FORT WORTH, Texas — The secret to the Pittsburgh Steelers' success is growing on Brett Keisel's furry face.
No, really. The Pro Bowl defensive end believes there's something special going on with his phenomenal facial hair.
"The beard is why we're here," Keisel said, a smile peeking through some wayward whiskers. "It's unleashed Super Bowl powers on our whole team and hopefully it can win us one more."
Ungroomed and unmatched, Keisel's beard has taken on a life of its own. There are two Facebook pages dedicated to it, along with a Twitter account. There are also T-shirts, with some commanding you to "Respect the Beard!" and others to "Fear the Beard!"
"It's its own entity," said an amused Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has some scruff of his own these days. "He hides everything in there. We go hunting and he hides his decoys in there."
There's been plenty of talk all week about the long, luscious locks of Keisel's teammate, Troy Polamalu, and Green Bay's Clay Matthews. But "The Beard," as Keisel lovingly calls it, has been the hairy star of Super Bowl week.
"He's definitely got a great beard going," said Packers long snapper Brett Goode, whose impressive beard pales in comparison. "When I was growing mine, I wanted to keep the area around my mouth clean. He's just kind of let it go. He's definitely got the best beard that I've seen in a long, long time."
And some say it's the best ever. The folks over at NFL Network ranked it first in the league's hairy history.
"He's got an awesome beard," Packers offensive lineman Josh Sitton said. "I'll give him that. That takes a lot of time and effort."
Actually, Keisel just lets it do its own thing. It's been that way since June, when he promised not to cut or trim it as long as the Steelers kept winning. He estimates that the longest strands of reddish-brown hair are at least 4 inches long, and "The Beard" has a buddy in a mustache that starts below Keisel's nostrils and just keeps flowing over his lips and way past his cheeks.
"The chin strap is fine," he said. "It holds it all down tight. The worst part is hairballs in my mouth from my mouthpiece. I'm used to it now and I have to brush it to the side and stroke it a little bit."
Keisel insists it's pretty clean, though, and he goes through a soapy ritual every day. But, even that could be improved.
"I'm trying to get Suave or someone to step up to the plate and make a beard shampoo and conditioner," he said. "I think there are plenty of people in the country that don't take the proper care of their facial hair and I think it's something that's important that could be huge."
See? This is serious business, this beard stuff. And the whole reasoning behind its appearance makes total sense.
"I'm from Pittsburgh and we have a great hockey team and they grow their beards out," Keisel said. "In June, I was thinking that it will be seven months if we make it to the Super Bowl. We are shooting for our seventh Super Bowl ring, and the Steelers were made in 1933, which is 77 years to date. I said I'd give this thing seven months and see if it will get us to Dallas, and here we are."
"I just wanted to look like this when we got here," Keisel said proudly.
He was already a fan favorite because of his hard-nosed style on the field, which earned him the nickname, "The Diesel." When "The Beard" came to life, it spawned a Steel City full of overflowing facial hair. And those who kept shaving found a way to pay homage during games.
"It's been a lot fun watching people put the beards on," he said. "I've got some friends coming to the game and they ordered a bunch of caveman beards to wear to the game."
It won't be around forever, though. Win or lose Sunday, Keisel will ditch his bushy beard — at some point.
"I'm going to try and raise some money for charity with it or something like that," he said. "But it might come back. I'm going to miss it. I've become quite fond of it. I enjoy taking care of it and brushing it. I'm going to miss it. It's become a part of me."
Not that everyone is a fan of how it looks. Just ask defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.
"I really think he is a much more handsome man without it," he said, "but I kind of like the record we've got with it on there."
Keisel looks in the mirror sometimes and knows LeBeau is right.
"I know I was handsome," he said, smiling, "but I don't really remember what it was like."
Neither does his wife, Sarah. And that's why she bought him a razor for Christmas.
"It's still in the package, but I'll have to break that out eventually," Keisel said. "She's been a great supporter throughout it all. She doesn't really remember the guy she married, but she gets to wake up to this every morning and at least get a chuckle."
Don't worry, Sarah. Just a few more days and you'll get your husband back. As long as "The Beard" lets you.
"Hopefully, we'll win and I can go home and pull the Lombardi (Trophy) out of the beard for all the fans to see," Keisel said. "Then, I think I'll have to whack it off or my wife might leave me."
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