baseball equivalent of growing a beard. Besides his notoriously five separate stints with the New York Yankees (with back to back American League pennants in 1976-77 and the World Championship in the latter), Martin took three other teams (the 1969 Minnesota Twins, the 1972 Detroit Tigers, and the 1981 Oakland Athletics) to the playoffs. Martin even helped the 1974 Texas Rangers to an 84-76 record (good for second place) after they had two consecutive 100+ loss seasons. Martin's greatest weakness however besides his combative personality and alcoholism, was his tendency to burn out young pitchers.
The Immaculate Reception is generally considered the Growing the Beard moment among Pittsburgh Steelers fans. Prior to this, the Steelers were considered a joke, with only five winning seasons in 40 years. After the reception, the Steelers have gone on to appear in eight Super Bowls, winning six of them, and are now considered one of sports greatest franchises.
Similarly, "The Catch" by Dwight Clark was the moment the San Francisco 49ers went from plucky underdog to dominant team of the 1980s and 1990s.
After previous attempts to grow the figurative beard ended up with little more than light stubble, the Los Angeles Clippers have grown a pretty thick one since 2011. That was when young, talented big men Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan were joined by superstar point guard Chris Paul. Since 2011-12, the Clips have made the playoffs five straight times, and while they've yet to get really close to the Finals, it's at least a huge improvement from their previous status as the NBA's lovable losers with a not-so-lovable owner (Donald Sterling).
The Philippine Basketball Association's Growing the Beard moments came in the mid-late '90s. Several things happened to help the PBA grow its beard. Alaska won a Grand Slam (winning all three conferences in a season) in 1996 with a team many believe was the best in the '90s, if not in the entire history of the PBA. Crowd darling Ginebra ended its Dork Age, as Marlou Aquino, Noli Locsin, and Bal David made them contenders, and a legit threat to powerhouse Alaska. In the mid-late '90s, a plethora of Fil-Foreign players made their debut, and while some of them (Sonny Alvarado, Al Segova, Robert Parker) turned out to have phony credentials and got banned from the league, they greatly increased the league's talent level while adding lots of size and athleticism. And former Philippine national team coach Ron Jacobs made his comeback, leading the San Miguel Beermen to success, and introducing a more deliberate, low-scoring, defense-oriented "scientific" style of gameplay that resonated with Filipino fans and influenced other coaches to do the same.
With the quality of PBA games declining and uneven trades being the norm in the league, and with men's college basketball arguably plagued by draconian rules and the ability of some schools to "hoard" blue-chip high school recruits and foreign stars, Philippine women's volleyball seems to have Grown the Beard in the 2010s. It does also help that the sport produced marketable stars (e.g. Alyssa Valdez, Michelle Gumabao) and keeps on doing so, and that both collegiate and commercial leagues are getting more coverage than basketball on sports sites such as Rivals' Philippine arm.
Growing the Beard seems to be a thing for San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks. Steve Young was a bust for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during their laughingstock period (see above), but he would back up Joe Montana for several years and eventually emerge as one of the NFL's finest signal-callers when he became a starter. Years later, Alex Smith would do the same when he rose from epic first-overall bust to capable starting QB. He's still well above average now that he plays for the Kansas City Chiefs. In 2015, Blaine Gabbert subverted this trope when he had a pretty decent season after taking over from Colin Kaepernick, but in 2016, was back to being the same old guy who flamed out with the Jaguars.