Things Bigger than Football: Brett Keisel and Da Beard
Today’s article is a twofer. You will get to read about an awesome and beloved former Steeler, and you will get a fascinating health tip. Doesn’t get much better than that in the offseason.
Keisel was in the news lately as his iconic beard was removed in the sixth annual Shear Da Beard event. The link takes you to the Steelers.com video. Be sure to watch it—it’s wonderful.
I haven’t seen any figures as to how much this year’s event raised, but the previous five have raised a total of around $250,000 for the UPMC Children’s Hospital’s Division of Hematology/Oncology.
The impulse which prompted this event was born out of the disappointment surrounding the Steelers’ loss in Super Bowl XLV. As Steelers.com writer Teresa Varley explained in a 2015 article:
Brett Keisel began to grow his now famous beard back in training camp in 2010, in an effort to get the Steelers back to the Super Bowl after winning it two years prior. It worked, to an extent. The Steelers made it to Super Bowl XLV, but lost to the Green Bay Packers.
Keisel was as disappointed as anybody after the Super Bowl loss, but he wanted to do something, wanted to end things on a positive note. So he decided to shave off his beard, in public, for charity. What started on a whim five years ago has grown into a sold out event and a beard that has taken on a life of it’s own, something that still surprises Keisel almost as much as his own career surprises him, going from a seventh round draft pick to a two-time Super Bowl champion.
When Varley referred to Da Beard as “famous” she wasn’t overstating the case. During the run up to the Super Bowl the beard took on a life of its own, with its own official Facebook page (as well as at least one unofficial one,) interviews, t-shirts, you name it. It even received an obituary on Shutdown Corner. After all, a beard like that wasn’t part of most people’s daily experiences, unless you’re part of or frequently around men from a religious tradition which requires them.
And Keisel’s beard is something special in its own right, as the picture I’ve headed the article with attests. It wasn’t, however, his first foray into beard-dom, as this 2005 article by Joe Bendell of the Tribune-Review attests:
…Keisel is the Steelers’ resident mountain man. He goes by the nickname Jeremiah Johnson — a movie character played by Robert Redford who sported a coarse beard and toiled as a fur-trapper — which was bestowed on him by fellow defensive end Aaron Smith.
“He had this huge beard when he got here,” Smith recalled. “And … well … he was a mountain man. He was Jeremiah Johnson.”
The beard, possibly because of the ribbing, turned into a goatee, and never really went much farther until 2010.
Keisel has exercised a certain fascination for me since I first began to distinguish the various players, right around 2010. He was one of the speakers at my first ever Ladies’ Night Event at Heinz field. At the time I wrote, in an article for Behind the Steel Curtain:
Brett grew up in Wyoming, on a cattle ranch near Greybull. This presumably sounds pretty romantic to those who have never lived in Wyoming (where summer comes on July 13th or so, if you’re lucky, and is gone by August) or been part of the backbreaking work of ranching…
He got an enthusiastic response when he told us that he’s known his wife since fourth grade. They have a 2 1/2 year old, and are expecting their second child in November. He indicates that his wife is very supportive of him and is always the first to tell him when he missed a play or otherwise screwed up.
He loves basketball, and played both football and basketball in high school. He even considered a couple of schools that would let him play both, but obviously eventually opted to concentrate on football at BYU. He began his college career as a tight end, but was quickly moved to defense. He seems to feel that the coaches are missing a good bet by not giving him the ball more often…
The final sentence seems odd unless you realize the event was just after Keisel had an interception in the Tampa Bay game which he ran back 79 yards for a touchdown. You can see the video here. It brought a big smile to my face on a gloomy Pittsburgh winter day to watch that again. It certainly got the 400 or so women in the room pumped up.
As he told Varley in the above-linked article:
I couldn’t have ever imagined my NFL life aside from being a special teams’ player. I thought that was going to be the limit and I was pretty dang proud of that. Being able to be on a great team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and to go win a Super Bowl as a special teams’ guy and a guy that comes off the bench, I thought that was the limit. It kept going and kept going. Here we are, 13 years and down the line, and it’s pretty mind boggling really.
About that “special teams player” thing—it is the key to Keisel’s eventual election to starting DE. He made his mark with an unstoppable motor which impressed the coaches. Unfortunately, an injury kept him out for the following season, but he was back in 2004, once again attracting the eyes of the coaching staff. Although he wouldn’t be a starter until 2006, they began using him as a back-up DE, as a Mike Prisuta Trib article from 2005 notes. Prisuta had detailed a bit hit put onto a rookie running back (Noah Herron) in the first padded practice of training camp, which he felt might have sent a message to the rookie. He continued:
It might also send a message that the fourth-year pro and former No. 7b draft pick from BYU is ready to take on more responsibility with the defense.
Keisel, 6-foot-5 and 285 pounds, has contributed on special teams and rotated in along the defensive line on occasion during his first three seasons with the Steelers.
“I hope so,” Keisel said. “Let me do whatever, I’m ready. They’ve told me to know it all, so we’ll see. They said, ‘Know what the nose (tackle) is doing, know what the ends are doing, and know what the ‘backers are doing,’ so that’s where I’m at.”
As for where the Steelers are headed, Keisel is thinking big.
“We’re ready to rock and roll, I think,” Keisel said. “We have a lot to prove. We want to go all the way this year.
Nor did the drive and work ethic diminish once he was a starter. As an Ed Bouchette Post-Gazette article from 2013 OTAs noted:
Keisel hasn’t missed a spring practice, even though several of the other ’08ers on defense have gone missing, including Polamalu since his appearance the first week.
“This is my home, I live just up the street,” Keisel said. “This is my team, I feel like. I think it’s important for me to be here. We have a lot of young defensive linemen; I want to show them that even an old guy can come out here and work, even an old guy can go into the weight room and practice. If I can do it, they can do it.
So how did a simple country boy from rural Wyoming (although that is admittedly redundant) become a legend both to Steeler Nation and to the inmates of Children’s Hospital? Many of the Steelers players make at least an occasional visit to Children’s, but Keisel has made it a crusade. In addition to visits and the fundraiser, he is involved with numerous other charities, as detailed by a 2014 article by Teresa Varley:
From the day he arrived in Pittsburgh, Brett Keisel understood what it meant to be a part of the Pittsburgh Steelers organization. It was about holding up a tradition, one forged years before him of excellent play on the field and a commitment to the community off the field.
Keisel saw the example set by the veterans already on the team, from individual events the players hosted to team events they turned out for in hordes, he understood what was important.
“The biggest thing is you see the older guys and how involved they are and how much they care about the community,” said Keisel, their Steelers Walter Peyton Man of the Year in 2011. “That is a big strength of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the involvement in the community. That is something we take pride in and take pride in teaching the younger guys that it’s important to give back and stay active in the community.
I attended the 2014 65-Roses Sports Auction which Keisel co-chaired with Cameron Heyward because one of my singers was a finalist in the highlight of the evening, the Fear Da Beard competition. Although my friend didn’t win, everybody won, as you will seldom see such a fine array of beards. That’s Josh, holding what I suppose you might call a participation trophy. James Harrison wasn’t there to rip it out of his hands, fortunately.
This makes me think there is a somewhat less obvious was in which Brett Keisel is a public benefactor—could he be setting a healthy trend?
Those of us who will (hopefully) never be able to grow a beard have almost certainly been guilty of making assumptions about those who do. Perhaps, we think, they are too lazy to shave. And naturally we have made assumptions (perhaps after an unfortunate glimpse of a days-old remnant of dinner) about how hygienic they are.
But perhaps we were wrong, as this rather startling article from BBC News relates:
On Trust Me I’m a Doctor we do experiments which sometimes throw up genuinely new science. In a previous series, for example, we discovered you can cut the calories in pasta by cooking, cooling and then reheating it.
That was a very pleasing result. But our most recent discovery, finding bacteria which appear to be producing a novel form of antibiotic, feels altogether more significant. What was particularly delightful was that they were found growing in someone’s beard.
Even if you care nothing for beards, check it out. It’s fascinating. Trust Me, I’m a Blogger… And if a novel antibiotic is developed from somebody’s beard combings, perhaps we should thank Brett Keisel.